Stevia: A Sweet Substitute for Artificial Sweeteners

  • By Alyssa Grams
  • 12 Jun, 2017

Splenda, make way for stevia, the natural alternative to sugar substitutes. 

Sugar. Glucose. Fructose. These days it seems like there’s sugar lurking in so many things we eat. From the expected candies, juices, and cereals, to the unexpected spaghetti sauces, canned soups, and salad dressings, the amount of sugar we consume can be staggering. Sugars are carbohydrates that can affect your blood glucose (sugar) levels, weight, and blood fats, so people living with diabetes must consume added sugars in moderation. Easier said then done, especially when you want to treat yourself to something sweet..

In comes artificial sweeteners. These sugar substitutes are used in place of sugar (sucrose) and are classified as non-nutritive, non-caloric sweeteners. They are extremely sweet, so you only have to use a fraction of what you would in table sugar.

But what if you are sick of that overly sweet taste? What if you have already used your suggested serving of Splenda for the day and don’t want to consume anymore for fear of an upset stomach? What about those questionable ingredients in your Splenda—dextrose and maltodextrin—that Diabetes Canada says will increase bloods glucose levels?

The jury may be out on artificial sweeteners, but there may be a better plant-based, sugar substitute out there: stevia.

The stevia plant has two steviol glycosides. Rebaudioside A is the sweet tasting glycoside that is extracted and purified from the stevia plant and used as the primary ingredient in stevia products. It will usually be named as stevia extract or stevia on the label of a product.

Stevia is fairly new to the market at it was approved by the FDA in Canada in November of 2012 and permitted for use as a food additive and dietary supplement. Studies have confirmed that purified forms of steviol glycosides (stevia extracts) are safe to consume, even at high dietary intake levels (although not advised). In 2008, aa short-term study had individuals with type 2 diabetes consume 1000mg of steviol glycoside daily, and the results showed that rebaudioside A was well tolerated. This suggests that consumption of stevia does not alter glucose levels in these individuals.

Takeaway : Stevia is suggested to be safe for healthy individuals, and those with type 2 diabetes.


The Misleading

Although stevia is a great alternative to both traditional sugars and other artificial sweeteners, you should be strategic in which brand you choose. Stevia’s popularity makes it easy to find in most mainstream grocery stores in the form of popular brands like Truvia, Pure Via, and NuNaturals Stevia. These products are best avoided as they come with added fillers that go through so much processing that the end product is hardly reminiscent of stevia.

First, let’s look at Truvia by Coca Cola. Truvia is marketed to consumers as a stevia-derived natural sweetener, but this is misleading. The three components of Truvia are erythritol, Stevia Leaf Extract (rebiana), and natural flavours. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, and is the main ingredient of Truvia. Because our body does a poor job of digesting sugar alcohols, they hang out undigested in our intestine while they are fermented by colonic bacteria. Fermentation can cause gas, bloating, and distress. Yuck. The next ingredient is rebiana, which is derived from stevia leaf extract, but it only makes up 0.5 % of Truvia’s content—that can hardly be considered fair marketing.

Read More on artificial sweeteners and their connection to Diabetes here. (hyperlink here)

Pure Via is one of Canada’s most popular stevia brands. It also claims to be a better alternative to sugar substitutes by including stevia. What Pure Via doesn’t advertise is the first ingredient on the label: dextrose. Dextrose is considered an artificial sweetener that does raise blood glucose levels according to Diabetes Canada.levels .  Unfortunately, this misleading advertising defeats any benefit a person living with diabetes would gain from using this product.

NuNaturals stevia comes in several different forms, including extract powder, quick dissolve tablets, and a NoCarbs Blend. While this might sound promising, the ingredient list should be checked carefully. The NuNaturals NoCarbs Blend only has three ingredients: erythritol, stevia extract, and natural flavours. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that is considered safe, (3) but can lead to limited gastrointestinal issues. Upset stomachs are never fun. The NuNaturals White Stevia Powder includes maltodextrin on the ingredient list, and although this option is cheaper than other products in the line, maltodextrin is considered to raise blood glucose levels (3.1).

