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What Is Stevia and Is It Right for You?

Filed Under: Diet & Weight Loss,Food Politics,Nutrition at 10:19 am | By: Michele Shapiro

Stevia is a no-calorie, natural sweetener, but how does it stack up to other sugar substitutes? Here’s the backstory on stevia and a few things to take into consideration before making the switch from sugar.

What Is Stevia?

The first thing you need to know about stevia (or “rebiana,” as it is sometimes called) is that it’s not a brand name like Equal, Sweet’N Low or other artificial sweeteners. “It’s a general term for all sweeteners derived from the Stevia Rebaudiana bush, an herbal plant that’s prevalent in Asia and South America,” explains Carol Aguirre, a licensed, registered dietitian/nutritionist at Nutrition Connections in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She adds that sweeteners labeled stevia are extracts called steviol glycosides. “The two primary steviol glycosides are rebaudioside A and stevioside,” says Aguirre.

Stevia is sold in the U.S. under several brand names, including Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf, and Stevia in the Raw. Classified as a non-nutritive sweetener, stevia provides consumers with a sweet taste that has fewer calories than sugar. You’ll find it in a range of sodas, sports drinks and dairy products as well as in tabletop packets, liquid drops, dissolvable tablets, and baking blends. 

Stevia vs. Sugar

In addition to the fact that stevia comes from the leaves of a plant rather than a lab, the natural sweetener’s biggest draw is that it’s low in calories. One packet of stevia, which is equivalent to 2 teaspoons of sugar, provides 5 calories and 1 gram carbohydrates, while Stevia extract, a liquid form of the sweetener, contains no calories. How does sugar compare? Well, 2 teaspoons has 30 calories and 8 grams carbohydrates. While this may not sound like a lot, “people often use more than 2 teaspoons of sugar,” Aguirre says, “so the calories can add up quickly.” As she notes, many experts believe that sugar consumption is a major cause of obesity and many chronic diseases, such as diabetes, in the U.S.

Another plus: Stevia is not completely absorbed by the body. Therefore, those looking to lose weight and control blood sugar might choose stevia over sugar, observes Neal Malik, a registered dietitian nutritionist and chair of the Department of Nutrition and Basic Sciences at Bastyr University in California.

When it comes to taste, the raw leaves of the Stevia plant are approximately 40 times sweeter than sugar, and the powdered sweetener derived from them is up to 200 to 300 times more sweet. However, because the chemical compounds found in the Stevia plant interact with both the sweet and bitter receptors on your tongue, some complain about its signature bitter aftertaste. “That bitter taste is why, at least so far, beverages sweetened with stevia extracts mix in other sweeteners as well, such as erythritol, aspartame, or regular sugar,” says Aguirre, who cites a recent study, which analyzed the different components of stevia to find out why certain compounds were perceived as more bitter (1).

The findings will allow for future development of stevia-derived sweeteners to focus on the plant’s sweetest, least bitter compounds. But, she adds, while some researchers spend time identifying the sweetest chemical compounds in stevia, “others are working to breed the sweetest possible version of the stevia plant itself.”

In terms of versatility, stevia has proven as versatile as sugar. “The steviol glycosides found in the stevia plant are relatively stable compounds, which means they can be used in a variety of ways,” says Malik. “Stevia can sweeten drinks, like iced tea and coffee.” In addition, some food manufacturers have begun adding it to their dairy products.

Since stevia’s a concentrated source of sweetness, it can also be substituted for sugar in baked goods—with a few caveats. First and foremost, “it won’t brown the way sugar does,” both Aguirre and Malik point out. What’s more, sugar plays a role in the physical structure of baked goods, and stevia does not provide the same bulk. Thankfully, there’s an easy solve: For each cup of sugar substituted, use of 1/3 cup of a bulking agent, such as egg whites, apple sauce, fruit puree or yogurt, Aguirre suggests. “Sugar helps make cakes lighter, so the finished cake will be denser and potentially doughy,” she explains. “You can counter this by adding a bit more baking powder than is called for in the recipe.”

