Sugar substitutes are an effective way to add sweetness into your diet, without having to consume sugar. Swerve and stevia are two popular examples.
They’re also both low-carb sugar alternatives, making them perfect for keto diets.
But, how do the two compare?
What's the difference between swerve vs stevia, and which one should you be using? In this post, we take a detailed look at each of the options, including their pros and cons.
What is Stevia?
Stevia is a natural sweetener, which comes from the herb Stevia rebaudiana. It is around 100x to 200x as sweet as sugar. But, it doesn’t increase blood sugar levels and has a GI of 0.
That’s a stark contrast to sugar and many artificial sweeteners. For that reason alone, stevia is very popular.
The Compounds in Stevia
Stevia contains rebaudioside A and stevioside. Rebaudioside A is responsible for most of the sweetness of stevia, although stevioside plays a role too.
Many stevia products will extract the rebaudioside A only. This is because stevioside has a bitter aftertaste. That aftertaste is why many people don’t like stevia.
On the flipside, stevioside is associated with health benefits, including improved blood pressure (1). So, products that only contain rebaudioside A may not be as good for you.
Types of Stevia
Stevia comes in various forms. Some of these are much better than others.
- Stevia powder. This is one of the most common ways to use stevia and there are many products on the market. It is typically processed and tends to rely on rebaudioside A only.
- Stevia tablets. These are basically the same as stevia powder, just in a tablet form. This style is an easy way to add sweetness to hot drinks.
- Liquid stevia. You can add this type of stevia using a dropper. Some brands are processed, while others are natural. One reliable product is SweetLeaf Sweet Drops.
- Whole leaf stevia. This type of product just uses stevia leaves. It is more natural than the previous examples. Because the leaves contain both compounds, they tend to be less sweet than stevia powder and have a more pronounced aftertaste.
- Powdered stevia leaf. This is simply a powdered version of stevia leaf. As such, it has the same advantages and disadvantages as the whole leaves.
There are also products that contain stevia, along with other sweeteners. For example, Stevia in the Raw is promoted as a 100% natural zero calorie sweetener. It does include stevia leaf extract, but the primary ingredient is dextrose.
This means you need to be careful about the brands you choose. Paying attention to reviews and the ingredients labels can help with this process.
Stevia Side Effects and Risks
Stevia is generally considered safe. But, there are still some potential problems.
- Authors like The Paleo Mom are concerned about hormonal impacts, as stevia compounds can mimic hormones to some degree. And, as she points out, large-scale long-term studies on stevia consumption haven’t been conducted. But, there is little evidence for this outcome and the effect hasn’t been observed in humans.
- Because stevia may decrease blood pressure, it could interact with medication that does the same. Likewise, people with chronic low blood pressure need to be careful about using stevia regularly.
- Stevia leaves also haven’t been approved by the FDA as food additives, although rebaudioside A has been approved (2).
Despite these issues, stevia should be safe when used in moderation. If there are any negative effects, they’re likely to only be significant for large doses – much more than individuals would ever consume. The site Medical News Today offers more detail about these potential side effects, along with the research behind them.
- Is considered to be safe
- 0 GI, will not affect blood sugar levels
- A natural sweetener, especially if you go with the whole leaf or powdered leaf version
- Many products and brands to choose from
- Has a bitter aftertaste, which is more pronounced in whole leaf products
- The powdered version can be highly processed
What is Swerve?
Swerve is a little bit different. It is a combination product, which has three components:
- Natural Flavors
Swerve is popular because it is so easy to use. It measures exactly like sugar. As such, it can be used instead of sugar in a 1-to-1 ratio.
A teaspoon serving of Swerve contains 5 grams of carbs. But, these carbs come from sugar alcohols, which are mostly non-metabolized. As such, the body doesn’t use the carbs.
There are two main versions of Swerve. One is granular, which is similar to regular sugar. The other is Swerve Confectioners, which is a replacement for powdered sugar. The company’s video below shows how the confectioners option can be used.
Swerve and Erythritol
Erythritol is the main component of Swerve. This is a sugar alcohol sweetener, created by fermenting sugars from corn (3). Like stevia, erythritol has a GI of 0 and doesn’t increase blood sugar levels (4,5). Erythritol has roughly 60% to 70% the sweetness of sugar (6).
