What is Stevia?
Stevia is a natural herb from the plant Stevia Rebaudiana. It is part of the chrysanthemum family. There are many different species of the Stevia plant but only the Rebaudiana species is suitable for use as a sweetener – this is because it contains sweeter Diterpene glycosides than the other species, which gives it its sweet taste .
Stevia is 250 – 300 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar)!
What is Stevia used for?
Stevia is used as a sweetener. It contains a negligible amount of energy (kilojoules or calories) and is therefore used frequently as a substitute for sucrose, honey and other natural sugar additives. By making this swap, the energy content of the meal or beverage can be lowered – which may easily add up over the day, depending on how much sugar or honey you add to drinks e.g. tea/ coffee and meals e.g. baked goods.
Unlike artificial sweeteners e.g. aspartame, saccharin, Stevia is sourced from a plant and is therefore a more natural alternative.
Why choose Stevia?
Artificial sweeteners have now been available for decades. Whilst there have been no evidence indicating negative health effects, many individuals understandably prefer a product that is less synthetic. Thus there has been a push for “natural” sweeteners to enter the market.
Advantages of Stevia
- Does not cause blood glucose levels to spike. Products sweetened with Stevia can therefore be a good option for individuals with diabetes who want the occasional sweet product.
- Stevia has only 4kj per 5 grams (1tsp) where as sugar has 80kj per 5 grams – this therefore makes it a potentially useful strategy for weight management. One such study conducted over 30 days showed a reduction in the mean weight of the participants who swapped sugar in their diet to Stevia .
- Stevia is less damaging to dental health than other sugars.
- Stevia products, like Natvia, are easy to use and come in many different forms.
- One teaspoon of Natvia is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of sugar so it can be easily translated in to recipes.
How natural is Stevia?
Whilst Stevia is a more natural alternative to artificial sweetener, it is important to note that there are no guidelines for use of the term ‘natural’ when it comes to food additives. All Stevia products are still processed and often mixed with sugar alcohols and oligosaccharides (carbohydrates) .
For example, Natvia is marketed as being 100% natural – again, this is slightly misleading due it undergoing processing. However, it does contain only 2 ingredients unlike other brands or artificial sweeteners. Natvia uses the extract from the Stevia plant combined with Erythritol – natural, sweet nectar from melons and other fruits. However, even Erythritol is more often than not manufactured by the food industry in order to obtain desired quantities .
So perhaps it is not completely correct to title Stevia as ‘natural’ but rather that it comes from a natural source, unlike artificial sweeteners.
Is Stevia safe?
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) ensures that all new products undergo rigorous testing prior to entering the market. Stevia has met the criteria for approval by FSANZ and is considered safe for consumption , as stated below.
‘FSANZ concludes that there are no public health and safety concerns for steviol glycosides when used as a food additive at the maximum levels proposed by the Applicant’ .
Additionally, the maximum levels of intake that the studies were based around are very unlikely to be reached.
Image sourced from FSANZ 
- Savita S, Sheela K, Sunanda S, Shankar A, Ramakrishna P, Sakey S. Health Implications Of Stevia Rebaudiana. 2004; J. Hum. Ecol., 15(3): 191-194.
- Herron M. Stevia ‘Natural’ Sugar Substitute. Choice Online. March 2013.
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Steviol Glycosides As Intense Sweeteners. Food Standards Australia New Zealand. May 2007.
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This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you would like to find out more about sweeteners or if you have any other nutrition related concerns, Contact us today! We‘ll provide you with a straightforward, efficient and very effective treatment plan targeted to your concerns.