Stevia Benefits

The American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association have given a cautious OK to the use of artificial sweeteners in place of sugar to combat obesity, diabetes and all risk factors for heart disease. “They are not magic pills,” Aguirre cautions, “but smart use of non-nutritive sweeteners could potentially help reduce added sugars in our diet, as a result lowering the number of calories you eat.” Reducing calories, in turn, may help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, and lower the risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, while also lowering cholesterol.

When it comes to studies that specifically investigate stevia’s role in lowering disease risk, researchers from the United Kingdom and Belgium have found that stevia activates a protein called TRPM5, associated with taste perception. The protein also plays a role in the release of the hormone insulin after eating. These findings could lead to new treatments for Type 2 diabetes (2). However, more evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of stevia for both lowering diabetes risk.

There has also been research into stevia’s anti-cancer abilities. One study published in 2012 connected stevia consumption to breast cancer reduction (3).

Another showed that when stevia was added to natural colon cancer-fighting mixtures, such as blackberry leaf, antioxidant levels increased significantly. But again, more research is needed to confirm these findings (4).

Side Effects of Stevia

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified Stevia and its related compounds as “generally recognized as safe.” Currently, a safe dose is considered 4 milligrams/kilogram body weight per day (5).

As Malik explains, “this means that, at this time, there’s not enough scientific evidence to show that stevia consumption may be harmful to health in the short- or long-term.” However, he points out that animal studies have revealed that large doses of stevia may lead to genetic mutations (6). That said, the verdict’s still out on how large amounts of stevia impact humans, since evidence is lacking .

Although stevia is considered safe for people with diabetes, says Aguirre, “brands that contain dextrose or maltodextrin should be treated with caution. Dextrose is glucose, and maltodextrin is a starch. These ingredients add small amounts of carbs and calories. Sugar alcohols may also slightly tip the carb count.” Bottom line: If you use stevia products now and then, it may not be enough to impact your blood sugar. But if you use them throughout the day, the carbs add up.

Your stomach might also be affected. A 2015 study reported a possible link between non-nutritive sweeteners, including stevia, and a disruption in beneficial intestinal flora (7). The same study also suggested non-nutritive sweeteners may induce glucose intolerance. Additionally, in some people, stevia products made with sugar alcohols may cause digestive issues like bloating and diarrhea.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, stay on the safe side and avoid use, since there is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking stevia.

Lastly, certain medications may interact negatively with stevia. Experts warn those who take lithium to exercise caution because stevia might have an effect like a water pill or “diuretic.”  Taking stevia might decrease how well your body gets rid of lithium. In theory, this could result in serious side effects. Talk with your doctor if you are taking lithium. Your dose might need to be changed if you partake in stevia regularly.

In addition, be mindful if you are on diabetes medications. Some research shows that stevia might decrease blood sugar in people with Type 2 diabetes. In theory, stevia might cause an interaction with diabetes meds that results in blood sugar levels going dangerously low. That said, not all research has found that stevia lowers blood sugar.

Therefore, it is not clear if this potential interaction is cause for concern. Until more is known, monitor your blood sugar closely if you take stevia and tell your doctor if you believe the dose of your diabetes medication needs to be changed. Similarly, if you’re on medication to lower blood pressure, using a natural sweetener might cause your blood pressure to go too low.  Again, report any concerns to your health care provider.

How to Use Stevia

There’s a huge variety of stevia on the market, and, in many cases, it comes in the form of fillers and additives. As a consumer, you must always read the ingredient list. Chances are, you’ll see more than just stevia on that list, especially if it’s an inexpensive brand. Most stevia products contain one or more additives to bulk up the product and create a more free-flowing powder. Some examples of fillers include:

Maltodextrin: A filler created from rice, potatoes, or corn that provides a sweet taste and creates an free-flowing product.

Dextrose: A filler made from corn sugar, fruits or honey. It is closer to sugar than other fillers on the market, and because it’s very low in carbohydrates and calories, Dextrose is allowed to be labeled as calorie-free.

Inulin: One of the safest additives is this vegetable, prebiotic fiber.

Erythritol: A sugar alcohol made from corn that’s generally tolerated well.

Xylitol: A sugar alcohol made from birch trees, this additive is one of the safest out there.

Glycerin: The safest of all additives, it is a liquid often found in alcohol-free liquid stevia products. It is derived from fruits and vegetables and does not raise the glycemic index.

