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Stevia is a natural sugar substitute originating from the stevia plant. The leaves of the stevia plant contain a number of very sweet particles, called steviol glycosides. The stevia leaf itself is 15 to 20 times sweeter than regular sugar and the steviol glycosides, extracted from the leaves through an extraction process, are even 100 to 500 times sweeter than sugar. Extracting the leaves produces a white powder. The sweetening power of this powder depends on the substance and purity the process was carried out with. Reb. A is the purest steviol glycoside found in the leaves. Then followed by Reb. B, Reb. C and Reb. D, respectively. Moreover, all steviol glycosides are listed with a percentage of purity. So there is Reb. A 90%, Reb. A 94%, Reb. A 98% etc. The higher the purity percentage, the purer and the sweeter the substance is. In addition to the purity percentages, the purity of all steviol glycosides together is also determined. From a legal point of view, this may not be lower than 95%.

What makes stevia a good alternative to sugar? 
The steviol glycosides from the stevia plant have a high sweetening power, which means that it is only used in small quantities. And since this natural sugar substitute contains no calories or carbohydrates, it has no effect on blood sugar levels. The steviol glycosides consist of one steviol unit and one or more sugar units. The bond with the latter compound makes the molecule too large to be broken down in the digestive tract. The steviol glycosides arrive unchanged in the large intestine where the molecule is broken down by the intestinal flora. The steviol is then absorbed and eventually exits the body through urine. The sugar units leave the body through the stool.

In addition, stevia, like erythritol, does not contribute to tooth decay. Every time you eat or drink sugar, it is converted into acid by bacteria in the mouth. This acid affects the tooth enamel, eventually causing cavities (caries). Because stevia neutralises the acidity and cannot be broken down in the mouth, it does not affect the tooth enamel and therefore does not increase the risk of cavities.

What can stevia be used for? 
Since the steviol glycosides from the stevia plant are 100 to 500 times sweeter than regular sugar, stevia is not consumed pure, but mixed or diluted with other products first. By adding a small amount of steviol glycoside to erythritol, for example, which has a lower sweetening power, an ideal substitute for sugar is created.

Sanne van Erp, dietitian at Green Sweet