Stevia and Agave: A Sweet Debate

Hello! So as you probably know by now I’m really into healthy eating, keeping fit and learning about natural ways to improve our health, mainly through diet. OK sometimes I allow myself to bake an utterly sinful but oh so decadently delicious cake and munch the lot but then I usually am careful and balance my diet out for the rest of the week! I generally avoid fried and processed foods, bad fats and anything that comes out of a packet when possible. I like to know exactly what goes into my meals and know that the ingredients are relatively fresh. You can never be sure that they are super duper fresh when you buy them at the supermarkets these days. And I avoid like the plague anything that I can’t read or understand, which goes for a lot of chemicals and flavourings in processed foods. So whilst I’m indulging in a slab… eurgh I mean slither … of coffee cake in one hand I’m actually reading about healthy eating in the other! Now that’s balanced right?! 😉  Anyways so generally I am really interested in healthy eating and solving our medical problems through diet.

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So whilst on one of my random googling expeditions I came across Stevia and Agave Nectar as alternative sweeteners for use in cooking, baking and beverages. This seems to be a hot topic at the moment and there is a lot of discussion about whether they are actually good for you. Today in the supermarket in the German chain Netto I saw the very first glimpse of stevia on the shelves for 3 Euros and bought it to have a closer look and try it out. It’s actually a mix of stevia and maltodextrin so not pure stevia and not good for anti-candida or low sugar diets. Agave has been around for a few months but is very expensive costing around 5 Euros for a 250 ml bottle. After a bit of research I thought I would jump on the band wagon and tell you about them here. The majority of content isn’t my own but cited from other stevia info websites so please don’t give me all the credit. I did try to write it myself but it’s quite technical, there’s soo much info and the originals sounded better. But I have broken the info down into manageable chunks for easier digestion and the links where I got the info from are referenced below 😉 (haha see what I did there?! OK moving on…)

Welcome Stevia:
Wiki Description: Stevia
is a genus of about 240 species of herbs and shrubs in the sunflower family (Asteraceae), native to subtropical and tropical regions from South America, Central America, and Mexico, with several species found as far north as Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The species Stevia rebaudiana, commonly known as sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or simply stevia, is widely grown for its sweet leaves. Stevia is also a member of the chrysanthemum family. As a sweetener and sugar substitute, stevia’s taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar, although some of its extracts may have a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste at high concentrations. Commercial brands of rebaudioside A, such as Truvia and PureVia, are sold in health food stores, some supermarkets and on the Internet. These products are available in spoon-able containers and individual serving-size packets. Whole-leaf stevia products are sold as dietary supplements in the form of powders and liquid extracts.

With its steviol glycoside extracts having up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar, stevia has gained attention with the rise in demand for low-carbohydrate, low-sugar food alternatives. Stevia has no effect on blood glucose so it is attractive as a natural sweetener to people on carbohydrate-controlled diets. Stevia has been said to have many health benefits such as weight control as it controls cravings.

Rebaudioside A products are used as sugar substitutes to sweeten coffee, tea and other beverages. You can use it to sweeten yogurt, cereal and baked goods such as muffins and cookies but follow package directions for substituting stevia products for sugar in recipes. Rebaudioside A is also approved for use in commercial products such as processed fruits and fruit juices, soft candy, toppings and syrups, snack foods, dairy products and dairy substitutes.

Baking with Stevia
Stevia does not crystallize, so if you are making creme brulee or another recipe that requires crystallization, use sugar in that part of the recipe. Stevia also does not caramelise so cakes may appear lighter in colour as the stevia will not brown like normal sugar does. When baking, follow the conversion chart below with one other adjustment. You’ll need to make up the volume lost through replacing a 120 g (1 cup) of sugar with only 1/4 teaspoon of Stevia Concentrated Powder so try adding unsweetened apple fiber for example.

Stevia conversion chart:

1 Tsp Stevia (powered)= 120 g / 1 Cup Sugar

1 Tsp Stevia (liquid)= 225 g / 1 Cup Sugar
1/2 Tsp Stevia=1 Tbsp Sugar
6 Drops liquid Stevia=1 Tbsp Sugar
A pinch of Stevia=1 Tsp sugar
2 drops liquid stevia=1 Tsp sugar

The bulk or consistency that sugar normally would add can be replaced with applesauce, fruit puree, canned pumpkin, fruit juice, yogurt, or any ingredient that will taste right with your recipe and add moisture. For every 120 g (one cup) of sugar that is replaced by stevia 30 g to 60 g (1/4 to 1/2 a cup) of the bulk should be added.

Hello Agave Nectar:
Wiki description: Agave nectar
(also called agave syrup) is a sweetener commercially produced in South Africa and Mexico from several species of agave, including Agave tequilana (blue agave) and (Agave salmiana). The word Agave actually comes from the Greek word Noble. Agave nectar is sweeter than honey. It also tends to be less thick and flow somewhat more freely than honey. The majority of agave nectar around the world comes from Mexico and South Africa.

Agave nectar is 1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter than sugar and is often substituted for sugar or honey in recipes. In cooking, it is commonly used as a Vegan alternative to honey. Agave nectar dissolves quickly and so it can be used as a sweetener for cold beverages such as iced tea. It is added to some breakfast cereals as a binding agent.

Agave nectars are sold in light, amber, dark, and raw varieties. Light agave nectar has a mild, almost neutral flavor, and is therefore sometimes used in delicate-tasting dishes and beverages. Amber agave nectar has a medium-intensity caramel flavor and is therefore used in dishes and drinks with stronger flavors. Dark agave nectar has stronger caramel notes and imparts a distinct flavor to dishes, such as some desserts, poultry, meat, and seafood dishes. Both amber and dark agave nectar are sometimes used “straight out of the bottle” as a topping for pancakes, waffles and French toast. The dark version is unfiltered and therefore contains a higher concentration of the agave plant’s minerals.Raw agave nectar also has a mild, neutral taste.

Baking with Agave Nectar
You should add as much agave nectar as sugar in any recipe. So if 120 g (1 cup) of sugar is needed then use 120 g (1 cup) of agave nectar. Agave nectar is 40 percent less glycemic than refined sugar and is less sweet in baked goods.

Add an extra 30 g (1/4 cup) of flour to the recipe or 30 g (1/4 cup) cornstarch, to thicken the recipe. When you substitute granulated sugar with agave nectar, you are substituting a wetter ingredient, which needs to be balanced by a thickener.

As a tip you should oil your baking pans or muffin pans thoroughly. Baked goods made with agave nectar tend to stick more to the pans than baked goods made with traditional refined sugar and they can brown quickly on the outside, like honey burns more quickly than sugar, so watch your cake carefully as it bakes.

Comparison:

Stevia and agave nectar are alternatives to white sugar, honey and other sweeteners that are high in calories and have a visible effect on your blood sugar. While the sweetness in agave nectar comes from its high concentration of fructose, stevia derives its sweet taste from compounds called glycosides. Both come from plants but agave nectar can be purchased in its raw form whereas stevia cannot. The Food and Drug Administration only permits purified stevia extracts to be used in foods and beverages as the agency does not yet have sufficient proof that whole stevia leaves and unrefined extracts are safe for human consumption.

Calories and Carbohydrates

Stevia products contain few or no calories and have 200 to 350 times the sweetness of sugar. Stevia products may contain minimal amounts of calories and carbohydrates from ingredients added to these products. Agave nectar has 20 calories per tsp. and is 1.4 to 1.5 times sweeter than table sugar. One tsp. of agave nectar has approximately 2 g of carbohydrates.

Effects on Blood Sugar
The glycemic index measures the ability of carbohydrate-containing foods to increase your blood sugar levels on a scale of zero to 100. Agave nectar has a high concentration of fructose, a form of sugar that has a low effect on blood sugar levels, and Agave nectar consisting of 90 percent fructose has a GI value of 11, according to the Glycemic Index Foundation. Stevia products do not appear to affect blood glucose levels.

Stevia, Agave and Candida
According to Candida Cure Recipes unlike sugar, honey, maple syrup or agave nectar, stevia is not a sugar compound so candida yeast do not feed on it. On an anti-candida diet, stevia is an acceptable sweetener that will not aggrevate symptoms of candidiasis. You can use dried, ground stevia leaf or liquid stevia extracts to sweeten food and beverages. Agave will feed Candida, but it is much less offensive as sugar. It also does not give you the rush in blood sugar that sugar and honey do. Of the two Stevia is the better option when on a candida or no sugar diet.

 Health Concerns
The FDA has not approved stevia in its whole-leaf or unrefined forms because these products may pose risks to your kidneys, heart and reproductive systems. Unprocessed forms of stevia may also interfere with blood glucose management. While agave nectar may help you manage your blood sugar levels, this syrup is high in calories and carbohydrates and may promote obesity if used in excess. Although stevia has no calories, baked desserts, candies and other sweet foods made with stevia may still cause weight gain if eaten in large amounts. Stevia in large amounts may also bring on headaches but this needs further research.