So what’s the verdict on Truvia, Pure Via, and NuNaturals? Diabetics beware: these are filled with added artificial sweeteners that are best left on the shelf.

Takeaway : TruVia, PureVia, and NuNaturals are safe for healthy individuals to consume, but those with type 2 diabetes should probably stay away due to the tricky additives.

A Step above the Rest

Now that we know which brands to steer clear from, let’s look at some better options. Here’s the lowdown on Sweet Leaf Natural Stevia and Better Stevia by Now Foods.

Sweet Leaf has only two ingredients on its list; inulin soluble fibre and organic stevia extract. This is great for those with diabetes, as inulin may improve some glycemic indices . According to Sweetleaf’s claims , only cool, purified water is used to process stevia leaves so there are no chemicals, solvents, or alcohols involved.

Better Stevia by Now Foods has organic inulin, organic stevia extract (stevia rebaudiana) and silica on its ingredient list—similar to Sweet Leaf. This stevia comes in a variety of ingestible forms, including single packets, instant tablets, extract powder--which is certified organic by the USDA--and liquid drops (with flavours including dark chocolate and coconut to name a few).

The Takeaway : Sweet Leaf and Better Stevia by Now Foods are great choices when it comes to natural sweeteners for type 2 diabetics.  



To Remember

Clearly, there are many things to consider if you want to make the switch from artificial sweeteners to stevia. To keep things simple, try and stick to the following list:

  • Some artificial sweeteners can raise blood glucose levels or cause other minor but annoying health concerns when compared to stevia
  • Misleading marketing can lead you to buy products with additive fillers, be sure to buy products that have either stevia extract, rebaudioside a, or rebiana and avoid products that list either maltodextrin or dextrose as an ingredient
  • A quick Google search on stevia-based products sold in your area will help you save time and effort
Happy Hunting!

#ABfoodfight

By Alyssa Grams 13 Nov, 2017

So you’ve been recently diagnosed with type-2 diabetes. It can be a scary and confusing time, with lots of information to take in. Of course, many people are afraid of what that means for their eating. Am I doomed to a life free of dining delights, you may wonder.

While it’s no surprise diet is of the essence, diabetes isn’t a life sentence of bland food.  Truth is, a healthy eating plan for diabetes is a healthy eating plan for everyone. And it doesn’t mean a lifetime of choosing cardboard over carbonara and never enjoying another meal again.

By following a simple recipe at each meal and snack you can enjoy delicious, nourishing food while still managing your blood sugars.

All you have to do is toss in the right ingredients, whip them up with the proper amounts, add a pinch of good timing and season to taste.

 Step One: Ingredients

This may take just a dash of patience, but bear with me—and trust me when I say there are no secret ingredients. All you need is real, wholesome foods like fruit and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, fish, lean meat, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes. Just eat and repeat.

Eating nutritious whole foods at every meal will go a long way in ensuring you get the right amounts of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. Don’t forget, all these foods come with a generous side of vitamins, minerals and fibre!

Step Two: Portions

There are a few different steps to this, but I promise it’s as easy as 1,2,3. How much of each ingredient may vary depending on your age, gender and activity level. But in general, there are two ways to be sure the recipe can’t be beat.

1.    Plate method

Using a 9-inch plate, fill half your plate with vegetables, fill one quarter with meat or another protein and finish it off with a whole grain or fibre-rich starch. Bon appetit! Feel free to add a small piece of fruit and a small glass of milk into the mix, depending on appetite.

