Ask the Nutritionist
Q: Is Stevia sweetener beneficial for weight loss? Does it have any connection with cancer?
Veronica, Worcester, Massachusetts
A: Stevia, an herb native to Central and South America, is widely grown for its sweet leaves. It is virtually calorie-free and up to 300 times as sweet as sugar, which makes it appealing as a natural alternative to both sugar and artificial sweeteners. If used sparingly (one to two tablespoons per day in coffee or tea, for example), it will most likely not result in harmful health effects. By replacing one to two tablespoons of table sugar with stevia, you will decrease your daily calorie intake by 90 calories. While a reduction of 90 calories is a good start, it is likely not a sufficient calorie reduction to result in weight loss. It is recommended you meet with a Registered Dietitian who can help you understand your individual weight goals and assist you in designing a healthful eating plan to promote weight loss.
When Stevia is metabolized, it is broken down into various compounds. Research in laboratory animals has shown some of these compounds to be mutagenic, meaning they can cause changes in a cell's genetic material (DNA). It remains unclear if this occurs in humans; therefore, the widespread human consumption of Stevia is currently not recommended.