Stevia is the Natural, No Calorie Sugar Substitute You Are Going to Love
Stevia and me
I’m not selling or marketing Stevia. I’m just a satisfied user who wonders why this natural, no-cal sugar substitute that doesn’t cause tooth decay, doesn’t raise blood pressure or glucose levels and has been safely used for hundreds of years in countries around the world, is only beginning to attract attention here in the USA.
I started using Stevia almost a decade ago after a friend recommended it to me. It doesn’t give me a headache and has no bitter after-taste. It’s great in drinks and on cereal== kust everywhere. .Stevia isn't artificial or chemical. It comes from the ground up leaves and stems of a South American plant. Since it is 300 times sweeter than sugar, a little goes a long way. A small amount sweetens even a humungous mug of coffee. I’m told it’s good for cooking and baking too, though I can’t personally attest to that, as I’m not much of a baker and these days, since I don't have a family to feed, I don't cook much either. But those who know tell me that baking with it is pretty much like baking with sugar except for the calories.
You would think that a product this good would be on grocery store shelves everywhere —but no. The big sugar interests and those busy developing aspartane chemical sweeteners, didn't want the competition. Thus for years the FDA decreed that Stevia could not be sold as a food additive. In 1994 under pressure, the FDA permitted it to be sold as a “food supplement” which meant you could buy powdered Stevia at the health food store and put it in your afternoon tea, but food manufacturers were forbidden to use it in processed foods or sweetened beverages. More recently, as big money has poured into the development of Stevia as an alternative to sugar, the landscape has changed. The FDA and the EU have now approved Stevia and these days supermarkets are beginning to carry Stevia products and it is possible to find teas and soft drinks sweetened with it, but you have to look hard.
The History of Stevia
The Stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana) is an unassuming herbal shrub, native to Paraguay and northern Brazil, where it has been used for hundreds of years by the local Indians to sweeten their bitter herbal teas. Conquistadors came upon it in the 16th century. Local European settlers used it happily through the 18th and 19th centuries. There was at least one attempt, early-on, to exploit Stevia as a cash crop. This met with crushing resistance from entrenched sugar-growing and refining interests. Remember the infamous triangle trade of slaves, sugar, and rum you studied in school? It was a profitable, if immoral cycle involving powerful colonial plantation owners and New England and European merchants who had little interest in competition from an upstart Paraguayan shrub.
Stevia remained virtually unknown until the turn of the 20th century, when a Brazilian botanist, Dr. M.S. Bertoni, “discovered” it on a hiking trip in 1899. Bertoni was an early fan of Stevia, singing its praises and recommending it as a substitute for saccharin for diabetics.
In 1921 the American Trade Commissioner for Latin America brought Stevia to the attention of the United States Department of Agriculture as a “new sugar plant with great commercial possibilities.” Uh-oh. Red alert for the sugar lobby. The FDA banned Stevia, citing an absence of studies to show it was not harmful to human health.
The Japanese got interested in Stevia in the 1970’s and did extensive human and animal testing. No toxic effects were found. Today Stevia is used widely in Japan. During the same time period, in the USA, the FDA got behind Equal and more recently, Splenda as alternatives to sugar—both developed and manufactured by large, powerful American corporations with mass-marketing capability.
But, things are about to change. Agro business and the soft drink industry are on the move, looking to capitalize on the growing popularity of natural and organic products. Cargill and Coca-Cola, both major multi-nationals with lots of clout and money to spread around, have approached the FDA and are requesting that the ban on Stevia as a food additive be lifted. They are citing a number of new studies, including one done last year by the World Health Organization. I suspect that the FDA will soon relent and you’ll be hearing a lot more about Stevia. Amazing what a little power and money will do, isn’t it?
Meanwhile, if I’ve piqued your interest in Stevia, check out the links below. If you want to buy Stevia, you can probably find it at your local health food store or you can order it online. I use packets of Sweet Leaf Stevia Plus which are little green packets containing a gram of stevia mixed with fiber to cut the sweetness. Each packet is equal to two teaspoons of sugar. Delicious, convenient, and zero calories. Give it a try.
Stevia LInks for You to Ponder
- The Stevia Cookbook
Order the stevia cookbook here for only $13.95
- GourmetSleuth - Stevia (Herbal Sugar Substitute)
Stevia section of an elegant food site, good recipes, yum!
- Stevia Info: All About Stevia
A beautiful,easy to navigate site that includes history, news, studies, nutritional info, recipes and much more.
- History of Stevia | Uses of Stevia | Stevia Cafe
History of Stevia | Uses of Stevia
- Cooking With Stevia and Stevia Recipes
recipes with emphasis on baking. Gives equivalents for sugar and other sugar substitutes
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