If you want to purchase the purest stevia product possible, scour the label for the words “100 percent pure stevia extract” (not stevia powder, which indicates it is a blend and not pure extract). Liquid stevia products may also be in a base of alcohol (much like vanilla extract). However, many alcohol-free varieties are available, so read the ingredients panel closely.


Frozen Produce May Contain Same Health Benefits as Fresh

Filed Under: Announcements & News,Food Politics,Health Foods,Nutrition at 4:17 pm | By: Joe Palinsky

  • Despite the rise in popularity of buying fresh fruit and vegetables, experts believe frozen produce is just as healthy
  • Obsession with fresh produce has led to a dramatic spike in food waste

When asked to choose between fresh or frozen produce these days, the average consumer is likely to opt for fresh. While some might even believe fresh produce is “obviously” better than frozen, the theory may not actually hold up to scrutiny, NPR suggests. Despite cultural beliefs, there is very little scientific evidence to suggest that frozen fruits and veggies are less nutritious than their fresh counterparts. In fact, fixation on fresh produce has led to an increase in food waste in recent years.

“About 43 percent of all food waste occurs in consumers’ homes,” said JoAnne Berkenkamp, advocate of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a 2017 interview with the Washington Post. “It’s the largest single contributor to food waste, and much of that will be fresh product.”

While most people buy fresh produce thinking it will be consumed in a timely manner, evidence suggests otherwise (1). Most fresh produce has a short shelf life and the average consumer tends to buy more than needed in a single trip. Worse still, fear of “imperfections” with fruit and veggies has lead to perfectly-fine items being left to rot on the shelves (2).

Consumers who recognize their own wasteful tendencies might hesitate to switch to frozen due to the current cultural climate of “fresh is better.” In truth, most frozen produce options contain an appropriate dose of vitamins and nutrients (3).

The best way to judge frozen purchases is by looking at the ingredients. Frozen products that contain exclusively produce will boast much more nutritional value than options containing processed seasonings or sauces (4). Additionally, frozen produce prepared through blanching methods should be avoided, as this might reduce the nutritional quality of the product.

Fresh produce might be all the rage, but there is little evidence to suggest frozen produce isn’t just as good. Consumers who want the health benefits of fresh produce without the fear of it going to waste in a crisper drawer may find frozen options offer a practical and efficient choice.


4 Reasons To Go Vegan (Not Related To Diet)

Filed Under: Diet & Weight Loss,Food Politics,Health Foods at 11:02 am | By: Guest Blogger

When you want to get on a healthier path in life, focusing on what you eat can be a wonderful place to begin. Even though you probably spend a lot of time thinking about what to eat and how to best prepare it for your health, specific food groups tend to contain more negative elements than others. The choice to go vegan, for example, is usually made when a person no longer wishes to consume animal meat or byproducts. Whether you’re making this change for your health or for a moral reason, it can be useful to take a look at what benefits come with the decision.

If you’ve been thinking about making the switch to a vegan lifestyle and need just a teensy bit more encouragement, then now is the time to learn all about the benefits. Changing your eating habits can take time and patience but dedicating your time to the effort has a way of yielding some useful results for your future.

1.) Lower Blood Sugar Levels

Each year, more than a million people are diagnosed with a form of diabetes. While genetics and other factors are involved, more often than not it is a person’s diet that encourages the development of this condition. Studies published in recent years have linked specific fats found in animal products to type 2 diabetes. According to these reports, those who were less likely to include animal fats in their meals were also far less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. These same studies also suggest vegans have a higher sensitivity to insulin.

Plant-based proteins are fantastic substitutes for animal fats. The nutrients found in non-meat options like tofu and seitan have been shown to help prevent type 2 diabetes from developing. Additional research in this area also suggests those living with diabetes are able to positively alter how much medication they require on a daily basis by making the switch to a plant-based diet.

2.) Strengthen the Heart

While diabetes can be a serious concern for many, it pales in comparison to stats released about cardiovascular disease. Each year, more people die around the world from heart-related conditions than anything else. These numbers can be frightening and countless people across the globe have begun initiatives to keep their hearts happy and healthy. A great way to achieve this goal is by considering a vegan diet. Switching to a diet comprised mainly of plants and grains has been shown to greatly reduce a person’s chance to developing high blood pressure.

