Stevia vs. Artificial Sweeteners
Imagine signing up for this study: three days, six meals, all you can eat. Easy enough. Each day, before each meal, you’re fed a sweetened snack. Then you’re turned loose on the buffet. At the end of the three days, you’re thanked by the researchers and sent home. But you wonder: what was the point of the study?
You’re about to find out, because this study isn’t just a thought experiment, but rather a real experiment published in the journal Appetite. In the study, researchers compared the health effects of a pre-meal snack sweetened with one of three sweeteners: sucrose (sugar), aspartame (artificial sweetener) or stevia (plant-based sweetener). Let’s see what they found.
They found something interesting. People given an aspartame or stevia snack (zero added calories) consumed less calories throughout the day than did people given a sugar snack. In other words, stevia and aspartame didn’t cause people to compensate for the calorie deficit. They still ate less.
Also interesting: stevia and aspartame people, compared to sugar people, had significantly lower post-meal blood sugar. This is good, considering high blood sugar has been linked to metabolic disorders like obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Does this mean that aspartame and stevia can help with diabetes? Maybe. Let’s see about aspartame first.
Artificial Sweeteners: Friend or Foe?
In the above study, a pre-meal aspartame snack didn’t raise blood sugar as much as the sucrose snack. Which seems promising.
Here’s why stevia is different. In our original study: only the stevia snack, not the sugar or aspartame snack, had beneficial effects on participants’ insulin levels. And insulin regulation is one of the ways stevia may help with diabetes.
Antidiabetic Effects of Stevia
Stevia - or more specifically, its active compounds stevioside and steviol - has been shown to improve the insulin response to high blood sugar. This is good news for type 2 diabetics, who, thanks to insulin malfunctions, are unable to get blood sugar out of their blood and into their cells. Then they get trapped in a fat-storing, hyperglycemic cycle. All because of faulty insulin.
How does stevia improve the insulin response? For one, by suppressing an inflammatory particle called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα). TNFα is, to put it mildly: an enemy of healthy metabolism.
Stevia also contains potent antioxidants - phenols from the plant itself - that may help with diabetes. These phenols fight the oxidative damage that typically accompanies obesity and other metabolic disorders. Good deal.
With that said, let’s get to the fun stuff. Let’s rank these sweeteners.
Choose Your Sweetener Well
Whether we rank by calorie consumption, blood sugar levels or insulin response: sugar is the biggest loser. That one you could have guessed.
Aspartame fares better than sugar in the calorie and blood sugar categories, but recall: there’s research linking diet soda to diabetes. No thanks.
On to stevia. Stevia has zero calories, improves the insulin response and contains antioxidants that help fight damage linked to obesity and diabetes. In other words, stevia is an ideal choice of sweetener for health-conscious people like you and me.
And so, in the battle of the sweeteners, stevia wins over everything else. Hands down.
So next time you want a zero calorie soda, skip the aspartame. Go with a Zevia instead.
We are not medical doctors and cannot give medical advice. As always, we suggest consulting your doctor if you have any questions regarding your stevia consumption and any affects it may have on any pre-existing conditions.
Brian Stanton is a professional health and science writer. His job, in other words, is to translate complex science into simple English.