Saturday, November 5, 2011

STEVIA: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BITTER

Stevia comes from a South American herb that has been used by the indigenous people of Brazil and Paraguay for thousands of years as a sweetener and as a folk remedy for diabetes. It is hundreds of times sweeter than table sugar, but in its original form it has a bitter aftertaste that some people find objectionable. Many of the new stevia products that are now available, such as Truvia, Nuva, and PureVia, use only the sweet-tasting part of the leaf combined with erythritol as a bulking agent. Stevia is also available as a liquid and as a blend with fructooligosaccharide (FOS), a sweet fiber that comes from chicory root or Jerusalem artichokes, and other sweeteners. 
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Stevia was banned for use in foods in the US in the early 1990s and could only be sold as a dietary supplement. As a result of intense lobbying from the soft drink industry, rebaudioside-A, an extract of stevia, was granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status in 2008. A GRAS designation allows it to be sold as a food without undergoing the normal tests for safety. Some countries still restrict or ban the sale of stevia.

 A study published in Denmark in 2000 demonstrated that stevia has the ability to stimulate insulin secretion by acting on the beta cells in the pancreas. The researchers concluded that it may have potential as an anti-hyperglycemic agent in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. 1

Stevia can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in some people and it may increase insulin sensitivity and delay the absorption of glucose from the intestines. As a result, it can change the effectiveness of diabetes medications and interfere with the timing of injected insulin, making it essential for those with diabetes to consult a doctor before using it. It is also said to lower blood pressure, so those on medication for hypertension should seek medical advice about using stevia.

Mayo Clinic nutritionist, Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., had this to say: "...It is probably safe in moderate doses. However, until we have more research, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should probably avoid using stevia. Similarly, people taking diabetes or blood pressure drugs should use stevia with caution because of the risk that it might cause hypoglycemia or hypotension when combined with these drugs."2

 I've noticed one more thing about stevia from my personal experience that I haven't seen mentioned. It has always been known that some people love stevia and some think it tastes bitter. The new reb-A extracts were supposed to solve that problem by using only the sweet compounds and leaving out the bitter ones. When I tried some of the new products, I found that they didn't taste bitter, but they also didn't taste sweet. It dawned on me that some of us can't taste the sweet components and that's why it tasted bitter in the first place. That would explain what happened a while back when the owner of a company that makes stevia-sweetened cookies sent me some samples. (I can't remember the nameand wouldn't tell you if I did, as I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from trying them or hurt the company's business.) I really wanted to like them, but they were horrible, like a mouthful of straw. The comments posted on Amazon by buyers showed that some people loved the cookies, but some reacted the same way I did.

Many sugar substitutes that contain stevia are blended with erythritol, lo han guo, sucralose, or other sweeteners, and those taste fine to me, but not quite sweet enough, as would be expected if I can taste all the sweeteners except the stevia. I still use them, but I either use a bit more or kick up the sweetness by adding a little sucralose. I'm not sure how many people are like me in regard to stevia. It is especially strange because I am usually something of a "super-taster." I can't eat cilantro, for example, because it has a strong, nasty flavor to me that other people can't taste at all. Clearly, there's just no accounting for tastes.

1 Jeppesen, P.B.; Gregersen, S.; Poulsen, C.R.; Hermansen, K.; "Stevioside acts directly on pancreatic beta cells to secrete insulin: actions independent of cyclic adenosine monophosphate and adenosine triphospate-sensitive K+-channel activity," Metabolism 2000 Feb; 49(2):208-14. Abstract at:
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gove:80/entrez/query/fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=10690646&adopt=Abstract

2 www.mayoclinic.com/health/stevia/AN01733MayoClinic.com

Stevia photo by Ethel Aardvark.
(C) 2011, Judy Barnes Baker
www.carbwars.blogspot.com

19 comments:

Ginny said...

Very interesting Judy! I've always wondered why some thought it was bitter and to me it was so sweet. I never had any aftertaste using it. I use Truvia a lot now in my baking, or a combination of Truvia and something else. I'm diabetic and have never noticed it affect my bg either, but perhaps have not paid close enough attention. This motivates me to do a test on myself. :)

Judy Barnes Baker said...

Hi Ginny.

Thanks for the comment. Please be sure to report back on your test results.

Me said...

The hypotension can be serious. I've never fainted in my life but came close to doing so and had to rest on a rock when I took a walk soon after drinking a protein shake made with whey powder that contained stevia. It was a scary situation -- luckily I was not alone.

Jennifer said...

ROFL Judy, I did a similar post a while back about Stevia, but why I'm laughing is your story about Stevia and your taste buds. That is so funny but I believe you. I myself cannot stand the taste! I can tolerate the mixes though - i.e. Stevia mixed with erythritol but I get tummy issues sometimes so that puts me off.

stivii ians said...

Buy stevia



This is a great resource, Thank you so much for doing the research.

Judy Barnes Baker said...

Stivii ians: Thanks for the comment, glad you liked the post.

Redneckblackheart said...

I was really glad to read your comments. I could use six packs of stevia and barely taste any sweetness even though it is supposed to be sweeter than other sweetners. I really had concluded that maybe some people can't taste it -- I'm glad to see I'm not alone!

Julie George said...

Agreed....I have to use so much more than other people do to get the sweetness. But I love the concept since it seems to be the only natural non-sugar sweetener out there. Glad to know I was not crazy. My family always comments that the foods I make with it are really sweet.

Judy Barnes Baker said...

Julie, monk fruit is another one considered to be "natural," that is becoming popular. It does have some carbs, though. (Stevia is not really natural. A white powder doesn't grow on a plant.)

cygnusjen said...

I love cilantro, but I can see why others find it abhorrent. Actually, though, I like the part that you probably hate - same way I love hoppy beer, and skunky beer - but I also hate the after taste of stevia. I wouldn't call it bitter, but it's a gross flavor for sure. I find it does taste sweet though, but it's still too weird tasting to use. :( Everything diet seems to be cursed with that disgusting aftertaste. I refuse to ingest artificial sweeteners, so I was disappointed when I bought stevia and it tasted bad.

cygnusjen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Judy....excellent post. Just read a blog via Steve Parker where a gal reported how a study said sucralose caused higher glucose spikes than controls not ingesting sucralose and she went on about how great stevia is! One study that has not been replicated and this woman was condemning sucralose...and did not mention all that you did about stevia! Best to be skeptical and diabetics should do their own blood monitoring to see how their bodies react to these substances. Take these single studies with a grain of sodium too...see who funds some of these studies and potential conflicts of interest with the bloggers that shout about the results. --frank weir

Judy Barnes Baker said...

Thanks, Frank. I totally agree with you. I'll check out Dr. Parker's post.

Waggmore said...

I also think Stevia is bitter and I don't like cilantro! Interesting.
Bobbie

Judy Barnes Baker said...

Waggmore: We most be genetic cousins somewhere back in history. Do you know where your ancestors lived?

Anonymous said...

Just found this post after searching for info about super-bitter aftertaste from stevia. My cousin doesn't taste it, but it's so strong to me! I actually compared it to some people hating cilantro, and then I read your blog! ha! I do know that the cilantro thing is an actual taste bud receptor issue, and not a personal taste issue.

Judy Barnes Baker said...

Anonymous--welcome to the club! We should have a convention or something.

Anonymous said...

I find that Stevia (Truvia) is bitter with a little bit of sweetness. The same thing happens to me with saccharin.

Judy Barnes Baker said...

Anonymous, Truvia is a mixture of erythritol and stevia. You may be tasting the sweetness of the erythritol and the bitterness of the stevia. You might try them separately to see which tastes sweet to you.

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