Maintaining healthy blood pressure levels can help to decrease the likelihood of a heart attack, stroke, or other debilitating cardiovascular condition. For your heart to truly reap the benefits of going vegan, you want to focus on ingesting the right plants. Add hearty helpings of asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, and any kind of leafy green to your daily routine and you are likely to provide your body with the nutrients it requires to keep the heart strong.

3.) Kidney Troubles

Switching to plant-based proteins can also help your kidneys. Though meat or animal byproducts are not directly linked to failing kidneys, there are a number of studies suggesting plant proteins can help to strengthen these organs. Nutrients like potassium are primarily found in plants like beets, bananas, spinach leaves, and chard. Potassium is incredibly helpful for detoxing the kidneys and keeping them functioning at their best. Unfortunately, many people who primarily eat meat do not focus enough on ingesting plants containing the right nutrients.

If you want to go vegan, then you need to make sure you do it in a sensible way. Dropping meat and cheese from your daily routine without replacing the nutritional intake can be a very dangerous choice. Before you make any drastic shifts in your diet, be sure to sit down and look over what nutrients your body needs to obtain through fruits, veggies, nuts, and grains.

4.) Potential Cancer Prevention

Those who eat vegan might also be less likely to develop certain cancers. Though cancer can develop from a number of different conditions, a lack of proper plant-based nutrients can be a huge factor. According to specific studies, those who ingest a healthy dose of fruits and veggies each day are far less likely to develop certain types of cancer than those who do not eat produce regularly. Increasing the level of soy in your diet while decreasing how many animal proteins you eat can also help to lower the odds of developing breast cancer.

Switching to a vegan diet requires a little bit of thought. Though it can be healthier, you also want to make sure you are giving your body the correct daily nutrients. Do a bit more research on your own and see if this shift is the right call to make for a healthier future.


Article written by Joe Palinsky

Joe Palinsky is a full-time writer and theater professional in Philadelphia. He predominantly works with ensemble-based Found Theater Company, where his writing has been featured in numerous productions. Though primarily a ghostwriter, his work has been published in the now-defunct Spirit News and as a guest on Found Theater’s blog.


Get Grass-fed, NOW!

Filed Under: Food Politics,Green Living,Nutrition at 6:16 pm | By: Jessica Justh
grassfedThe label “grass-fed” refers to cows who have grazed in pasture year-round rather than being fed a processed diet (usually consisting of corn) for much of their lives. Grass feeding greatly improves the quality of the cow’s milk and helps it maintain more of its naturally ocurring omega-3 fats, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) Fatty Acids

The amount of CLA found in the milk derived from 100% grass-fed cows is typically two to five times greater than milk found in conventionally-fed cows. CLA is a type of fat that has various health benefits, including immune and inflammatory system support, improved bone mass, improved blood sugar regulation, reduced body fat, reduced risk of heart attack, and maintenance of lean body mass. According to recent studies, grass-fed cow’s milk contains 75 milligrams of CLA from an eight-ounce serving. 


The omega-3 fat content derived from grass-fed cow’s milk is dependent on the variety of forage crops accessible to the animal. This omega-3 content also varies with the age, breed and health of the cow. For instance, you can get anywhere from 50-150 milligrams of omega-3s (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA) in 8 ounces of grass-fed cow’s milk.


Fat Composition

The overall fat composition of grass-fed milk is not what you may think. In eight ounces of whole grass-fed cow’s milk there are eight grams of total fat. About two grams (25%) of this comes from monounsaturated fat in the form of oleic acid. This omega-9 fatty acid is the primary fatty acid found in olive oil. Replacing this fatty acid with other fats can lead to lowered blood and cholesterol levels. About four and a half grams (or 56%) come from saturated fat – a type of fat that is thought to have unwanted ramifications. However, the type of saturated fat in 100% grass-fed cow’s milk does not fall into the “bad” fat category. About six to seven percent of this saturated fat is “short-chain” and functions as a probiotic that supports friendly bacteria in the GI tract.


Cows are not meant to eat a grain diet. Their digestive system, the rumen, is designed to eat grass, break down cellulose and turn it into protein. When you take a cow off pasture it creates a domino effect of problems. As author and activist Michael Pollan explains, “You start giving (cows) antibiotics, because as soon as you give them corn, you’ve disturbed their digestion, and they’re apt to get sick, so you then have to give them drugs. Then we then go down this path of technological fixes.” As you can see, it’s process that unfolds in direct contrast to what nature had intended. But as we’ve learned, educated consumers have the power to choose. When you consume grass-fed dairy products, you’re not only improving your health but your supporting the health and well-being of the those animals too – a classic win-win situation.



The Hidden Dangers of GMOs

Filed Under: Announcements & News,Environment,Food Politics at 8:00 am | By: Jessica Justh
GMO_DangersMany of the US’s most harvested crops, including corn, soy, sugar beets and cotton, contain DNA that was manipulated in labs to resist drought, disease and insect infestation. However, these potentially dangerous genes can be transferred to DNA found in bacteria living inside of us. Unfortunately, that’s just the beginning.

GMOs are bad for the environment. Overuse of Roundup results in “superweeds,” resistant to the herbicide. In return, farmers have to use even more toxic herbicides every year. Between 1996 and 2008, US farmers sprayed an extra 383 million pounds of herbicide on GMOs. As if that weren’t bad enough, herbicides like Roundup reduce biodiversity and can harm insects, birds and other animals.

GMOs are affecting our health. The number of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses has increased from 7% to 13% over the past nine years – a figure that doesn’t even account for the increase in food allergies, autism, and reproductive and digestive issues that afflict more and more of us each year. Many medical groups including the American Public Health Association and American Nurse Association condemn the use of GM bovine growth hormone due to the fact that milk from treated cows contain insulin growth factor 1, which has been shown to cause cancer.

GMOs will not feed the world. Contrary to Big Agriculture’s argument, the agricultural methods behind GMOs do not result in higher yields. A report authored by more than 400 scientists and backed by 58 governments with The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) stated that GM crop yields were “highly variable” and in some cases, “yields declined.”

GMOs are present in over 70% of supermarket foods. Protect yourself and protect your family by doing the research and making smart choices. This handy guide will help you identify and avoid foods with GMOs.


Forget the Franken-Candy for Halloween

Filed Under: Food Politics,Nutrition at 8:00 am | By: Dr. Jeremy Wolf, ND & Lead Wellness Advisor



Boo! Didn’t mean to scare you, but now that summer is over Halloween isn’t too far away.  The temperatures are dropping and pumpkins are popping up everywhere. This Halloween don’t be just the coolest house in the neighborhood, be the healthiest. LuckyVitamin has a great selection of candy made with organic, non-GMO ingredients to help you stand out from the rest of the houses on the block.

Many of the candy ingredients on the market are made with artificial dyes, food coloring agents, artificial flavors and other ingredients that can throw off your children’s nervous system. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), one of these ingredients, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, is no longer “generally recognized as safe” and should eventually be phased out of the production of food. A great health benefit to our all-natural sweet treats is that they do not contain hydrogenated oils.

Chocolate is a staple of Halloween. LuckyVitamin carries top selling delicious treats like Chocolove Mini Organic Chocolate Bars that come in flavors like Dark Chocolate, Raspberry, Orange Peel, and Toffee Almond.  Another delectable treat you will find is the Lara Bar Jocalat Chocolate Mint Bar. This yummy bar is non-GMO, organic, and free of artificial calories, dairy, gluten, and preservatives.

Are you worried about not having Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in your candy bucket this fall? Don’t worry; LuckyVitamin has you covered with Justin’s Nut Butter Peanut Butter Cups. Not only is this enjoyable candy organic, it is also free of dairy and gluten.  Now it wouldn’t be Halloween without M&M’s; however, a tasty and healthier alternative is SunSpire Sun Drop Original Chocolate Candies.  These candies are organic, vegetarian, and free of preservatives, trans fat, and artificial flavors. On top of all that they are also a quality fare trade product.

Other great alternatives to satisfying that sweet tooth with include Yummy Earth Root beer candy drops, Surf Sweets All Natural Gummy Bears , Yummy Earth’s Organic Gummy Bears and All Natural Lollipops. This Halloween don’t be frightened by the candy on you super market shelves; shop LuckyVitamin for all natural and organic candy to hand out to those witches, goblins, princesses and super heroes.