A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away, I primarily used sugar to sweeten beverages. We’re talking high school.
When I entered the more calorie-conscious phase of my life, I started to explore my artificial sweetener options. I never liked using Sweet ‘N Low (saccharin) due to the “rat cancer” claim back in the day (although it no longer carries that warning). Equal (aspartame) seemed to be safer, right?
I like to think of myself as a pretty reasonable person. I understand that now the FDA recognizes aspartame as a safe, non-carcinogenic sweetener. I personally never loved the taste, nor the idea that it’s artificial.
Enter Splenda (sucralose). When Splenda came out, I was so happy. No longer would I have to use sugar to make a drink taste sweet, nor worry about recognized potential health consequences.
I had my suspicions about Splenda, though. I knew it was an artificial sweetener like the others. At this point it’s hard to know who to believe about what is safe or not, but we will have no idea of the long term repercussions of Splenda until 20 or so years into the future. I didn’t really feel like waiting around to find out the answer.
And Then There Was Stevia
I first started to experiment with stevia about five years ago. I started out with the packets from the grocery store. The taste didn’t seem as good as Splenda, but slowly, over time, I started to pull away from artificial sweeteners.
Sometimes I would simply drink my hot tea with no sweetener. Definitely not as enjoyable, but I started to wonder: why would I intentionally and unnecessarily put something artificial in my beverage?
Before I go any further, disclaimer: I am nowhere near perfect. I still eat processed foods with added sugars and drink red wine. I don’t claim to be better than anyone or judge anyone who uses sugar or artificial sweeteners.
But I have found at least parts of my answer to this question: how do I enjoy things that taste good without feeling like I’m consuming something unhealthy and potentially harmful?
What Is Stevia?
Glad you asked! Stevia is a noncaloric sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia plant native to South America. It is 100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, so there is definitely an adjustment period in learning how much to use to your taste. Don’t feel bad if you ruin a cup of coffee or two in the beginning!
Stevia has stood the test of time regarding human consumption. Although technically there is a lack of evidence, the leaves of the plant have been used for centuries as a natural sweetener with no significant recorded ill effects.
When you enter the world of stevia, you will find brands claiming to be stevia that actually aren’t stevia in its pure form. Two forms of commercial stevia available in the US are Truvia (made by Coca-Cola) and PureVia ( made by Pepsi). Both are chemically processed (altering the molecule so as to make it patent-able) and both contain fillers.
Natural, No Filler Stevia
You can, however, get unprocessed stevia, supplying steviosides. This is what I have been using for the past few years. While it might seem pricey at about fifteen dollars for a 1.3 ounce bottle, keep in mind that that supplies over 900 servings which, you can imagine, lasts a very long time.
I truly do not feel that I’m making a sacrifice in any way when I use pure stevia to sweeten drinks rather than sugar, Splenda, or any other artificial sweetener. It isn’t a matter of “being good” versus “splurging” for me. I enjoy the taste probably more than I ever did sugar or Splenda.
It’s when I don’t have stevia on hand that I feel like I’m compromising. Knowing that it is the best choice for my health, I would pretty much rather go with no sweetener than use an artificial sweetener or sugar at this point.
I have heard some people comment that they think there is an aftertaste with stevia. I don’t notice any unpleasant taste and truly feel happy about the whole experience when I use stevia as a sweetener. The aftertaste could be related to the brands that contain fillers, so that is something to consider.
I know there are plenty of stevia brands out there, and other alternative natural sweeteners. Do you use stevia or another alternative sweetener? Please share your thoughts!