2.  Portion it yourself

Sometimes the best solution is right in the palm of your hands; other times, the best solution is  your hands. Here are a couple good rules of thumb that will have you eating well-portioned meals in a pinch:

  • Aim for the size of your fist in grains, starches & fruit
  • Eat as many vegetables as you can hold in both hands
  • Look to your palm when it comes to meat, fish and poultry (thickness of your little finger)
  • Add just the tip of your thumb in fats & oils

Step Three: Timing

It’s not as simple as setting a timer, but eating regularly during the day helps stabilize your blood sugars, helping you rise to any occasion. It also prevents overeating by managing your hunger.

You’ve heard the advice before, but it’s as simple as this: Eat three meals a day at regular times and space them no more than six hours apart. Make sure to eat breakfast every day and include 1 – 2 small snacks as needed.

Step Four: Season to Taste

Just like any good recipe, this one also leaves room for a pinch of your favourite flavours. While it’s important to watch added sugar, salt and fat, that doesn’t mean they’re completely off the table. Just save them for special occasions, be sure to monitor your portions and savour every last bite.

As you can see, healthy eating for diabetes is a healthy way of eating for everyone. You don’t need separate meals or special “diabetic” foods. All you need is a healthy appetite for fresh, wholesome ingredients and of course, a recipe for success.

For more information on:

  1. The healthy plate method: Health Canada's Eat Well Plate .
  2. Handy portion sizes: Diabetes Canada's Portion Guide .
  3. Fresh, Alberta-grown food, practical menus and a healthy lifestyle: Pure Prairie Eating Plan.

 

 

By Keighla Lutes 05 Oct, 2017

It’s no surprise that Albertans go cuckoo over chicken. Not only is it a healthy protein source; it’s also delicious, versatile and easy to prepare. Since September has been hailed as National Chicken Month  , it seems like the perfect time to sing the praises of this popular poultry.

The Inside (S)coop

If you’re looking for a high-quality lean protein, the bird’s the word. One serving (75 g or 3.5 oz) of roasted, skinless chicken breast clucks in at about 124 calories, 3g total fat and 1g saturated fat ( 1  ).

And that lean serving is also packed with protein, dishing up 23 g per serving! Protein   is key to helping you feel full longer after eating, which helps stave off hunger and prevent overeating. A protein-rich diet also helps slow age-related muscle loss and maintain healthy bones.

Chicken also rules the roost when it comes to iron, B-vitamins, bone-building phosphorus and immunity boosting selenium and zinc. People with diabetes are at a higher risk for infections, so it’s extra important to keep the immune system strong.

No Paltry Poultry

Do you feel like chicken tonight? If so, you’re in (c)luck! There are as many ways to eat chicken as there are hens in the henhouse. Don’t be afraid to wing it. Just make sure you always remove the skin and choose healthy cooking methods like roasting, broiling or braising to keep the fat content down.

And don’t ruffle any feathers over light vs. dark meat—there’s nothing fowl about the dark stuff.  Although it’s higher in calories and fat, dark meat also contains more iron, zinc and certain B-vitamins than white meat, which means all cuts can be part of your healthy diet.

Also don’t fret over hormones   or steroids. Fun fact: their use in chickens has been banned in Canada since the 1960s.

Bird Bath

With cold and flu season just around the corner, many of us will turn to chicken noodle soup. Next time you feel a sniffle coming on, whip up the Chicken Noodle Bowl from the Pure Prairie Eating Plan  . It’ll be just what the doctor (and the dietitian) ordered!



References

1) Canadian Nutrient File (2015). Nutrient Profile: Chicken, broiler, breast, meat, roasted. Retrieved from: https://food-nutrition.canada.ca/cnf-fce/serving-portion.do?id=842


By Keighla Lutes 04 Oct, 2017

The weather may be cooling down, but your healthy fall food choices are heating up! It’s time for all of us to fall in love with fall—because, frankly, we don’t really have another choice!

By using these four simple tips (along with the Pure Prairie Eating Plan ), you’re sure to make fall feasting healthier than ever before.

1) Fall in love with your autumn fruits and veggies!  Alberta’s growing season is short. That means buying seasonal produce is key to saving money and getting the freshest and most nutritious foods. Plus it’s a great way to support our local farmers!

