It's easy to get answers about health and nutrition! Just send your question by email to firstname.lastname@example.org and Dr. Harlan will respond to selected questions of general interest. Answers will be posted in the Ask Dr. Gourmet newsletter (sign up now!) and archived in the Ask Dr. Gourmet section of the website.
What is your opinion of stevia - the latest sweetener - and of the blended brand "Truvia®"?
Stevia has been around forever it seems. The natural sweetener is made from the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Keep in mind that no matter how "natural" such a product is, there's still industrial processing and refining that takes place to turn the plant into the powder-like substance. Granulated sugar does, after all, come from beets or sugar cane.
I first encountered Stevia in the 1970s, when a roommate of mine used it as a sweetener. He said that it didn't have the aftertaste of other artificial sweeteners or of sugar. I have not used it in recipes on the Dr. Gourmet web site, because I have always tried to avoid products that are not widely available - and it's only recently that stevia has gone mainstream. The other issue with stevia is that this sweetener is not found in a consistent form. There's Truvia and Sun Crystals (the two big players in the mass market now). There's also powder and liquid forms that are found in the traditional "health food store" versions.
But since your email is one in a long line of questions in the last year I figure that it's time for stevia to come to Dr. Gourmet. I spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen putting it to the test. I tried two products that were available at a mainstream grocery store near me, Truvia and Z Sweet.
I spent a lot of time developing muffin and quickbread recipes a few years ago. They make good breakfast choices because these versions have a fair amount of fiber but I used Splenda as the sweetener. I used the bagged Splenda that measures like sugar (1 cup Splenda = 1 cup granulated sugar). The Z Sweet used was the labelled "measures and sweetens like sugar" so I did just that. After some research on the Truvia site I decided that 12 packets is the equivalent of 1/2 cup sugar (a packet has about 1/2 teaspoon by volume).
The good news is that the stevia products work every bit as well as the Splenda. The muffins were really good. They tasted every bit as good as the Splenda muffins and the Splenda muffins were extensively evaluated in blind taste tests against muffins made with granulated sugar (the tasters actually preferred the Splenda versions over the granulated sugar versions).
So can you use it in place of sugar? Yes. As a replacement for Splenda and other artificial sweeteners? Yes. Good stuff all 'round.
Thanks for writing.
Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP