The growing demand for non-caloric sweeteners has made natural sugar alternatives (like Stevia) and chemically derived sweeteners (like Splenda) widely available in the market today. In fact, with the wide array of choices available, dieters and diabetics may actually have a hard time deciding on the best option for them.
While it all boils down to personal preference, it would be good to assess the benefits of stevia and Splenda — as well as the risks associated with them — before making a U-turn for either of these sugar substitutes. After all, no one would want to switch to an alternative that will only bring in more harm than good to one’s health, right?
Stevia vs. Splenda: Which is the Sweeter Choice?
Stevia is an herbal sweetener extracted from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana. It is a low-growing shrub cultivated and widely used in South America and Asia. It is said that compared to refined sugar, naturally derived stevia liquid extract is 15 to 30 times sweeter while stevia powder made through the chemical process of crystallization can be as much as 200 to 300 times sweeter.
On the other hand, Splenda is a form of sucralose which is a compound formed by subjecting sucrose (sugar) to a chemical process using chlorine. The process removes the carbohydrates and calories from sugar while also adding compounds such as dextrose and maltodextrin that are found in chlorine. Like stevia, the powdered form of Splenda can be 300 times sweeter than table sugar.
Splenda was first introduced for human consumption in the 1970s and has since become one of the most popular artificial sweeteners in the market. Stevia powder and liquid extracts, on the other hand, were only officially approved to be marketed in the U.S. as a safe sugar substitute in 2008. Stevia, however, has been used as sweet tea and natural dietary supplement in South America and Asia for decades.
Both stevia and Splenda do not lead to tooth decay or gum disease that are usually associated with sugar. They also have zero calories, which makes them suitable for dieters who are conscious of their carbohydrate intake. Most of the commercially available stevia and Splenda products also have extended versions that are fortified with additional fiber.
But, it is in the glycemic index where the similarity in health benefits of stevia and Splenda ends and stevia emerges as a better alternative for diabetics. Stevia does not trigger blood sugar swings because the human body does not need insulin to metabolize it. Splenda, however, does have a glycemic index because of the maltodextrin added to process and bulk it up.
One of the benefits of stevia, since it is derived naturally, is the phytonutrients retained in its liquid extract form. Some of these nutrients are ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, protein, and zinc. Splenda has none of these nutrients as it is artificially produced.
Studies in Japan and South America show that long-term use of stevia leads to a stronger pancreas. This reduces the risk of developing diabetes and helps in managing the symptoms of hypoglycemia.
There is no doubt that both stevia and Splenda have health benefits. But, the big question is: are there side effects and health risks that have to be considered before making the switch to either of these sugar substitutes?
As for stevia, even after years of scientific investigation, no conclusive study outlining its health risks to humans exists. However, there is a study that hints on its potentially dangerous effects on animals – particularly in reducing fertility levels.
Meanwhile, a handful of studies show that stevia does not endanger humans and animals alike in terms of cancer development. In fact, a 1997 study shows that female rats that were put on a stevia diet were less likely to develop breast cancer.
In contrast, researchers have found that prolonged consumption of huge doses of maltodextrin leads to a higher vulnerability to develop cancer. Maltodextrin is a substance used in processing Splenda. But, clinical studies have not churned out conclusive data on how much Splenda needs to be consumed before a person’s maltodextrin level becomes alarming.
So, is it stevia or Splenda for you? It actually depends on your health needs and your stance in the natural vs. artificial debate. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that when using sugar, stevia, or any product that acts as its substitute (whether natural or artificial), moderation and proper use are always key.
Category: What is Stevia