  • Check out your local farmers’ market or community garden.
  • Include seasonal fall foods in your meal plan, like beets, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, corn, kale, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, turnips, cauliflower, zucchini, apples and pears.
  • Stock up on seasonal fruit and veggies and freeze or can them so you can enjoy them year round.

2) Settle back into a routine! As the days get shorter and schedules get busier, it sometimes seems like there isn’t enough time to put together a nourishing, home-cooked meal. But simple ways of establishing a routine can do wonders for making your life simpler and healthier.

  • Make a meal plan and a grocery list to prepare for the week. The Pure Prairie Eating Plan ’s easy-to-follow menus and shopping lists make meal planning a cinch.  
  • Use your slow cooker to save time and money. Slow cookers also allow you to control the amount of added fat, all while boosting the flavour of your home-cooked meals.
  • Make a plan for leftovers. Freeze extra soups, stews and casseroles for easy, pre-portioned meals down the road.

3) Have a couch day game plan!  Whether you’re a sports fan or just want to catch up on fall programming, some simple swaps can help you eat healthier —even when you’re vegging out.  

  • Mash green peas into guacamole to cut down on calories and boost fibre and nutrients.
  • Make your chilli vegetarian or use low-fat ground turkey in place of beef.
  • Serve pita wedges and veggies with hummus instead of the standard cheese and crackers.

4) Get back in the kitchen!  Is it cold outside? Stay in and get cooking! Nothing warms up a fall night like experimenting with delicious, Alberta-grown foods. Try some of the following:

  • Pumpkin is more than just delicious pie filling. Whip up pumpkin soup, pumpkin muffins or even a pumpkin smoothie.
  • Use chopped apples as a salad topper or mixed into warm oatmeal. Or simply cut an apple in half, sprinkle some cinnamon and bake in the oven for a nutritious dessert.
  • Hearty fall soups are filling, easy to make and a great way to use up veggies that might be nearing the end of their shelf life. Use broth instead of cream and add lots of veggies for a satisfying meal that the whole family can enjoy.

For an array of tasty recipes that feature your homegrown harvest ingredients, look no further than the Pure Prairie Eating Plan Cookbook . All recipes are 100% dietitian approved and sure to satisfy. Happy Harvest!

 

By Alyssa Grams 13 Sep, 2017

While Alberta’s summer yield may be running dry, it is harvest time for many delicious fruits and vegetables. It’s also the perfect time for an early fall favourite: Zucchini!

Also known as summer squash, this versatile veggie may come late in the season, but its comeback game is strong. Low in calories and loaded with vitamins and minerals, this valiant vegetable always squashes the competition.

Zucchini for the Win!

Zucchini is 95% water, making it naturally low in calories and an excellent choice if you’re watching your weight. One serving (½ cup) contains 0.7 grams of protein , 1.9 g carbs  and 0.6 grams of fibre . That’s a steal of a deal when you consider it’s only 10 calories! And since zucchini is a low-glycemic  food, it won’t cause sharp spikes in your blood sugar ( 2 ).

And that’s not all! Along with vitamin A , potassium  and other important nutrients, zucchini also provides 15% (11 milligrams) of your daily vitamin C  needs ( 1 ). Vitamin C is best known for boosting the body’s immune system, which is extra important with flu season right around the corner.

It’s health benefits don’t stop there! As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C also helps squash free radicals in the body, which helps our bodies repair damage and fend off conditions like heart disease and cancer.

Get Squashed                

A favourite among Alberta’s gardeners, zucchini has a mellow flavour, soft edible skin and a creamy white flesh that makes it a delightful addition to any dish.

It can be sliced, diced or shredded and is delicious pan-fried, baked or raw. In addition to its tasty flesh, female zucchini plants also produce large yellow blossoms, which can be eaten raw or cooked.

