Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research
Q: Do stevia sweeteners offer any special advantage because they are natural?
A: Keep in mind that “natural” on food labels has no legal definition; in fact, Stevia sweeteners are highly purified compounds technically called steviol glycosides, produced as extracts of the stevia plant. Research does not identify these products as any more beneficial to health than other zero-calorie sweeteners. Stevia sweeteners are available under several different brand names and are 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. So in the small amounts needed to sweeten foods, they are essentially calorie-free. Like other calorie-free sweeteners, Stevia sweeteners do not raise blood sugars and are safe for people with diabetes. Substituting sweeteners like this for a single teaspoon of sugar only saves 16 calories, but in foods or drinks in which it replaces larger amounts of sugar, stevia and other zero-calorie sweeteners can make a significant calorie difference over time. Of course, when added to soft drinks to replace some sugar or desserts, those foods still contain calories from the other ingredients; “reduced-calorie” foods are not “zero-calorie.” Stevia sweeteners are one of many options for adding sweetness without calories. Yet even though some refer to stevia as “natural,” adding it (or any other zero-calorie sweetener) to a food or drink with no nutritional value does not suddenly turn it into “health food.”
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $96 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International..