The Natural Sweetener Stevia and its Health Benefits
Stevia is a genus of about 240 plants, herbs and shrubs, belonging to the sunflower family, Asteraceae. These plants are native to South America Central America and Mexico.
Some common names for stevia are sugar leaf, sweet leaf, honey leaf etc. In India, it is called "meethi patti' meaning sweet leaf. The stevia plant is mainly grown for its sweet leaves and being a natural sweetener, stevia is a healthy replacement for chemical sweeteners like Splenda, aspartame and saccharine, even the common table sugar.
Stevia Around The World
The stevia plant is widely grown in Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela and Paraguay. Stevia has been used in Venezuela for over 1500 years and the Guarani tribes of Paraguay have used stevia since centuries to sweeten unpalatable medicinal drinks. It has also been used in Japan for several decades now. The European Union approved its use as a sweetener in 2011.
In the U.S. and Canada stevia is available labelled as a dietary supplement.
Whole leaf stevia and crude stevia extracts are not permitted by the FDA to be used as food additives in view of their safety to health notably in the area of effects on the cardiovascular, reproductive and renal system and control of blood sugar.
Some products like Truvia and PureVia containing the glycoside rebaudioside A, which is obtained from the stevia plant, have been cleared as a food additive.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2006 declared that Stevioside and Rebaudioside A are not genotoxic in vitro and in vivo and that the genotoxicity of Steviol and some of its oxidative derivatives in vitro, is not expressed in vivo.
Stevia has also been used as a natural sweetener in many other countries like China, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Israel etc since decades and many research papers have been published around the world regarding the safety of stevia.
Stevia Plant, Leaves And TabletsClick thumbnail to view full-size
About Stevia Plant And Leaves
Stevia is a small shrub about 2 to 3 feet in height and of the about 240 odd species, only Stevia rebaudiana possesses the natural sweetness which is a distinguishing characteristic of stevia.
Stevia leaves are 30 times sweeter than sugar while the leaf extract rebaudioside A is 300 times sweeter than sugar. The leaves contain 2 glycosides of which Stevioside comprises 10-20% and Rebaudioside A comprises 1-3%.
Stevia rebaudiana is the most lucrative herbal plant that gives great returns in commercial cultivation and is the most cultivated species.
The glycosides, Stevioside and Rebaudioside impart the sweet taste. When these are consumed the Rebaudioside is converted to Stevioside and this is broken down into glucose and Steviol. The glucose is used by the bacterial in the colon while the Steviol that cannot be digested further is passed out of the body without being absorbed.
Health Benefits Of Stevia
Some of the health benefits of stevia are given below :
- Stevia has antihyperglycemic, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-diarrheal, diuretic and immunomodulatory properties. It also has natural antibacterial and antiviral properties.
- Calorie and carbohydrate-free making it an excellent choice for diabetics and those wishing to control their weight.
- Rich in nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, chromium, zinc, riboflavin and protein.
- Very stable at high temperatures of even 100 degrees Centigrade, over a broad range of pH from 3 to 9 and is non-fermentative.
- Has hardly any effect on blood glucose levels when consumed while it may even enhance glucose tolerance.
- Has zero glycemic index as compared to 70 for sugar and 80 for artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Equal, Sweet N Low, etc.
- The leaves contain many sterols and antioxidant compounds like triterpenes, flavonoids and tannins. It contains kaempferol and this nutrient has been found to reduce the risk of cancer and this has been reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
- The chlorogenic acid prevents the conversion of glycogen into glucose as well as decreases the absorption of glucose in the digestive tract making stevia effective in reducing blood sugar levels.
- Stevia can lower blood pressure due to its glycosides some of which dilate the blood vessels and also increase sodium and urine excretion.
- Stevia prevents cavities and tooth decay as being a non-carbohydrate sweetener, the Streptococcus mutans bacteria, the causative organism, finds the environment unfriendly for its growth.
Certain compounds found in stevia inhibit these bacteria as well.
- Stevia also heals cuts and wounds more rapidly without leaving scars, improves digestion, increases energy levels and mental acuity.
Stevia is not available in the sweetener section but in the supplement section and one can buy it in the health food stores too.
Fresh stevia leaves, when chewed, have an extremely sweet taste reminiscent of liquorice. The dried leaves are sweeter in taste than fresh leaves and this form is used to prepare herbal tea. Drying and powdering the leaves helps to draw out more of the flavour and sweet taste from the leaves. The powdered leaves can be used in foods and beverages.
Stevia is also available in the form of a white powdered extract. In this form, it is the sweetest. It is also available in liquid concentrate form that is made by various methods.
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The information provided in this hub is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your physician, or health care provider before taking any home remedies, supplements or starting a new health regime.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 Rajan Singh Jolly