Months ago, I was contacted by Ron Redding, the VP of sales and marketing for NuNaturals, a Eugene, OR based company selling stevia and other dietary supplements. He asked if I would try stevia and report my thoughts on the blog. I have to admit I was a bit hesitant because I was not up to speed on the knowledge and evidence on stevia. But then I figured what the heck, I have a degree in chemistry and I’m used to experiments. Might as well do one on myself!
I got several products in the mail and I’ve been using two of them pretty consistently – Liquid cocoa bean extract and liquid vanilla stevia. I’ll start with the cocoa bean extract.
Ok, so who doesn’t love chocolate? Who was elated to learn that chocolate can be good for you? The day I learned about flavonoids in chocolate acting as powerful antioxidants to promote health I was practically dancing in the streets. To my surprise, I actually found that I love dark chocolate (65-75% cacao) and not only do they have the most antioxidants, but they have fiber to boot! Of course there’s still those pesky fat and calories that keep me trying to stick to a 1 oz portion (in case you are wondering that is about the size of three fingers – the one time I am grateful for having big hands!).
Needless to say, I was excited to try the cocoa extract. I loved the instructions “use 20 drops directly in your mouth” (OK!) “or mixed in your favorite beverage”. The bottle also tells you exactly what’s in there. One dropperful has 100mg of theobroma cacao, standardized for 15% polyphenols and 10% theobromine.
Theobromine is a metabolite of caffeine, and it has a similar (but weaker) effect on the body. Like caffeine, it is a vasodialator and helps to lower blood pressure. But if you can’t handle caffeine, you might be able to tolerate theobromine. Theobromine has a bitter taste. Notice how dark chocolate is more bitter than milk chocolate? That’s the theobromine talking to you.
Polyphenols are the 4000+ different species of antioxidants that combat oxidative stress, promote heart health, . The bottle boasts “our cocoa extract is higher in levels of total phenolics and flavonoids than green tea, black tea and red wine. “. Dietary polyphenols can be consumed up to about 1 gram per day, according to this report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Other ingredients include: water, 20% pure grain alcohol (something to think about if you are sensitive), vegetable glycerine, stevia extract, and natural flavors.
I started using the extract once a day in my morning coffee. I liked that it added a subtle cocoa flavor to my coffee. I could taste the bitterness a bit, but I didn’t mind it. Honestly, I didn’t know if it was the coffee, the product, or both! I also found that I could skip creamer and still have a flavor in the coffee. It wasn’t quite like a mocha, but then again I was not adding in all the sugar typical of mocha beverages. All in all, I found it to be very pleasant.
Now, on to the liquid vanilla stevia… Stevia essentially comes from a plant. It is 300 times sweeter than sugar, yet it has no calories. It is not yet approved as a food additive in the U.S. so it is now sold as a dietary supplement. I have a feeling that will change soon since Cargill and Coca Cola announced the launch of Truvia, the brand name for the stevia derivative rebiana, which they intend to use as a natural sweetener in food products.
The bottle says it has 200 mg stevia extract per ml, but it recommends .25ml as a serving size because it is so sweet. The other ingredients include water, vanilla bean extract, 35% pure grain alcohol and natural flavors.
I used this in my coffee, and like the cocoa extract I found it to be very pleasant. I could use it with or without creamer. I particularly liked this one with iced coffee and a little creamer. But I really hit the jackpot when I put it in my famous fresh fruit smoothies…
I have a crazy sweet tooth – always have and probably always will. I can’t resist things like homemade chocolate chip cookies and carrot cake. mmmMMMMmmm…. I have been on a quest to find a truly healthy way to satisfy my sweet tooth on a regular basis so I can enjoy the indulgent sweets once in awhile. My fruit smoothies are my solution. When I added the vanilla stevia, I took a good treat and gave it that extra zing it needed. I probably have these smoothies 3 times a week and with the weather getting better I am sure I will have them more often.
By now you might want the recipe. Well it is not rocket science really… I just use 1/2 cup of any fruit (usually berries, mango, and banana work well – fresh, frozen, doesn’t matter), 1/2 cup fat free greek style yogurt (You can do plain yogurt, but I gotta tell ya, I love the greek style. It is so thick and creamy and it has just a few ingredients.), 1/4 cup ice, 1/4 cup water (you can use milk or juice if you want too) and 1/4 dropper of the liquid vanilla stevia. Mix in a blender an enjoy!
This treat has about 100 calories, plus protein, carbs, and vitamins. I find it very refreshing after a workout.
So, what is the bottom line on stevia? Well, it really depends on who you listen to… If you believe the FDA, then there aren’t enough studies to prove it is a safe food additive, but it can be used as a dietary supplement (but that doesn’t say much because no supplements are regulated by the FDA – so essentially it is FDA removing itself from the equation). If you believe others who have used stevia, then you probably agree that it is a safe alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners. Who are these “other” people? Well, stevia has been used for centuries in Paraguay and Brazil as a sweet tea, it has been embraced by Japan where it is used in soy sauce, Coca Cola, and sweet pickles among other foods, and there are people in the U.S. who have migranes, diabetes, or ADHD who are trying to avoid sugar or artificial sweeteners who swear by it. But ultimately, you are going to have to make your own decision. I was happy with my experience using the products. I look forward to watching news unfold about stevia because I believe we are on the cusp of a new food industry trend.