Viva Stevia!

I receive many inquiries about the safety of stevia. So, "Is it safe?" Absolutely. Not only is it safe, it may even be good for you. El stevia es grande!

Stevia is one of the safest choices for natural sweetness to date. It is extracted from a plant grown in South America and is also a complex sugar extract. This is what I consider a natural and healthy sucrose (sugar) substitute. In its original form as a complex plant carbohydrate, it does not pass into the bloodstream, yet still delivers a natural sweetness.

People complain that stevia can be bitter, but that is an easy problem to fix. Don't use too much. It's the same as seasoning a tomato with too much salt or pepper, or using too much garlic or oregano on lasagna. Start off slowly and add as you "taste test." Modern consumers are in the habit of using huge amounts of sugar, and even greater amounts of chemical sweetener packets. It's an automatic habit to pour on the equivalent of stevia they would use for refined sugar or artificial sweeteners. If you simply use one-quarter the amount of stevia for one serving of sugar or chemical sweeteners, then the taste is pleasant and natural, not bitter.

Stevia is used in recipes around the world, and it has been widely used as a natural sweetener in Japan since the 1970s. Isolated and purified from the leaves of the stevia plant, it is 250 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia has been used as a traditional remedy for diabetes and gum disease among the indigenous people of Paraguay and other South American countries for over 1,500-recorded years. (Who knows how many years prior to the records?) Preliminary scientific evidence (performed by independent researchers) shows stevia may indeed improve the function of cells required for insulin production in the pancreas, and may also improve glucose tolerance in people with diabetes. According to the generations of people who have used stevia as a part of their daily diet, stevia has also been proven to regulate blood sugar.

Unlike other sweet choices, stevia has been reported to possess anti-viral qualities. Preliminary evidence suggests that stevia possesses blood pressure lowering properties and may be a useful treatment for hypertension.

THE NEED TO TEST: Prior to the onslaught of chemical sugar substitutes, before now the need to "test" stevia for negative health effects has never been necessary after 1,500 years of use, just as we find little need to test the herbs basil or thyme. People who have used stevia for generations in South America, Japan, China and Indonesian countries do not use stevia as often or in the same quantities as modern consumers use artificial sweeteners. As stevia becomes more competitive on the modern sweetener market, it will become more of a threat to the chemical sweetener companies. After years of political scrutiny and stonewalling in Europe, October 2004, stevia was finally approved by the European Commission for use as a sweetener.

Numerous studies have been performed to demonstrate the safety of stevia. As early as the 1900s, initial studies were performed by Ribaudi (1900), Korbert (1915), and Pomaret and Lavieille (1931). Each of these respective researchers classified stevioside as a natural sweetener acceptable and safe for human consumption. (Stevioside is the main sweetening compound found in the leaf of the stevia plant rebaudiana Bertoni.) Interest on the safety of stevia was revived in 1970 when the Japanese food industry started large-scale production and sale of stevioside and stevia extracts in Japan. Since 1970, many research studies have since been performed in Japan confirming stevia safety. No reports of any adverse reactions have surfaced after thirty years of use and research.

I feel stevia is a much safer alternative compared to the artificial chemicals created in corporate laboratories, especially for use during pregnancy, for children and for diabetics who stand to benefit from its soothing glucose effects.

Of course, the key to eating anything properly, whether chemical food replacements or one hundred percent natural foods, is to be moderate in its use. If you use stevia sparingly (once or twice a day in a cup of tea, for example), it should be safe. But if stevia were marketed widely and used in diet sodas, for example, it could be over-consumed by millions and that might pose an unknown health threat. This is one of the problems with all marketed sweeteners - over-use and exploitation.


TIPS TO AVOID BITTERNESS:
*Try different brands of stevia before giving up on it, as some are milder tasting than others
*Stevia is much sweeter than Equal®, Splenda®, and the other chemical sweeteners, so use significantly less than you might think is necessary
*Start with using one-quarter the amount of stevia as you'd use of chemical sweeteners and increase as needed. It comes in both liquid and powdered form.


References:
J. Food Hyg. Soc. Japan 26: 169, 1985.

McCaleb, Rob. Herb Research Foundation.

Hull, Janet. Splenda®: Is It Safe Or Not?.

Posted January 2006 | Permanent Link

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