Unmasking Natural Sweeteners

Stevia, also known as food additive E-960, is presented as one of the healthiest alternatives to sugar, as the only “non-artificial” option in countless industrial products, but is the message being conveyed to consumers true?

Our nutritionist, Monica Herrero, explains that stevia is not a completely natural product, since it is derived from a plant, the purified steviol glycoside Rebaudoside, so to obtain it it is necessary to carry out a chemical process. The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), the European authority by which all products for food use must be approved and before which they have to demonstrate their safety and benefits, has disallowed the use of this plant as a sweetener, and only since 2012 has obtained the approval of Rebaudoside A or E-960, under a maximum permissible daily intake of 4 mg/kg of body mass.

What is stevia?

Stevia rebaudiana is a plant traditionally cultivated in Paraguay from which a compound with high sweetening power is obtained and used as a sugar substitute. However, the sweetener that we can find in the supermarket is not the natural plant, since it has a percentage, lower or higher depending on the brand that markets it, of around a maximum of 5%, the rest are filler ingredients, such as erythiole E968, which help to make the flavor more suitable for the consumer.

What sugar substitutes are there?

“I can’t say that there are any sugar substitutes,” says Mónica Herrero. She goes on to explain that “we should consume as little as possible and get used to the taste of the food as it is, otherwise a dependency is created, so we will always need a threshold of sweetness higher than what the food itself can give us”.

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However, there are natural alternatives to sugar such as anise, vanilla or cinnamon to give a sweet taste to food. Likewise, there are also fruits to sweeten desserts such as bananas, dates, carrots or dried fruit, which contain a greater amount of natural sugar, in this case fructose.

If a sweeter taste is still sought, any artificial sweetener can be used, since all of them have passed the corresponding quality and risk controls, and in a low concentration they do not necessarily pose health problems.

What are the consequences of consuming sweeteners?

There are no scientific studies that indicate the consequences or benefits of stevia, since it is a recent product in our stores. We are years away from knowing more about it and whether it can have any long-term effects. What is known is that it neither raises nor lowers blood glucose levels, nor do other sweeteners such as sucrose.

On the other hand, there are studies that question stevia and other sweeteners because they may contribute to overweight, since they make the person less satiated and need more food. These are preliminary studies, so they should be viewed with caution.

The main goal is to get away from refined sugars and sweeteners and get used to the natural taste of food.