Move over cuke, it’s time for the zuke! Here are some tasty ways to enjoy this fall favourite:

  1. Sauté a handful of chopped zucchini and add it to a veggie omelette
  2. Add diced zucchini to homemade or canned vegetable soup
  3. Toss matchstick or cubed zucchini into a curry or stir-fry
  4. Layer grilled zucchini, tomato and partly-skimmed mozzarella on a panini
  5. Thinly slice into “zucchini noodles” and toss in your favourite tomato sauce

Okay, so let’s say you just brought in your garden harvest and have no idea what to do with those monster zucchinis. Try grating them up and adding them to baked goods like muffins, loaves or chocolate cake. It may sound like baking blasphemy, but they add an extra dose of nutrition, a moist texture and a surprisingly delicious flavour.

For a breakfast muffin brimming with flavour and nutrition, try the Breakfast Zucchini Muffins in the Pure Prairie Eating Plan .

References

1) Canadian Nutrient File (2015). Nutrient Profile: Squash, summer, zucchini, raw. Retrieved from: https://food-nutrition.canada.ca/cnf-fce/serving-portion.do?id=2225

2) University Health News Daily (2017). Glycemic Index Chart: GI Ratings for Hundreds of Foods. Retrieved from: https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/nutrition/glycemic-index-chart/

By Alyssa Grams 06 Sep, 2017

Every good parent wants to take a bite out of their kids’ hunger by offering up a nice, hearty granola bar. They’re small, portable and easy to toss in a backpack or keep in your car for when you’re stuck in traffic. But just because the right bar is perfect for almost any occasion doesn’t mean any bar is perfect for you.

Many of these bite-sized snacks are packed with more sugar than a donut and are so low in fibre and protein  they don’t stand a chance against your growling stomach.

So when faced with an ever-growing assortment of granola bars, how do you pick a smart snack over a chocolate bar in disguise?

By Alyssa Grams 09 Aug, 2017

Protein is a source of endless debate. Some bodybuilders say if you’re trying to bulk up, it should be the bulk of everything you eat. Others say the power of protein is overestimated. How did we get so mixed up about a few amino acids?

The fact is, it’s an essential nutrient that keeps your body functioning well by building and repairing muscle, hormones and enzymes, as well as your skin, nails and hair. But obviously there’s some confusion so I offer this to you: a protein primer.

By Alyssa Grams 01 Aug, 2017
Article by Robyn Braun, PhD
By Alyssa Grams 25 Jul, 2017

One of the first projects funded by the Alberta Diabetes Foundation when it was founded in 1988 was the clinical research of Dr. Ray Rajotte, which it funded for 12 years. Dr. Rajotte pioneered the first-ever islet cell transplant, which was the biggest breakthrough in diabetes research since the discovery of insulin. That work, plus an expanded islet cell transplant team and the addition of anti-rejection protocol, ended up becoming the international standard of care for islet cell transplantation.

Since 2000, when the protocol was developed, Alberta Diabetes Foundation has invested in a capital campaign to build the world-class building that now houses the Alberta Diabetes Institute. Since then, the Foundation has endeavoured to continue to invest in world-class research for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes right here in Alberta.

Alberta Diabetes Foundation works in tandem with the best-in-class Alberta Diabetes Institute to allocate funding where and when it is needed most, ensuring that important diabetes research and projects do not become stalled. The Alberta Diabetes Foundation is able to fund projects, even at early stages, often filling in gaps left by traditional granting organizations. The researchers in Alberta are confident that a world without diabetes is possible and, today they are doing more than providing sustainable solutions to treating diabetes -- our researchers are on their way to a cure.

By Alyssa Grams 19 Jul, 2017
Article compiled by Breanna Mroczek  with information from Dr. Mathew Estey, Clinical Chemist and Co-Director of Chemistry at DynaLIFE Medical Labs, and Dr. Christopher Naugler, Calgary Zone Clinical Department Head, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Medical Director
By Alyssa Grams 19 Jul, 2017
Post by Erika Brown
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