The devil is in the sugar, let’s admit it. It makes you moody, fat and diabetic. Fortunately for you and me, there is a cheap alternative, one that comes directly from the soil and is quite easy to grow on your own. Stevia, that is. Table sugar be damned.
What Is Stevia ?
Stevia is a plant genus of 240 different species of herbs and shrubs, belonging to the sunflower family (Asteraceae), and found naturally in many areas from South to North America. The species you are probably looking for, is the Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, which is grown and used as a sugar or artificial-sweetener substitute, as it was used in Brazil and Paraguay for centuries. You might have also heard of it by the name of “sweetleaf” or “sugarleaf”. Out of all sweetening compounds found in Stevia, four main are used for making sugar substitutes – stevioside, rebaudioside A, rebaudioside C and dulcoside A.
Stevia Benefits - “Sweeeeeeet!”
Let’s talk a little bit about Stevia health benefits. As opposed to sugar, Stevia extract contains no calories but is a few hundred times sweeter. As mentioned above, this plant has been used for hundreds of years by the native South Americans, and not only as a sweetener, but as a healthy food by itself and a healing plant too.
Stevia has a negligible effect on the blood sugar levels, and does not interfere badly with the body natural insulin balancing system, unlike synthetic sweeteners, and that’s why many diabetic people find this plant a savior. It is really ideal for diabetics, and also does not induce cravings like other sweet stuff.
Baking or cooking with it is entirely possible, as this plant is resistant to high heat (heat stable up to 392°F) and is water soluble, and I personally prefer using it as a sweetener in whatever I make, be it a tea or a cake. This is really a great natural sweetener for everyone, and will also help you to protect your teeth against decay and plaque. It’s a far healthier substitute to sugar or artificial sweeteners, and I would recommend avoiding them at any cost.
Note: Stevia does not ferment like sugar, so you’ll have to combine it with some baking soda if you want to bake cakes.
Stevia Side Effects - “Heard it’s dangerous!”
There are NO confirmed negative side effects of Stevia. Think of it, the native South Americans have been using it for many centuries, and it would definitely not ‘survive’ as a food additive otherwise, like most of the food we eat today, which have been selected, or ‘trial and errored” for hundreds or thousands of years. There have been a few studies that showed a very little toxic reaction in rats, but only in such high doses of steviol, that it would take us tens of kilograms of leafs a day to reach that point. I need not to tell you what regular sugar would to your body in such doses. So is Stevia safe? absolutely.
In 2008, the FDA finally released a non-toxicity recognition statement for Stevia, ensuring it’s safety of usage. Not that it means too much though, considering the notorious reliability of the FDA. It’s possible that Coca Cola Company and PepsiCo had their hands involved, as both companies started using rebaudioside A (the sweet substance in Stevia) to sweeten their products. immediately after FDA’s approval.
If you ever encounter a study that shows negative Stevia side effects and warnings (be sure to email that to me!), keep in mind that there’s a chance that the sugar or artificial sweeteners industry have sponsored it, for they are terrified by the Stevia plant, which might kill their industry. It might be a purely science-driven research though, of course.
Same thing goes in the meat, milk and pharmaceutic industry as well, and I recommend reading “Food Is Better Medicine Than Drugs“, which will shed some light over these dreaded industries, and raise your awareness.
Scientific studies are very expensive, and Stevia is a natural substance, which means that you can not profitably invest in it and protect it with a ‘patent’, unlike artificial sweeteners or any other lab-made medications and products. So who sponsors it? You have one guess, and you’re probably right. And that’s where all ‘Stevia sweetener side effects’ issues begin, as most of today’s world health issues. Industry.
update: “Is Stevia safe for children or during pregnancy?” asked one of our readers lately. I thought I will address this one in this articles as well. I was looking for a scientific reference regarding Stevia usage within pregnant women, but apparently, there seem to be no scientific studies conducted on this population, so it is hard to say at the moment.
And regarding children – with our little ones craving for foods like cookies, ice creams, and lollypops all day, you’d bet that replacing all of that excessive sugar with Stevia is a good move, especially when it comes to tooth decay, obesity, and diabetes (Interested in diabetes self management?).
All in all, there is no scientific proof of any dangers of Stevia, while the alternatives, sugar and artificial sweeteners, carry a lot of solid scientific evidences that link them to the above and more ailments and diseases, so the decision should be pretty easy.
Available Stevia Products
The health benefits of Stevia are easily obtainable from a variety of products. You can simply go for Stevia extract or Stevia powder, which are very comfortable, or you could even consider buying Stevia seeds and growing your own plant in your garden. Again, there are practically no Stevia dangers or side effects, and all of the above are perfect for use.
I feel comfortable recommending Kal Pure Extract Powder. Though I haven’t used it myself, the recommendations and reviews are just outstanding. The price is great too.
update-II: Just posted something about organic Stevia as a response to a few emails I received lately.
Health psychologist Daniel C. Stettner, PhD states that our brain can be manipulated, and our body’s natural ability to count calories based on sweetness can contribute to obesity when artificial sweeteners are used. This is why artificial sweeteners have actually been linked to weight gain promotion, even though it’s very low on calories. Our body is a wonderful evolutionary system, and this weight management mechanism makes great sense from an evolutionary standpoint.
Julian Whitaker, M.D, in his ‘Dr. Julian Whitaker’s Newsletter’ said that “Stevia is not only non-toxic, but has several traditional medicinal uses. The Indian tribes of South America have used it as a digestive aid, and have also applied it topically for years to help wound healing. Recent clinical studies have shown it can increase glucose tolerance and decrease blood sugar levels. Of the two sweeteners (aspartame and Stevia), stevia wins hands down for safety.”
Leigh Broadhurst, Ph.D, who is a nutritional consultant and a chemist, stated that you can get all of the advantages of saccharin with none of it’s drawbacks, and that Stevia doesn’t really have a ‘taste’, just sweetness, as opposed to saccharin, whose taste quickly becomes bitter when over-consumed. He also stated that Stevia is much more concentrated (sweetness per weight) than aspartame. I recommend avoiding these two substances at any cost.
Dr. Bertoni wrote a few of the earliest words about this wonderful plant, in 1905 and 1918. He wrote that according to long experience and the studies of Dr. Rebaudi, it is not only non-toxic, but also very healthy, and can be used directly with it’s natural leafy form, while also being much cheaper than saccharine. He referred to Stevia as a “sweetening agent of great power”. Nerdy, but true.
To sum things up, Stevia is a wonderful plant that is safe to use and hundreds times sweeter than it’s less-healthy alternatives. Stevia side effects and warnings are nothing to be taken into account, and it’s benefits are vast. Time to get rid of your white sugar and synthetic artificial sweeteners.
“The greatest wealth is health.” - Virgil.
I would really love to hear your thoughts over the subject. If you have a personal experience with Stevia, all the better! What’s your favorite and/or least favorite Stevia supplement and why? How long have you been using it, and what benefits/drawbacks did you experience? If you have anything to share (including Stevia warnings!), there’s a comment box right below. I want to create a nice discussion here, wealthy of information and personal experiences for the confused reader.