When it comes to sweeteners, most people think of sugar or artificial sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose. However, a lesser-known natural sweetener, stevia, has recently gained popularity.
Stevia is a sweetener known for its zero-calorie content and natural sweetness. It’s not only a healthy alternative to sugar but also the most sustainable form of sweetener available today.
Before we get into the sustainability aspect of Stevia, let’s briefly understand stevia and its properties if you’ve not heard or used it before.
What Is Stevia?
Stevia is a plant native to South America used as a natural sweetener for centuries.
The plant contains compounds called steviol glycosides, which are responsible for its sweet taste. Steviol glycosides are about 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, which means only a small amount of stevia is needed to achieve the same level of sweetness as sugar.
Stevia is available in different forms, including powder, tablets, and granules, and can be used in a wide range of food and beverage products.
Stevia is popular among people trying to reduce their sugar intake or manage their weight, as it contains zero calories and has a negligible impact on blood sugar levels.
Sustainable Cultivation of Stevia
- Requires fewer resources: One of the reasons why stevia is the most sustainable form of sweetener is that it requires less land, water, and other resources to cultivate for the same amount of sweetness that traditional sweeteners like sugar give. Unlike sugar, stevia requires only one-tenth of the land to produce the same sweetness.
- Water Consumption: Stevia requires significantly less water than traditional sweeteners like sugar. Sugar production is one of the most water-intensive crops, requiring approximately 1,500 litres of water to produce one kilogram of sugar. In contrast, stevia requires only 250-300 liters of water to produce the same amount of sweetener.
- Grows in various climates: Stevia plants can be grown in various climates, from tropical to temperate regions, and cultivated using conventional and organic farming methods.
- Chemical Use: Traditional sweeteners like sugar and high fructose corn syrup are often produced using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, adversely affecting the environment and human health. In contrast, stevia is a natural product that does not require synthetic chemicals to grow or process. This makes stevia a safer and more sustainable sweetener.
- Short growth cycle: Stevia has a relatively short growth cycle of about three to four months, which means farmers can harvest several crops in a year.
- Economic benefits to farmers: Stevia cultivation can provide an additional source of income for small-scale farmers who can sell their crops to food and beverage manufacturers. It can help improve their livelihoods and reduce poverty in rural communities.
Environmental Benefits of Stevia
Stevia has several environmental benefits compared to traditional sweeteners.
- Lower Carbon Footprint: The production of traditional sweeteners like sugar and high fructose corn syrup has a significant carbon footprint due to the energy-intensive processes involved. In contrast, stevia has a much lower carbon footprint, requiring less energy and fewer resources to grow and process. Stevia farming also helps sequester soil carbon, making its net carbon footprint lower than other sweeteners.
- Positive impact on biodiversity: Stevia also has a positive impact on biodiversity. Cultivating stevia can help preserve natural habitats and protect wildlife, as it does not require the clearance of large land areas. In contrast, the cultivation of sugar has been linked to deforestation, habitat destruction, and biodiversity loss.
- Renewable Resource: Stevia is also a renewable resource. The plant can be harvested multiple times a year, and the leaves can be dried and processed to produce sweeteners. This means stevia can be a sustainable alternative to sugar, a non-renewable resource.
Health Benefits of Stevia
Apart from its environmental benefits, stevia also has several health benefits.
- Safe for people with diabetes: Unlike sugar, which can contribute to weight gain, diabetes, and other health problems, stevia has no calories and does not affect blood sugar levels. Stevia is also safe for people with diabetes, as it does not raise blood sugar levels.
- Protect against chronic diseases: Stevia has also been found to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can help to protect against chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. Moreover, stevia is a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose, which are linked to health problems such as headaches, digestive issues, and even cancer.
- Better sugar substitute: Stevia can be used in various food and beverage products, including tea, coffee, soda, baked goods, and snacks. It can be used as a sugar substitute in recipes or added to food and drinks for a sweet taste. Stevia is available in different forms, including liquid, powder, and granules, which makes it easy to use in cooking and baking.
Stevia is a natural, sustainable, and healthy alternative to sugar sweeteners. It requires less land, water, and other resources to cultivate than sugar and has a lower environmental impact.
Stevia can also provide economic benefits for farmers and help to improve their livelihoods. In addition, stevia has several health benefits and can be used in a wide range of food and beverage stevia products.
With all these benefits, it’s no wonder that stevia is becoming increasingly popular as a sweetener.