TV ads have taught today’s youth that diet colas make us dance, prance, and smile as we get the pretty girl or handsome guy. We even are taught to imagine we can slurp the artificially sweet stuff and keep our waistlines thin and trim. Many today are addicted to the bubbly strong sweet taste and think they’re doing themselves a favor since they aren’t drinking sugar-filled sodas. What’s the big deal?
Since the use of artificial sweeteners, from sucralose to aspartame, has been increasing, a group of researchers wanted to see how safe these types of alternative sugars were. They published their data in July, 2017, in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, a very prestigious journal.
They concluded that, in the long run, most (not all) artificial sweeteners make you gain more weight, not less. They increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease! They damage microbiome function no matter how many probiotics you swallow or kimchi you chew.
Artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, sucralose and stevia, are widespread and increasing. Do all these sweeteners cause problems? Here’s what this new study found.
This study in the Canadian journal was a systematic review of 37 studies that followed 400,000 people for about 10 years. The trials showed that using artificially-sweetened drinks does not help anyone lose weight, and actually makes us fatter in the long run.
The researchers clumped stevia into this mix. But if one reads the scientific literature on stevia, this simply isn’t accurate. Stevia is different. It has many health benefits that make it a great choice.
The full name is stevia rebaudiana Bertoni. It is a sweet and nutrient-rich plant belonging to the Asteraceae family. It has various health-promoting compounds, such as steviol glycosides, stevioside, rebaudioside A, and rebaudioside C.
Stevia is 250-300 times sweeter than sucrose. A little goes a long way.
Steviol is the final product of stevia metabolism. The metabolized steviol components completely flush out of the body. They do not accumulate in tissues. I have been sharing recipes that use stevia with my cancer patients for years, to help them have some fun food to eat while they diligently avoid sugar and other artificial sweeteners. Many of them thrive.
Beyond it being “sweet,” stevia and its glycosdies possess astounding therapeutic benefits. Stevia has bee shown to protect against cancer, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, inflammation, cystic fibrosis, obesity, and even tooth decay.
Studies have shown that steviol glycosides (found in stevia) are not teratogenic (do not cause birth defects), nor mutagenic or carcinogenic (nasty cell changes) and don’t cause any “acute” or hidden “sub-acute” toxicities.
The other artificial sweeteners cannot make these health claims. And a real question becomes, what about pregnant women consuming artificial sweeteners? There are suggestions that if a mom consumes aspartame and sucralose while pregnant, this may adversely affect their infant’s health as they mature. Pregnant mom’s eating artificial sweeteners may contribute to their child having issues with weight gain, heart and blood sugar health, and even gut bacterial health. In comparison, stevia may be protective.
The 7 protective actions of stevia:
- It’s less acidic than regular sugar and other artificial sweeteners, so it’s less prone to promote dental cavities.
- When combined with fiber, stevia actually increases satiety hormones and decreases blood sugar levels, so it helps portion/appetite control.
- While the other non-sugar sweeteners are linked to weight gain, stevia is linked to weight loss.
- Stevia improves glucose tolerance and reduces the risk of diabetes.
- A human randomized multi-centered two-year trial in mild hypertensive patients even showed stevia gently reduces blood pressure.
- Stevia even protects the kidneys against chemotherapeutic damage (at least in animal studies so far).
- Stevia has mild prebiotic action to promote healthy gut bacteria, while other synthetic alternative sweeteners have been linked to less healthy gut bacteria.
Stevia pitfalls. Many commercial stevia companies are, of course, looking to maximize profits. To do so, they add fillers to stevia. Or other cheaper sweeteners. I spent a few hours at HEB grocery store reading lables on their alternative sweetener aisle. All of their stevia products had the first ingredient listed as, erythritol. Many also had added fillers such as maltodextrin, which can come from any starch, like corn or wheat. It’s a highly processed food additive with a high glycemic index. So, here you are trying to get a healthy sugar alternative and it’s got junk in it!
I then went over to Whole Foods. Most of their stevia products had the same issue. They did have a few small bottles of the real deal: pure stevia extract. This is the form that has the authentic health benefits. But since the boom in food consciousness, and the increased demand for products like stevia, the cost has sky rocketed. So a small bottle of stevia extract was a lot of dough. Drats!
Moral of the sweetener story:
- Avoid sugar.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners, especially when pregnant and eating for two.
- Up with stevia. Use pure stevia extract when you can, but realize you will undergo a bit of a walletectomy!
Nonnutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2017; 189 (28): E929 DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.161390
Effect of Consuming Tea with Stevia on Salivary pH – An In Vivo Randomized Controlled Trial. Oral Health Prev Dent. 2017 Jul 4:1-5.
Biscuits with No Added Sugar Containing Stevia, Coffee Fibre and Fructooligosaccharides Modifies α-Glucosidase Activity and the Release of GLP-1 from HuTu-80 Cells and Serotonin from Caco-2 Cells after In Vitro Digestion. Nutrients. 2017 Jul 4;9(7). pii: E694.
Insight into anti-diabetic effect of low dose of stevioside. Biomed Pharmacother. 2017 Jun;90:216-221.
Efficacy and tolerability of oral stevioside in patients with mild essential hypertension: a two-year, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Clin Ther. 2003 Nov;25(11):2797-808.
Stevia and stevioside protect against cisplatin nephrotoxicity through inhibition of ERK1/2, STAT3, and NF-κB activation. Food Chem Toxicol. 2017 Jun 28;107(Pt A):215-225.
Changes in anthropometric measurements, body composition, blood pressure, lipid profile, and testosterone in patients participating in a low-energy dietary intervention. J Chiropr Med. 2013 Mar;12(1):3-14.
A Review on the Pharmacology and Toxicology of Steviol Glycosides Extracted from Stevia rebaudiana. Curr Pharm Des. 2017;23(11):1616-1622.
A new natural source for obtainment of inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides from industrial waste of Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni. Food Chem. 2017 Jun 15:225:154-161