1 November 2010

Get the Scoop on Nutrition with Emma Stirling

The scoop on stevia

Emma Stirling
Emma Stirling APD

The 'pure, white and deadly' myths surrounding sugar have helped create a huge market for alternative sweeteners. Some, such as aspartame (Equal/Nutrasweet) and saccharin, have themselves been subject to a huge number of urban myths and internet scare-mongering about their supposed poor safety record. But these non-nutritive sweeteners are in fact among the world’s most tested and evaluated food ingredients and there is an extremely lengthy government process in place for approval, monitoring, review and regulation before they are allowed to be included in the food supply.

This process includes scientific risk assessment reports, independent scientific review plus public consultation and can take several years. The latest tabletop sweetener and food ingredient to go through this process and be added to the alternative sweetener ranks is stevia, the common name for the extract stevioside made from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, a natural, sweet-tasting plant native to South America. It has recently been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

Stevia rebaudiana

You can now find stevia in hundreds of food products including teas, soft drinks, juices, yogurt, soymilk, baked goods, cereals, salad dressings and confectionery. Interestingly stevia is not yet approved as a food ingredient by Canadian regulators. And before you jump to the conclusion that Canadians are more wary than the rest of us, it just means that they are on a different timeline and yet to assess an application for stevia. You can read more background on stevia in Canada here.

What I would like to suggest is that rather than focus on the safety of non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia, you really need to devote your energy to deciding if they will work for you. For your diabetes management? For your weight loss? For your style of cooking, eating and family meals? For your budget?

Stevia for example will have virtually no effect on your blood glucose levels and can help you cut back on your calories if you use it to replace equivalent amounts of sugar, honey, etc... And one recent study reported in Appetite found that people do not compensate with extra calories or kilojoules after consuming food and drinks sweetened with stevia and participants reported similar levels of satiety (appetite satisfaction) to consuming a high calorie sucrose preload. You can read further studies on stevia at the Global Stevia Institute.

The major drawback of stevia and other non-nutritive sweeteners is that they aren’t as versatile as sugar and honey and other nutritive sweeteners. This is because:

  • They tend not to be heat stable.
  • They don’t brown or caramelise.
  • They don’t add texture or bulk to food when used in baking or making desserts.
  • And they also tend to be much more expensive gram for gram.
So if you invest in stevia to sweeten your tea or coffee, you will still have to keep sugar (Logicane is a good option) in the pantry if you occasionally like to bake or make desserts.

Emma Stirling is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and health writer with over ten years experience writing for major publications. She is editor of The Scoop on Nutrition – a blog by expert dietitians. Check it out for hot news bites.


Anonymous said...

I've been type 2 diabetic for over 20 years, live in a very rural area, and so
can't always find new products. However, our one big grocery store began carrying stevia about 1 1/2 years ago. I refuse to use the pink-packaged substitutes..I get enough weird chemicals just breathing! Nor will I give up sugar entirely. It, at least, is G-d created, and so is stevia; I use them both in conjunction, and have had excellent results in baking. We older folks know something you young ones don't: all foods were created for us to eat and enjoy. However, MODERATION is the key, and most folks have forgotten that concept. Maybe living through the current depression will change some folks' eating habits. I respect the work you scientists do, but I've known all this sort of stuff since the forties, when we had a victory garden on 1/4 acre of land.
We ate well, as did our neighbors. Take a lesson from us, you young'uns! My doctor, thankfully, is learning a lot from me.

GI Group said...

Thank you very much for taking the time to post your comments. We will pass them on to Emma. We would be interested in hearing sometime how you combine sugar and stevia in your baking -- the proportions of each you use and the kinds of baking or desserts that you have had the most success with.

Anonymous said...

I am also a type 2 diabetic, I consume a small amount of sugar with minimal rise in BGL. I have found my biggest problem is wheat flour and processed grains, and not sugar. Not all wholegrains are the same, some are processed to varying degrees which impacts on blood glucose levels. I have often had to throw out so-called healthy products I have purchased as they(despite the labelling) were very high GI foods and having very little sugar.

GI Group said...

Re wheat flour and processed grains and BGLs: Thanks for sharing your experience. We have passed this on to Prof Jennie Brand-Miller.

Anonymous said...

Stevia Conversion: 1 tbsp. stevia, liquid or poweder, = 1 cup sugar.
1/2 tsp. stevia = 1 tbsp. sugar
6 drops liquid stevia = 1 tbsp. sugar
pinch of powdered = 1 tsp. sugar
2 drops liquid = 1 tsp. sugar

I use raw sugar in combination with stevia most often...it has so much more
flavor than white sugar. I also mix brown
rice flour or garbanzo flour with regular white. The thing to remember is that batters have to be bulked up; you can do that with yogurt, sour cream, applesauce, egg whites, water or juice...each cup of sugar you don't use must be replaced with 1/3 cup of bulk. Try all kinds of things
for bulk. I've had great success with
cakes, cookies, even breads. I also add a
dash of stevia or raw sugar to cooking vegetables, boiled or roasted; it brings out a lot of flavor in things like green peas, string beans, squash. cabbage amd most greens. I also don't pay too much attention to ingredient listings on many flours. If you trust the government or manufacturer to tell the whole truth, then that's part of your problem. I have found flours that work well for me...and now I cook/eat almost everything I love best. I fed my late husband this way for 2 years while he dealt with cancer of the throat; his doctors were constantly amazed at how well he did, even with a
stomach tube. He ate solid food up until a week before his death, and it was food that we both loved. My mother always told me "cut down, not out!" Good advice.

