Human beings’ quest for sweet tastes goes back to prehistoric generations, with the use of things like honey, dates and figs. The search for sweetness led us to starch-derived sugars, and later to synthetic sweeteners.
The research to develop new synthetic sweeteners has come a long way, but I must say, most of the discoveries have been accidental. Even though this is the case, the search has led us to find interesting sweet-tasting proteins, which are used in products such as stevioside.
Synthetic sweeteners require no land for growing, and the fact that most of them can be consumed without being metabolized makes them zero-calorie and, in consequence, allow diabetics to enjoy the sweet taste they miss with regular sugar.
Breaking it down for you; from synthetic to Stevia
There are several synthetic sugar substitutes, but the following are the most commonly known and consumed:
- Saccharin: it was discovered in 1879 by I. Remsen and C. Fahlberg, and it’s considered to be around 500 times sweeter than cane sugar. It’s known to be stable in both heat and cold, and it keeps well in water solutions. When mixed with cyclamate, its flavour becomes the closest to regular sugar. Saccharin is manufactured in several countries, and it’s widely used.
- Acesulfame K: it’s a calorie-free sweetener that has been used since 1983. Some of the main advantages of this synthetic sweetener are its long shelf-life, its high stability, its use in dry food mixes, and in the composition of beverages.
- Aspartame: more recent, aspartame has been discovered in 1965. Its composition consists of two active amino acids; phenylalanine and asparagine. Its main advantage is that, in terms of sweetness, it’s very close to regular cane sugar. But it’s not recommended for cooking or baking, as it does not work well under high temperatures. It’s important to note is that it’s not calorie-free.
- Sucralose: one of the most stable synthetic sweeteners; it’s zero-calorie, tastes exactly like sugar, but it’s 600 times sweeter than the latter. It’s stability in hot conditions make it useful for baking and for use in long shelf-life products.
- Neotame: a high-potency sweetener (6000 to 10000 times sweeter than sucrose), it’s a derivative of aspartame. With a long shelf-life in dry conditions, it’s useful in baked goods.
- Stevia: also known as stevioside, it’s derived from the plant Stevia rebaudiana, from South America, and discovered by Italian-Swiss botanist, Dr Moisès Santiago de Bertoni. The plant has been proven to be adaptable for cultivation in many parts of the world. Stevia is found to be about 300 times sweeter than sucrose, and it’s essentially calorie-free and carb-free. Since it’s so much sweeter than sugar, it's used in smaller quantities than the latter.
Stevia: its health benefits, and a look at its advantages
Even though stevia’s use is very recent, it’s already been related to a great number of health benefits.
It can contribute to weight loss when used as a sugar substitute, as it can help you feel fuller with a lower intake in calories. There’s a study that proves the effectiveness of stevia in weight loss, with a lower food intake quantity. It also shows the sweetener can help in maintaining a manageable blood sugar level. It’s great for diabetics as well, as it contains potent antioxidants. It also reduces heart disease risks, according to this research.
Stevia, a natural sweetener, is recommended in favour of synthetic sweeteners, such as those mentioned above. This study that compares the effects of stevia, aspartame and sucrose on a group of people’s food intake shows that stevia does not cause the need to compensate for the lack of calories.
So, compared to sugar and all synthetic sweeteners, stevia is proven to be the best choice of sweetener for health-conscious people.
Make a careful and health-conscious choice of sweetener
With this said, there are a lot of stevia brands on the market, and many of them contain additives. If you’re concerned for your health, or you follow a vegan diet, the best products to go for are the ones containing “whole leaf stevia” listed in the ingredients, when they’re already sweetened.
Stevia is a good vegan choice to support your healthy vegan lifestyle, but it is recommended you stick with brands that do not present health consequences, nor a long refining process. Nevertheless, if you have a sweet-tooth, and would like to consume your desserts with a healthy sweetener choice, here’s a list of some of the best stevia vegan dessert recipes. Enjoy!