Stevia sounds great. It is a natural sweetener that is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. As an added bonus it is carb and calorie free. It seems like the perfect sweetening option, but is cooking with stevia good for you?
Cooking with Stevia
In short, it probably isn’t a good cooking substitute. Here’s why:
As a starting point, stevia doesn’t have the same cooking properties as sugar. It doesn’t caramelize or change consistencies the way sugar does, so this can be one reason cooking with stevia could be challenging.
Since stevia is so much sweeter than sugar it can increase your sweet tooth. While stevia is actually better for your teeth than sugar, it will not help with sugar cravings. Using stevia regularly may lead to an alerted taste profile. Sweets may no longer taste as sweet. Also, stevia has an unpopular aftertaste. It has been compared to licorice.
Stevia has several health benefits but they are limited to small quantities. Stevia is a great source of antioxidants, and inulin. Just because something contains good properties, does not mean it is without toxins.
A study conducted on rats found that stevia lowered testosterone levels, and as a result the reproduction rate of rats. However, the rats were eating dangerously high levels of stevia and no human studies have shown signs of decreased reproduction. Also, there have been no long-term studies conducted on humans so there are no known long-term side effects.
Early studies found stevia to be potentially cancerous. These studies were later thrown out and it was decided to be healthy in small quantities.
On November 30, 2012, stevia was legalized as a sweetener in Canada. It’s been legal in the U.S. and much of Europe for a few more years but this is a fairly newly approved sweetener.
4mg/ kg of bodyweight is acceptable per day as a sweetener according to Health Canada. Any more than that can have toxic effects on the body. With this low safe threshold, it becomes clear how difficult cooking with stevia would be. Say you weigh 80kg (176lb), that means you can have 320mg of stevia a day. This is less than one thirteen of a teaspoon. In other words, you can have very little stevia per day. This is okay if you’re sweetening your morning coffee because you need such small amounts, but it should not be used to replace sugar in baking. Remember, stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar, so use it sparingly.
Not all stevia is created equally. Look for green leaf stevia. You can get organic stevia that is dried stevia leaves. However, most stevia is extracted from the plant. Many of these have chemical additives and should be completely avoided.
Stevia can be good if you are looking to sweeten a drink, but generally should be avoided and despite being a whole food it’s not healthy cooking with stevia.