Stevia and Diabetes: Could Your Sweet Tooth Help Prevent/Treat Diabetes?

Stevia is a unique sugar substitute that is made from a plant and doesn’t add calories. It has a much sweeter taste than regular sugar. There is also an interesting link between stevia and diabetes. It is believed that stevia can help promote the release of insulin and normalize response to glucose.

It’s only human nature to defend our weaknesses, and I am no different.  I cannot recall the last time I went to bed without first having dessert.  Years ago, I was introduced to the natural sugar alternative stevia, and within moments I was converted to an addict.  Not everyone likes the taste of it, but I love it. My favorite dessert is now a protein pudding made with stevia sweetened protein powder, a heaping spoonful of nut butter, and almond milk.  Yum!

In an effort to defend my stevia addiction, I started doing some research on the risks and benefits of stevia.  Although stevia has some questionable side effects, like its effects on the gut microbiome, I was pleasantly surprised to see an abundance of research being done on stevia’s ability to impact insulin resistance.

stevia and diabetes - stevia in the raw packets

What is Stevia?

Stevia is a natural sugar substitute derived from the leaves of the plant Stevia rebaudiana.  It has been used for hundreds of years in South America to sweeten tea.  It is not metabolized through the GI tract, and thus does not provide calories.  (It is, however, metabolized by the gut microbiome).  By interacting with receptors, it provides its intense sweetness by increasing the sweet, bitter, and umami tastes.

Stevia and Diabetes

Studies are showing that stevia (or Stevia Rebaudiana) may have insulinotropic effects on the pancreas.  Meaning, it helps to increase the secretion of insulin from the pancreatic iselt cells, but ONLY after eating a high glucose meal.  Interestingly, another study showed that stevia, compared to sucrose and aspartame, caused a lower insulin spike after eating that did either of the other two sugar substitutes.  In addition, a diabetic rat study conducted in 2018 showed that consuming stevia over an 8 week period resulted in a decrease in both fasting and random blood glucose, as well as hemoglobin A1c, while it improved levels of insulin and liver glycogen.  Another rat study done in 2016 showed that Stevia can improve blood glucose by increasing the action of PPARy, a nuclear receptor that helps regulate glucose metabolism and fatty acid storage, and happens to be the target of the anti-diabetic drug class thiazolidinediones or TZDs. 

Although curbing ones sweet tooth with whole foods like berries and honey is healthiest, stevia seems to be a very promising alternative, particularly for those with insulin resistance.

Cheers to some protein pudding tonight!

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