Pregnancy
Pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding are advised by some physicians to avoid the use of stevia to remain on the safe side, due to the lack of information available on its effects.

Allergies
Individuals with allergies to ragweed and associated plants may want to avoid stevia as it has the potential to cause an allergic reaction. Associated plants may be marigolds, daisy, chrysanthemums, ragweed, and other plants in the Asteraceae/ Compositae family.

Blood Pressure
Some inconclusive evidence exists concerning the effects of stevia on blood pressure. It suggests individuals with low blood pressure may want to be careful consuming stevia and products containing stevia as it can lower blood pressure even further causing unwanted effects but more research is needed on this.

Blood Sugar
The World Health Organization review of stevia studies concluded that some evidence exists of pharmacological effects on blood sugar, but more research is needed. Individuals with diabetes should not use stevia as a sole treatment and should continue to monitor blood glucose levels.

Diabetes
Agave nectar may not be a suitable sugar alternative for diabetics. It may worsen symptoms or cause associated conditions such as heart disease and high triglycerides.  Research shows that it’s the fructose part of sweeteners that’s the most dangerous to us. Fructose causes insulin resistance and significantly raises triglycerides (a risk factor for heart disease). It also increases fat around the middle which in turn puts you at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease and Metabolic Syndrome (AKA pre-diabetes) .

In fact, agave nectar may be worse than normal sugar as most agave nectars in stores are made of cheap fructose syrups. In the agave plant, most of the sweetness comes from a particular kind of fructose called inulin, which actually has some health benefits and is considered a fiber. But there’s not much inulin left in the actual syrup after enzymes are added to break down the inulin during manufacturing. Evidence suggests that agave nectar is not a health food and it’s no better for you than normal sugar.

Conclusion:


All in all I think real sugar is probably the best solution as its been around for years and we know if we eat too much we will gain weight and have other health problems like diabetes and candida etc. The results have been researched and proven for years. After reading up on both products stevia would be the better option, in moderation, when on a low sugar diet. However as these products are fairly new to the market scientists haven’t had a chance to look at the long term effects of these products. There is only so much you can learn on a lab rat over a short span of time. In the 90’s it was banned in America as it was thought to be toxic in large amounts. Stevia was allowed into the EU in December 2011 and some stevia products are still banned in the States as they contain a mix of stevia and other ingredients that may be harmful so this really is a new product not tested over the long term as it hasn’t been around long enough. Also there are so many brands and qualities of stevia and agave nectar that it is difficult to tell which is purer and better for you. I would advise to be cautious and if you want to try it then do your research first but I think for me I will just use real sugar or palm sugar or even go without. I think it’s fair to say that you should handle stevia and agave nectar as you would real sugar. Although they are sweeter and you don’t need as much, if you eat large amounts of them you may gain weight and be at risk to other health problems not yet established. If you’re on a diet then you’re not supposed to be eating treats anyway so why kid ourselves by indulging in a sweet substitute if it might not actually be good for us?

Last points to remember:

  • Stevia is not an approved product in every country / State. It is banned in the US by the FDA.
  • Health benefits for agave nectar and stevia are not proven. They are still new on the market and haven’t been tested long enough.
  • Do your research and google “stevia” and “agave” or follow the links below and make your own mind up about these products.

love charlie signature for gluten free blog

If you want to follow the latest debates look here:
How to Start Cooking with Stevia | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/how_4750012_start-cooking-stevia.html#ixzz26Zo8vMjY
How to Substitute Stevia for Sugar in Baking | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/how_2268348_substitute-stevia-sugar-baking.html#ixzz26ZolBVNl
How to Bake With Agave Nectar | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/how_2309255_bake-agave-nectar.html#ixzz26ZrirHXr
http://www.livestrong.com/article/395154-agave-nectar-vs-stevia/#ixzz26ZT97w4b
http://www.livestrong.com/article/382799-is-agave-nectar-healthy/#ixzz26ZdG0sdh
http://www.livestrong.com/article/401826-what-is-stevia-and-is-it-safe/#ixzz26ZY98MWL
http://www.livestrong.com/article/313495-stevia-the-candida-diet/#ixzz26ZU6eC1O
http://www.livestrong.com/article/111288-stevia-warnings/#ixzz26ZZysrcx

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