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Know your sweeteners

Rohini Diniz

This article deals with two natural low calorie sweeteners Stevia and Monk Fruit that are gaining popularity in recent years.

Stevia: Stevia sweeteners are natural low-calorie sweeteners derived from the plant Stevia rebaudiana which is native to South America. These sweeteners are highly purified leaf extracts of steviol glycosides such as Stevioside and rebaudioside A which are 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia sweeteners are commercially available in liquid, powder and pellet form and can be used in tea or coffee, fruit juices, smoothies or sprinkled on breakfast cereals or yoghurt. One can also grow stevia plants at home and use the leaves to sweeten foods and beverages instead of table sugar.

Stevia sweeteners are not associated with any adverse health effects and are safe for the general population including children, those with diabetes and women who are pregnant or nursing. Several studies have shown that stevioside can lower high blood pressure. Consumption of pure stevia extract does not raise blood sugar levels. However, brands containing dextrose, maltodextrin or polyols should be treated with caution as these ingredients add small amounts of carbohydrates and calories especially if you use stevia sweetener throughout the day. Although more research is needed, studies have shown that stevia leaf powder may help lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides and also increased HDL cholesterol. Studies have shown that stevia does not cause tooth decay. Unlike sugar and starch which can ferment when in contact with oral bacteria to produce lactic acid that causes cavities and tooth decay, stevia sweeteners do not ferment when in contact with oral bacteria. There’s some evidence to suggest that stevia may help fight or prevent some types of cancer.

As with most non nutritive sweeteners, a major downside of stevia is its taste. Stevia has a mild, licorice-like taste that is disliked by many people. Stevia sweeteners containing polyols may cause digestive problems such as bloating and diarrhoea.

Monk fruit sweeteners: Monk fruit, also known as lo hanguo, is a small round fruit grown in Southeast Asia. It has been safely used for centuries in Eastern medicine as a cold and digestive aid and is now being used to sweeten foods and beverages. Monk fruit sweetener is made by removing the seeds and skin of the fruit, crushing the fruit and collecting the juice or extract. Monk fruit extract is 150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar and is very low in carbohydrates and calories. It derives it sweetness from an antioxidant compound termed mogroside. Monk fruit sweeteners can be safely consumed as part of a balanced diet. Governments in the US, Canada, China, Japan, and Singapore have concluded that monk fruit sweeteners are safe for the general population including children, those with diabetes, and pregnant and lactating women. In the US monk fruit sweeteners have a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status. Monk fruit extracts are used in tabletop sweeteners, beverages, baked goods (pastries, cereal bars, cookies, etc.), yoghurt, salad dressings, jams, jellies, desserts and candies.

Foods and beverages using stevia or monk fruit sweeteners in place of regular sweeteners generally contain fewer calories and are often labeled as ‘light’ or ‘reduced calorie’. But merely replacing the sugar in a recipe with stevia or monk fruit is not going to bring about weight loss. Weight loss can only be achieved by eating a balanced low-calorie diet and exercising regularly.

Monk fruit and stevia sweeteners are both heat stable and can be used in baking. The quantity that needs to be added depends on the blend and if it contains other sweeteners. In most cases, one will need to add much less monk fruit or stevia sweetener than white sugar.

To be continued. . .

(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 19 years of experience, practicing at Panaji and can be contacted on rohinidiniz@gmail.com)

Categories: Zest
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