Stevia is a natural & herbal sweetener (not artificial like aspartame, saccharine, etc) which is extracted and powdered from the leaves of a South American plant. It has no calories, carbohydrates, and is not refined. Sound too good to be true? Read on.
General Information & History
- Stevia has been used as a sweetening ingredient in foods and drinks by South American natives for many centuries, and there is no report of any plant toxicity to the consumers (Suttajit, 1993). Stevia has been added to a number of food products in Japan since the mid 1970s. No indications of any significant side effects have yet been reported after more than 20 years of use. Similarly, no reports of any adverse reactions to stevia have been reported in the United States.
- Stevia Rebaudiana is an herb in the Chrysanthemum family which grows wild as a small shrub in parts of Paraguay and Brazil. The glycosides in its leaves, including up to 10% Stevioside, account for its incredible sweetness, making it unique among the nearly 300 species of Stevia plants.
- Stevia has a slight bitter aftertaste and provides 250 to 300 times the sweetness of sugar. It is stable to 200°C (392°F), but it is not fermentable and does not act in browning reactions.
- Studies show (from experimentation on rats) that stevia is possibly carcinogenic (cancer-causing). In a 1997 study conducted at the National Institute of Health Sciences in Tokyo, Japan, it was concluded that stevia had no adverse effects on the experimental rats.
- Since the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), stevia can be sold legally in the United States, but only as a "dietary supplement." Even so, it can be found in many forms in most health-food stores, and is also incorporated into drinks, teas and other items (all labeled as "dietary supplements"). It cannot, however, be called a "sweetener" or even referred to as "sweet." To do so would render the product "adulterated," according to the FDA, and make it again subject to seizure.
- Very large amounts of stevia can interfere with the absorption of carbohydrates in animals and disrupt the conversion of food into energy within cells. In sum, small amounts of stevia are probably safe, but it is inappropriate to endorse wide use of this sweetener.
Benefits of Stevia
- Studies now show that stevia's benefits include: pancreas nourishment, blood sugar regulation, stabilization of high blood pressure, digestive aid, prevention of tooth and gum decay, suppression of cravings, safe for diabetics and as a great weight loss aid.
- Known for its nourishing properties for the pancreas, stevia has been used by diabetics for centuries as a sweetener and also as a method of controlling blood sugar levels.
- Due to high beneficial mineral content and anti-bacterial properties, stevia is an additive to toothpaste or diluted as a mouthwash. Not only will it not cause cavities, but it actually prevents them.
- Stevia improves digestion and intestinal function, soothes an upset stomach and promotes quicker recovery from minor ailments.
- Applied to the skin, stevia treats acne and other skin ailments. It also protects against premature aging.
- Stevia contains no calories and actually reduces cravings for sweets and fatty foods. Studies have shown that it also minimizes hunger sensations. Once again your sweet tooth can be satisfied guilt free. It is not only a diet aide, but beneficial for you too. New reports are stating that if taken 20 minutes before a meal, you will feel satiated sooner.
- Reports keep coming in that the use of stevia has reduced cravings for tobacco, alcohol, sweet and fatty foods.
More on the FDA
- The FDA's position on Stevia is ambiguous. In 1991, it was not allowed in the USA. In 1995, the FDA allowed it to be imported as a food supplement but not a sweetener.
- The likely problem with stevia is that it might be marketed in extreme manners. It only takes roughly 1/8th of a teaspoon to sweeten, say, a cup of coffee.
- Canada, US and members of the European Union do not allow food companies to add stevia to their products, however, it is sold separately in those areas.
Like I said, stevia seems too good to be true. How multi-faceted can a plant get? You can use it for oral hygeine, acne medication, and you can eat it in small doses without "gaining weight". What the?
Personal bias here, but I think the FDA believes that stevia is "unsafe" because it may harm their economy and agriculture. Stevia cannot be consumed in abundance and must be used sparingly, unlike sugar. Sugar can be consumed, and consumed, and consumed. It takes cups of sugar to make a batch of cookies, but only 1/2 a teaspoon of stevia. Since stevia cannot be consumed excessively, causing obesity, dental problems, and even more food cravings, it is no wonder that the FDA is suspicious about it. You need something bad to make something good strive; you need health problems to make pharmaceuticals, therapists, and psychologists necessary. A twisted way of balancing things out, no?
http://www.cbc.ca/consumers/market/files/food/stevia *decent news article from CBC
*All information accessed on Wednesday, August 24th, 2005.