Recently, Best Food Facts received a question from a reader asking, "Is stevia leaf powder better for us than regular sugar, and would it be better than regular sugar or artificial sweeteners if used by a diabetic or hypoglycemic person?”
To answer this question, we reached out to Connie Diekman, RD, past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and current Director of University Nutrition, Washington University.
Connie Diekman, RD: "Stevia powder provides a lower calorie option for those who want the sweet taste without the calories of sugar. Stevia is one of several nonnutritive sweeteners that are acceptable options for those watching calories or those who need to monitor blood sugar. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Evidence Analysis Library, nonnutritive sweeteners are safe for use and can in some cases help with weight control."
So, what is the difference between a nonnutritive and nutritive sweetener? According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, nutritive sweeteners contain carbohydrates and provide energy. Nonnutritive sweeteners are those that sweeten with minimal or no carbohydrates or energy.
Here are a few more specifics:
- Nutritive sweeteners occur naturally in foods or may be added in food processing or by consumers before consumption. Higher intake of added sugars is associated with higher energy intake and lower diet quality, which can increase the risk for obesity, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. On average, adults in the United States consume 14.6% of energy from added sugars. Sugar alcohols (also referred to as polyols) add sweetness with less energy and may reduce risk for tooth decay. Foods containing polyols and/or no added sugars can, within food labeling guidelines, be labeled as sugar-free.
- Nonnutritive sweeteners (NNS) are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as food additives, and they are generally recognized as safe. The Food and Drug Administration approval process includes determination of probable intake, cumulative effect from all uses, and toxicology studies in animals. Seven NNS are approved for use in the United States: acesulfame K, aspartame, luo han guo fruit extract, neotame, saccharin, stevia, and sucralose.
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