Have you ever been to a coffee bar and contemplated whether you should choose the yellow, blue, or pink packet? If so, you’re not alone! The world of calorie-free and natural alternatives to sugar is continuously growing. With so many substitutes available, it can be overwhelming to decide which one is the best. Two of the most popular options are erythritol and stevia. Although both are considered low-calorie sweeteners, they differ in their level of sweetness, texture, and chemical properties. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at erythritol and stevia and break down everything you need to know. So, let's dive in and explore the world of sugar substitutes!
Erythritol is a widely consumed sugar substitute that is classified as a sugar alcohol, also known as a polyol. It is naturally found in fruits and vegetables, like grapes and mushrooms, as well as in fermented foods like soy sauce. Erythritol is so popular because it is non-caloric, non-glycemic, and non-cariogenic, making it a great alternative to regular sugar. Additionally, erythritol is shown to have high-digestive tolerance, anti-oxidative and endothelium-protective properties, and is able to scavenge free radicals! Due to these beneficial properties, it is commonly added to many foods as a low-calorie sweetener.
According to data from the FDA and the 2013–2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a program of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States, the average adult consumes several grams of erythritol per day from food sources.
While erythritol is naturally abundant in certain fruits and vegetables, there has been some controversy surrounding its use as a sweetener. Recent studies have reported a link between erythritol levels and certain health risks. However, these studies measured serum levels of erythritol, not the use of erythritol as a sweetener. For now, more research is needed to confirm the long-term effects of higher consumption of erythritol on a healthy population.
Stevia is a natural sweetener that is derived from the Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni plant that is native to South America. The indigenous people of this area have been relying on this natural sweetener for centuries to sweeten their foods, drinks, and medicines.
The sweetness of stevia is mainly due to steviol glycosides, which are roughly 200-300 times sweeter than sucrose (traditional table sugar)! Fascinatingly, there are over 30 different types of glycosides found in stevia leaves, but the two most commonly used ones are stevioside and rebaudioside A, which are present in the highest levels. Aside from their sweetness, stevia leaves also contain proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, dietary fibers, oils, vitamins, and phenolic compounds.
We already discussed that stevia sweetener is derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant of South America, but how do we transform the leaves of that plant into sugar? Well, the process is actually quite simple and doesn't involve adding any artificial or GMO ingredients. First, the leaves are harvested, dried, and crushed. Then, the dried leaves are steeped in hot water to release the glycosides, which are then filtered, purified, and concentrated to create a granulated or liquid sweetener.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, containing 0.2 calories per gram and stevia is a non-nutritive sweetener, containing 0 calories. Although these two sugar substitutes have virtually zero calories, they may still offer a few potential health benefits. For instance, erythritol has been shown to be non-cariogenic, meaning it won’t contribute to tooth decay, and also has a high digestive tolerance. Additionally, both erythritol and stevia have been found to have antioxidant properties, which may help to protect the body against oxidative stress and free radicals.
Let’s compare the calorie and sweetness level of these two sugar alternatives with traditional table sugar. One gram of granulated, white table sugar contains 4 calories per gram, while erythritol has only 0.2 calories per gram and stevia has 0 calories per gram. When it comes to sweetness, stevia is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar and erythritol is 70-80% as sweet as sugar.
Since stevia is so much sweeter than table sugar, when replacing stevia in recipes that call for regular sugar, you will need A LOT less of it. A general rule of thumb is that for each cup of sugar that your recipe calls for, you only need 1 teaspoon of stevia.
Both erythritol and stevia can be effective in maintaining healthy blood sugar already in normal range. They are commonly added to many sugar-free baked goods and snacks because of their non-glycemic properties. However, since erythritol does contain a small number of trace calories, there can be some effect on blood sugar levels if excess amounts are used.
Alternatively, since stevia is calorie-free, it may be more beneficial for blood sugar control already in normal range.
Both erythritol and stevia are equally beneficial when it comes to weight management. While erythritol contains a trace amount of calories, it is not likely to contribute to your overall calorie intake. This is because the small intestine absorbs it quickly and quickly excretes it from the body. Thus, erythritol never has a chance to turn into energy, which is why it is technically defined as being calorie-free.
As for stevia, it is naturally calorie-free and will not contribute to your daily caloric intake. This also means that it is not a viable energy source – it is simply a flavor enhancer. Overall, erythritol and stevia are both useful tools for weight management as they are good ways to add sweetness to foods without contributing any extra calories.
Both erythritol and stevia are great options for those following a ketogenic or low-carb diet. The most important component of a keto diet is to make sure that daily carbohydrate intake stays within a 5-10% range. Therefore, including these two sweeteners which are both calorie and carbohydrate-free, will not affect ketosis.
Moreover, because of these factors, both erythritol and stevia are considered non-glycemic, meaning they will not negatively affect blood sugar levels when consumed in moderation, which is critical for those on a low-carb diet who need to maintain stable blood sugar levels for those who have levels already in normal range. And, another bonus – stable blood sugar levels mean you’re more likely to kick unwanted cravings to the curb!
Erythritol and stevia are both generally considered safe when consumed in moderate amounts. However, like any food, they may have potential side effects for some. Although erythritol is touted for having high-digestive tolerance, if it’s consumed in large amounts, it can cause digestive side effects like gas, bloating, and diarrhea. This is because it is not absorbed by the body and passes through the digestive system largely unchanged. In addition, some people may also experience allergic reactions to erythritol.
Stevia tends to be well-tolerated, but some people may experience mild digestive side effects when consuming stevia in high doses. And, like erythritol, some people may be allergic to it.
Both erythritol and stevia can be used as alternatives to regular table sugar. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol with a similar taste and texture profile to sugar, whereas stevia is a natural plant-based sweetener that is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. They are both great choices for anyone following a low-carb or keto diet, as they have little to no effect on blood sugar levels.
It's best to consume erythritol and stevia in moderation and be aware of any potential side effects. Ultimately, choosing the right sweetener comes down to personal preference and health goals.