Sugar is the sweetener par excellence. Unfortunately, however, it represents a food that often causes problems for those who consume it. For example in diabetics or people who follow strict dietary regimens.
So what to do? Give up sweetening your coffee in the morning too?
The solution is to find valid alternatives, just as sweet but healthier. Therefore, the so-called strictly vegetable stevia has made its way into the pantry of many people. It does not raise blood sugar levels, contains no carbohydrates, has zero calories and is 100% natural. A few grams of stevia is enough to sweeten any drink or home-cooked dish. And today we really want to talk about stevia: what it is, what benefits it brings to the body and why it should be replaced with sugar.
And then we will analyze together the delicate relationship between sweeteners and diabetics and how it can be more manageable by associating stevia and diabetes without incurring health repercussions.
What is stevia and why substitute it for sugar?
Stevia is born using the leaves of a particular plant that originates in South America and Brazil. It's called Stevia rebaudenia and the locals have always used it to sweeten their dishes. Inside its leaves it contains natural sweetening substances (steviol glycosides) which are extracted, processed and then used in the production of stevia in sachets that we know and buy at the supermarket.
Once its sweetening power and its beneficial effects on the human organism were known, it was easy for stevia to assume an important role in our tables and in particular in those of those who consider sugar an enemy for their health and must absolutely avoid it.
Sugar and Stevia: What Makes Them So Different? First there are the calories which are zero in stevia but evident in table sugar. Furthermore, the latter can have harmful effects on health as it increases blood sugar levels and can cause weight gain if consumed in excess. In fact, doctors and nutritionists advise against taking it in certain health conditions and if you are following one low calorie diet and low in sugar.
Stevia, on the other hand, has no contraindications in this sense and is the ideal choice for those who want a sweet but healthy product.
The benefits of stevia for the body
After understanding that sugar can be replaced with vegetable stevia obtaining health benefits, let's now find out what are these positive effects that we can take advantage of by adding the natural sweetener in our tea or in our recipes.
Here are some:
- Lowers blood glucose levels;
- It doesn't make you fat because it's calorie-free;
- It has an anti-inflammatory charge;
- Rebalances blood pressure values;
- Reduces bad cholesterol;
- Decreases the risk of heart problems;
- Fights obesity;
- Prevents the formation of caries in the teeth.
Consequently it is natural that between sugar and its natural alter ego the latter is chosen! Even if often someone still turns up their nose at the idea of abandoning the usual sugar to make way for stevia. The reason lies in the flavour: although it is sweet at the right point, some may not like it due to its aftertaste which recalls the taste of licorice. Obviously it is a subjective factor that depends on personal taste.
Stevia and diabetes: in what doses to take the sweetener
Those who suffer from diabetes are well aware that they cannot consume sugar. But can he sweeten his foods with stevia instead?
The answer is yes! The reason is simple and it was anticipated when we listed the benefits of this natural plant extract. Stevia does not raise blood sugar levels and therefore has no harmful effects for diabetics.
As a low glycemic index sweetener, stevia is therefore the most suitable of all those currently known.
But there's more: not only does it not contribute to raising blood sugar spikes, but it regulates them! In fact, steviol glycosides produce endogenous insulin which acts directly on the glycemic balance.
Even if it is good for health, it is advisable not to abuse it, both in the case of diabetics and in all others. The ideal dose remains 4 mg/kg of body weight per day. The practical sachets that we find in the supermarket are already dosed and allow you not to get confused with the quantities.
Where to use stevia? Advice and directions
Stevia and diabetes: we have made it clear that they are a winning combination! Yet some doubts about the use of stevia still exist, especially on how to take the sweetener in relation to home-prepared foods and drinks.
So let's see how and where to use stevia at home. In simple words we can say that it should be used exactly as we do with sugar.
It is added to drinks: tea, coffee, lemonade, smoothie, but also to some foods such as milk, unsweetened yogurt and cereals for breakfast.
Obviously it should never be used together with sucrose, aspartame or honey, otherwise its benefits are canceled and the risks for diabetics increase.
Stevia is also great for foods that need to be cooked. In these cases, however, it is only necessary to pay attention to the combinations: remember that the sugary taste is not identical to the commonly used sugar and therefore you need to do some experimenting to test the flavors according to your preferences.
Stevia and diabetes: contraindications?
Despite the positive opinion of nutritionists too, it is good to talk about possible contraindications relating to the use of stevia at home.
Like any healthy food rich in benefits, if some precautions are not followed, there is the risk of transforming it into a common sweetener which can also have contraindications. Although it is excellent for reducing blood sugar in patients with diabetes, it must not be abused.
It is necessary to carry out periodic checks to verify that these levels are not below the regular average. If this happens, the so-called hypoglycemia occurs, which in diabetic patients can cause side effects, for example the most serious is diabetic coma. This situation obviously applies to those who use stevia on an ongoing basis.
Someone also claims that stevia taken in excessive quantities can have laxative effects. However, this depends on the doses taken and not on the natural composition of stevia which in regular doses does not cause any effect on the intestine. Indeed, it makes food even more digestible!
Tips for a weighted use of stevia
In conclusion we can say without hesitation that stevia is an excellent substitute for sugar.
However, we feel compelled to give one last piece of advice: always pay attention to the products you buy and don't trust appearances. Unfortunately many stevia-based products often undergo an additional treatment to cancel the aftertaste of the plant. Consequently, before reaching the final product they are treated with added sugars.
These sugars, called sugar alcohols, are obtained from fruit: erythritol, dextrose, maltitol. The first is the least harmful because it is devoid of both calories and carbohydrates. The latter, on the other hand, contain it, albeit in small quantities, and if taken in excessive doses they can affect blood glucose levels, reducing and even canceling the benefits of stevia. That's why diabetics, but also those who take care of their health and look for healthy foods, should always be careful and read food labels to make sure they choose the most appropriate product for their needs.