how stevia works and why it’s so sweet but has zero calories


Are there physiological effects to using it as a sweetener? Why did we formulate artificial sweeteners if this plant was always available?

In: Chemistry


The chemistry of taste and the chemistry of digestion have different processes. It is possible for your taste buds to interact with something while your body is unable to break it down into useful energy. For example, someone who is lactose intolerant can certainly taste dairy products, but will not digest it very well if at all. Another more widely applicable example would be foods high in fiber; you can taste them but they’re going to pass through relatively unchanged.

As with anything indigestible, excessive intake can cause feelings of bloating or diarrhea (the stories about sugar-free gummy bears immediately come to mind). Artificial sweeteners are also known to interact poorly with the hunger response as they do not contain useable energy; this can counterintuitive lead to overeating and weight gain.

When you digest stuff, it gets broken down in yur intestine. But, the little molecules still have to be brought through the cells in your intestine to get into the blood. The molecules have to essentially fit through channels to do so. If the molecule doesn’t fit, you can’t absorb it. Some no calorie sweeteners might be close enough in shape to the real thing to taste sweet, but too different to be absorbed through those channels. Others are really good at activating your taste buds, so that tiny, tiny amounts taste as sweet as lots of real sugar. But there is so little in the food or drink, that it is basically the same as if you didn’t eat any calories