Health Benefits of Stevia Sweetener
You may be curious about the health benefits of stevia. Is it worth adding to your diet?
Stevia is getting an increasing amount of publicity and for good reason. Not only is the herb a natural, zero calorie sugar substitute but it also has several medical uses.
What Is Stevia?
Stevia is a plant, part of the chrysanthemum family, and is native to the subtropical areas of North and South America. It has been used by native peoples for thousands of years. The plant has long leaves that almost resemble sage and small white flowers when it blooms.
It can be grown in Texas, Arizona, and other states with warm climates. It is most often propagated by cuttings and does not grow well from seed.
The species, Stevia rebaudiana, is also known as sweetleaf or sugar leaf.
How Does Stevia Taste?
Stevia is about 300 times sweeter than sugar. It can have an aftertaste that is similar to licorice but is less apparent than the aftertaste of chemically produced artificial sweeteners. This aftertaste can often be controlled by controlling the amount of stevia that is added to a recipe.
The sweet taste is a result of steviol glycosides present in the leaves of the plant. These stieviosides can be extracted into a fine, white powder that is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar while the leaves themselves are about 20 percent sweeter than conventional sugar.
Effects and Health Benefits of Stevia
Stevia does not affect blood glucose levels and is perfect for a low carbohydrate diet as well as for diabetics and others that must watch their blood sugar. It easily replaces artificial sweeteners in the diet and is much healthier and without the side effects that sometimes occur with chemical sweeteners (such as headache).
- In some cases stevia actually lowers blood sugar levels and keeps them level.
- Stevia may inhibit the development of plaque on the teeth.
- Although the raw stevia contains phytonutrients most people will not ingest stevia in a large enough amount to benefit from these vitamins and minerals.
- Stevia may help the body absorb more calcium.
- Stevia may help prevent hypertension.
Stevia is not available or allowable in all countries. The United States, for example, banned stevia until the 1990s and until recently could not be sold as a food product but must be sold under the guise of a nutritional supplement.
In Japan stevia is used in Coco Cola products as well as other sugar free foods and beverages because the country has outlawed chemical sweeteners. In fact Japan uses more stevia than any other country.
Obviously one of the biggest health benefits of stevia is in the lack of sugar and calories, essentially allowing you to have your cake and eat it, too. It is a safe alternative for people who wish to forgo sugar in their diets but don't want to use potentially carcinogenic artificial sweeteners.
Grow Your Own
Want to use stevia and save money too? Grow your own plants. You can plant them in your garden in the warmer climates or grow indoors if you live in the chillier zones.
Prepare the bed with a rich loam. Use plenty of compost as a top dressing; stevia plants are top feeders. Choose an area of the garden that is not subject to high moisture or standing water. It should drain easily and be in an area where the plants will receive plenty of sun.
Begin by buying stevia plants at the nursery or online. Wait until the temperatures warm up to warm spring temperatures warm the soil into the 60s and all danger of frost is past before planting in your garden. Set the plants in rows two feet apart and a foot and a half between plants. Healthy stevia plants will grow to be about three feet tall and two feet wide.
Be careful not to overwater. Frequent light watering will keep the plants hydrated and healthy.
Wait until just before your first frost to harvest if possible. The cooler temperatures of autumn intensify the sweetness in the leaves. When you are ready cut the branches off and strip the leaves. Be sure to save some cuttings to start inside for the next year's plants.
To start cuttings use a commercial rooting hormone. Dip the cuttings into the root stimulator and plant in a rooting medium for about three weeks before potting. Keep in a sunny place until temperatures are warm enough to transplant your new plants outside.
Stevia for Health
Stevia is a healthy alternative to artificial sweeteners. It comes in several forms including a pure white powder, liquid drops, and dried ground leaves. You should experiment with stevia to see which form you prefer.
For more information on using stevia in your cooking and baking, as well as more information on both artificial sweeteners and natural options, you may want to read Artificial Sweeteners Natural Sweeteners.