There have been more studies on erythritol than other sweeteners (7,8,9). Results are generally positive and erythritol may even provide benefits to oral health (10,11). As such, it’s safety is well established.
Erythritol is often called a natural sweetener. But, it does go through considerable processing. This includes hydrolysis, fermentation, filtering and crystallization (12).
Swerve also contains oligosaccharides and natural flavors. Oligosaccharides are a type of fiber, also called inulin. The fiber can play a role in gut health.
As the name suggests, natural flavors are simply flavoring agents. Companies don’t need to specify precisely what ingredients they used or how many there were.
The term natural just means that the compounds came from plants. They may have gone through significant chemical processing before they were used in the product.
The end result is that Swerve might be a natural sweetener, but it is much more processed than stevia leaf.
Swerve Side Effects and Risks
The biggest issue with Swerve is the erythritol. This is a sugar alcohol, which some people are sensitive to. Side effects from sugar alcohols include nausea, diarrhea and bloating (13).
However, erythritol is the best option for sugar alcohols. Most people find that they don’t experience any significant side effects unless they consume an excessive amount.
Swerve also produces a cooling effect in the mouth. This can even occur when you use Swerve in baking.
Calories in Swerve
According to the ingredients label, Swerve contains no calories. But, this is a side effect of labeling laws. In reality, there are 44 calories per cup of Swerve (14).
The calories are still very low and aren’t particularly relevant for hot drinks. But, this is something to consider if you plan to use Swerve in baking.
- Relies on erythritol, which has been well-researched and is considered to be safe
- Can be used as a 1:1 replacement for sugar
- Doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste
- There are two versions, which can make baking easier
- Uses natural flavors
- Has a cooling effect
- The sweetener is fairly processed, even though it is considered natural
- It is a sugar alcohol, which some people can be sensitive to
Swerve vs Stevia – Which Should You Use?
Stevia and Swerve both have their advantages. The best choice for you is going to depend on your needs and priorities.
Of the two, stevia is much more natural, especially if you rely on stevia leaf products. This is important if you’re concerned about chemicals in your food. It also tends to have fewer side effects.
On the other hand, Swerve is easier to use and doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste. It can be particularly relevant if you cannot stand the bitterness of stevia. The confectioners version of Swerve may also be relevant to people who love baking.
Of course, there are many other sweeteners that you can turn to. The simplest alternative would be erythritol. This isn’t as easy to use as Swerve but it doesn’t contain natural flavors or oligosaccharides.
Many people end up relying on multiple sweeteners. For example, you might use Swerve for baking but something else for your coffee.
While we’re on the topic, it’s worth checking out this article from Wholesome Yum. Maya has a fantastic Low Carb Sweetener Conversion Chart that shows you how different amounts of sweetener compare. She’s even included multiple types of stevia.
What About Sugar-Based Sweeteners?
There are also many sweeteners that rely on sugar. These are often promoted as being healthier than sugar and sometimes they actually are. Examples include coconut sugar (also called coconut palm sugar), maple syrup and honey.
Many people also use fruit as a source of sweetness. For example, homemade protein bars sometimes take advantage of dates or dried fruit.
These sweetener options often contain more nutrients than conventional sugar or might be more appealing in other ways.
However, they’re not suitable for a keto diet and they do contain sugar. So, while they may be a little healthier than conventional sugar, they’re still sugar. If you’re going to rely on these options, use them wisely.
Are Swerve and Stevia Healthier Than Sugar?
Sugar (along with high fructose corn syrup) has many negative impacts on health – and is frequently overconsumed. For many people, sugar is directly responsible for weight gain, leading them to consume many more calories than they should.
There is also an ‘addictive’ aspect to sugar. Sugar stimulates reward centers in the brain, which is a key reason why we love it so much.
Products like swerve, stevia and erythritol offer a way around this. They provide the same sweetness, without the risks.
In many ways, they are a better choice. But, research is still ongoing. There are many gaps in what we know about sweeteners.
Personally, I would say that products like swerve and stevia are healthier than sugar but aren’t necessarily healthy. The best choice is still to focus on whole foods and a balanced diet. After all, sweeteners don’t contain useful nutrients.
Using sweeteners from time-to-time should be fine. But, try not to rely on them too much.
Want to Improve Your Health?
Better health starts in the kitchen, with the food that you eat and the meals you prepare. Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use.
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