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Stevia - Nature's Personal Choice of Sweetener

  • Published: 2011-07-21 (Revised/Updated 2015-04-19) : Author:
  • Synopsis: The stevia plant leaves are about 40 times sweeter than sugar and the sweetener derived from them is no less than 200 times sweeter than sucrose.

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"While artificial sweeteners are known to worsen cravings by throwing the body's natural ability to count carbs off balance, many people have found that stevia actually suppresses their cravings for sugar and calories."

In the 1980's, artificial sweeteners took the world by storm. The introduction of alternatives to sugar, albeit artificially manufactured, initially had a lot of promise.

However, as more and more complaints about small ailments such as headaches, dizziness, weight gain and increased cravings have seen the light of day, the public has been looking more critically at the use of these so-called miracle sweeteners in the past few years.

Querying Google for aspartame or sucralose for a few minutes will instantly return large numbers of user complaints, and they are ever-growing.

That is why lately there has been a slight but distinct shift in consumerism. People are turning more and more towards natural alternatives in order to support a healthier lifestyle, either from personal choice or from a place of inevitability. Natural sweeteners such as honey and agave syrup are good overall choices; however they can still be high on calories and have a considerable glycemic load.

This brings us to stevia: an all-natural sweetener in powdered or liquid form that's rapidly gaining in popularity. It scores a perfect zero on both the glycemic index chart and harbors no calories. So how come most people still don't even know of its existence

To answer this question, we have to take a look at the turbulent history of the sweetener, also called "sweet leaf" or "honey leaf". In the late 1900's, a Swiss scientist by the name of Moses Bertoni, who was studying the habits of the indigenous tribes of South America at the time, was amazed when he noticed the natives were using dried leaves of a small plant to sweeten their "mate", a type of herbal tea. The plant - which would later be called "Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni", seemed to possess healing powers as well: the natives would use the leaves to treat cuts and bruises, and to lower blood pressure.

Since then, the stevia plant has been studied intensely by a whole army of scientists.

They found out that the raw leaves are about 40 times sweeter than sugar, and that the sweetener which can be derived from them is no less than 200 times sweeter than sucrose. What's more, the sweet leaf can be used to lower blood pressure in individuals suffering from hyperglycemia - although it does not lower blood pressure when blood sugar levels are normal. Since the sweetener has zero calories and scores a zero on the glycemic index chart, it is also a popular choice among diabetics.

While artificial sweeteners are known to worsen cravings by throwing the body's natural ability to count carbs off balance, many people have found that stevia actually suppresses their cravings for sugar and calories. Some companies already produce stevia-based chewing gum, because the sweet leaf has the same ability as some sugar alcohols, in that it prevents bacteria from forming layers of dental plaque.

Stevia is sold in a number of different forms:

The sweet leaf is 100% soluble in water and retains its stability in temperatures of up to 392 degree F, which makes it ideal for a whole lot of sugar free recipes.

If you're keen on growing stevia yourself, the best way is to buy a plant at a local gardening center and using plant cuttings to propagate new plants. You can grow the plant from its seeds as well but this is much harder to do, as the seeds have a very low germination rate. The plant needs a lot of warmth and sunlight: in fact, the more sunlight it is exposed to, the sweeter the leaves will turn out in the end. Frost is the sweet leaf's worst enemy.

It is generally assumed that the main reason why stevia is still relatively unknown to so many people, is because of FDA interference. After all, a natural sweetener, many times more powerful than sucrose, with additional health benefits could mean serious damage to the revenue of both sugar and artificial sweeteners like aspartame, the two biggest earners in the sweetener industry.

The most striking story is that of Stevita Co. Inc, one of the pioneers of stevia production. In 1998, the CEO was forced by the FDA to destroy all of his stevia products and literature containing stevia recipes. They claimed that there was not enough evidence to support stevia's safety. But when local news picked up on the story, the FDA had no choice but to allow Stevita to continue with its work. Today, the company has grown into one of the biggest stevia retailers in the USA.

There have been numerous studies on the safety of stevia, with greatly varying conclusions.

Some studies question the safety of the sweetener, claiming it to be possibly carcinogenic and to cause impotence. It must be noted that these studies are very much outdated, conducted by the FDA and sponsored by aspartame-producing companies. Supporting the fact that a dirty game was being played to keep stevia off the market, are independent studies that indicate not only stevia's safety, but also its beneficial effects like eliminating candidiasis, hyperglycemia and even successfully countering the beginning signs of diabetes.

In 2008, both Coca Cola and Pepsi noticed the potential of the sweet leaf and subsequently swayed the FDA's vote on stevia.

Both companies have their own patented stevia-based sweetener now - called Truvia and PureVia respectively - based on stevia's sweet component rebaudioside A, and are working on incorporating these sweeteners into their product line. Only these highly refined versions have received GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status from the FDA; other companies that produce stevia still have to label their products as "dietary supplements", rather than sweeteners.

To conclude the troubled history of this natural sweetener, we would like to point out that stevia - with a market share of 40% - has been the number one sweetener in Japan and South America for over 40 years, without any noticeable customer complaints. What do you think, is that enough proof for you

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