Worldwide obesity rates have nearly doubled since the 1980s. As of 2008, more than 1.4 billion adults, 20 and older, were overweight. Of those, more than 200 million adult men and 300 million adult women were obese. Additionally, 40 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese as of 2012.1 There has been some evidence in the United States that obesity rates are stabilizing, but the rates remain high, putting millions at risk for increased health problems.2
The causes of overweight and obesity around the globe are quite complex and include factors such as an increase in physical inactivity due to increased sedentary time and increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and added sugars. Importantly, added sugars include a whole host of sweeteners with calories from sugar and high fructose corn syrup to agave nectar and maple syrup. The distinction is that added sugars are those added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared and therefore, do not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits. The intake of added sugars has been shown to contribute an average of 16 percent of the total calories in the American diet, and have been linked to weight gain and adverse effects on glycemic control.3
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend reducing the number of calories consumed by consuming foods and beverages that have no or are low in added sugars.3 In March of 2014, The World Health Organization proposed draft guidelines reducing sugar intake recommendations from 10 percent of daily calorie intake to five percent.4 Among the many strategies to consider to achieve this reduction is the use of non-nutritive sweeteners including stevia.
For people trying to manage their weight, stevia provides a natural-origin way to cut calories without having to sacrifice taste. Replacing just 25g (about six teaspoons) of nutritive sweeteners in foods and beverages can provide a 100 kilocalorie reduction. While this may seem relatively insignificant, these small changes do add up over time when done on a daily basis.
Stevia is now available as an ingredient in thousands of food and beverage products around the world including teas, soft drinks, juices, yogurt, soymilk, baked goods, granola bars, alcoholic beverages, chewing gum, cereal, salad dressings, confections and as a tabletop sweetener. In fact there has been a 58 percent increase in new products containing stevia between 2009-2012.5
Because food and labeling policies vary greatly around the world, stevia may be listed differently on nutrition labels depending on where you live. On nutrition labels, look for “stevia, stevia extract, steviol glycosides, stevia leaf extract, Reb A” and other variations.
Weight Management Research
Replacing high calorie sweeteners with low or zero calorie sweeteners, like stevia, can help people manage calorie intake throughout the day and result in weight loss. In a meta-analysis of 15 randomized controlled trials (RCT) and nine prospective cohort studies, researchers examined the relationship between low-calorie sweeteners (LCS) and body weight and composition. Results showed that in the RCT studies, LCS significantly reduced body weight, body mass index, fat mass, waist circumference. In the prospective cohort studies, LCS intake was not associated with body weight or fat mass, but was significantly associated with slightly higher BMI. From this analysis, the authors conclude that substituting LCS for higher calorie options results in modest weight loss and may be a useful tool in weight maintenance or loss.6
In a separate study, 19 healthy weight and 12 obese subjects were fed preloads containing stevia (290kcal), aspartame (290kcal) and sucrose (492kcals) before a lunch and dinner meal on three separate food test days. Hunger and satiety levels were noted before and after meal time and every hour throughout the afternoon. Participants also provided blood samples immediately before and 20 minutes after the lunch preload. Results showed that despite the difference in calories in the preload, subjects did not compensate by eating more at either meal when they consumed stevia and aspartame versus sucrose. Self-reports of hunger and satiety levels did not vary by condition either. Stevia preloads significantly reduced postprandial glucose levels compared to sucrose preloads, and postprandial insulin levels compared to both aspartame and sucrose preloads. The participants did not compensate by eating more at either lunch or dinner and reported similar levels of satiety when they consumed stevia or aspartame compared to sucrose. Additionally, stevia preloads reduced postprandial glucose and insulin levels, suggesting stevia may be beneficial to glucose regulation.7
- World Health Organization. Obesity and Overweight. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/ . Accessed on October 15, 2014
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Causes and consequences of obesity: what causes overweight and obesity? http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/causes/index.html. Accessed October 15, 2014
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.
- World Health Organization. Draft Guidelines: Sugar intake for adults and children. http://www.who.int/nutrition/sugars_public_consultation/en/. Accessed October 14, 2014
- Datamonitor. Compouned annual growth rate of food and beverage products launched with stevia from 2009-2012.
- Miller P, Perez V. Low-calorie sweeteners and body weight and composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014; 100(3):765-777.
- Anton SD, Martin CK, Han H, Coulon S, Cefalu WT, Geiselman P, Williamson DA .Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. Appetite. 2010; 55(1):37-43
- What is Stevia