Hope this will help you.

Dibs said...

I cut the sugar in every recipe in half with stevia (white powder) and tastes the same, recipes work the same. If it calls for 1 cup of sugar, that means I use 1/2 cup of suger (or preferably another sweetener like agave syrup or xylitol) and 1/8 tsp. stevia powder (= 1/2 cup sugar). Some recipes can have more stevia and still work well, but I always can do at least 1/2 with no ill effect. I use the liquid stevia for juices or add it to the water I wash lettuce and other greens in to overcome the slight bitter taste (to a supertaster, many vegetables have a bitter taste) -- this trick has at least quadrupled the amount of vegetables I eat! The trick to stevia is not getting too much (the coversions posted here are way, way too much - or else some different kind of stevia than I use). Also, I learned not to expect stevia to taste like sugar. The white powder I use gives sweetnes (no aftertaste, nothing bitter), but doesn't give the sugar taste we're used to in baked things. Hence, I typically combine with other sweeteners for someting baked to get the taste I normally expect. Stevia is the greatest!!

GI Group said...

Thank you Dibby and 'Anon' for the suggestions re using stevia in cooking. We really appreciate your taking the time to post these tips. Dibby, we ran a piece on sweetening vegies with a little sugar some time ago in GI News. Here is is for your interest.

Getting them to eat their greens
Broccoli is always high up on the super food list. It doesn’t have a GI value because it’s not a source of carbohydrate and it has hardly any calories. But it’s an absolute nutritional powerhouse delivering vitamin C, fibre, beta-carotene, folate and vitamin E plus B vitamins and minerals like iron and calcium. People who regularly eat broccoli have a reduced risk of several cancers including bowel cancer. Enjoy it (or broccolini) a couple of times a week cooked and served as a side dish or blanched and served with traditional Mediterranean dips like hummous or babaghanoush, or tossed into salads or pasta, or added to stir-fries. Don’t overcook broccoli – al dente is best for both flavour and nutrition.

The only problem with broccoli is that some kids (little ones and big ones) don’t like it (or its cousin cauliflower). They find these cruciferous veggies a bit on the nose. A new study however shows that people can be ‘conditioned’ to like it in just five days! Elizabeth Capaldi and Gregory Privitera from Arizona State University ran what’s called a ‘conditioning’ trial to see whether sweetening broccoli with a little sucrose (table sugar) could increase its pleasantness.
• Day 1: Thirty-two undergraduates who said that they didn’t like broccoli and cauliflower were given 14 grams of unsweetened broccoli and cauliflower, they rated each food on three nine point scales (pleasantness, sweetness, and bitterness).
• Days 2, 3, 4: Half the students were given unsweetened broccoli and sweetened cauliflower, the other half were given sweetened broccoli and unsweetened cauliflower.
• Day 5: Both groups were given both vegetables unsweetened.
The conditioning process seemed to work. Broccoli and cauliflower were rated as more pleasant with each day that passed. This increase was greatest for vegetables that were sweetened. Prof Jennie Brand-Miller here at the GI Group isn’t at all surprised with the result. Based on her work with Australian bush foods she believes that we have a much sweeter tooth than our forebears did and that all the fruits we eat today are significantly sweeter than any they would have tucked into.
– Appetite, 2007, manuscript online ahead of print; doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2007.06.008

GI Group said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Dibby, I have no idea what type stevia you're using...or maybe I just have an outrageous sweet tooth (certainly a great possibility). But as an ex-caterer who still fixes foods for friends on special occasions, I have experimented a lot with stevia versus sugar, and have found these measures to be most satisfactory. I'm now 71 and live in the deep South; I think most of us have super-sweet tastes, maybe because many of us have grown up eating sugar cane from our gardens. I'll continue experimenting, and I surely do agree that stevia is fantastic!

Anonymous said...

Great tips: Re: Anon said,"If you trust the government or manufacturer to tell the whole truth, then that's part of your problem". Poor nutritional information is everybody's problem. Many people have difficulty finding products that work well for them. Why ? These blogs consistently contain examples of people self testing food and BGL's to determine what products they can eat. Why ? Lack of easily obtainable information, which is why things like the GI symbol is so important. I hope Prof Miller can expand on this topic.

GI Group said...

Re the comment about the value of the GI Symbol: We will pass this on to Prof Brand-Miller and Dr Alan Barclay and expand on it in a future issue in the not to distant ... Thanks for the suggestion