Stevia: A Health Promoting Sweetener
Stevia rebaudiana is a natural plant which is amazingly sweet and healthy. It is safe, and adds no calories to your food. The leaves contain a number of nutrients, volatile oils, minerals, vitamins, proteins and fiber, and even though it is very sweet, it has no effect on your blood sugar when consumed.
Stevia leaves are about 30 times sweeter than regular sugar, so a little goes a long way. I grow it in my garden, and the leaves are so sweet, they make your tongue tingle if you try to eat a whole one straight from the plant.
You can also buy it in the grocery store in either powdered or liquid extract form. Extracts are purified forms of the sweet tasting glycoside molecules in the leaves, and are about 300 times sweeter than sugar. These forms don’t retain as many of the vitamins and minerals as in the plant leaves, but they are still a valuable alternative to white sugar.
Some brands can have a slightly bitter back taste, sort of like licorice. The quality of the plant determines the sweet to bitter ratio, and as with any plant, the quality of soil and environment in which it is grown will have an effect on the taste.
In addition, you should read the ingredients listed on brand labels, as some brands use cheap fillers like maltodextrin or FOS. You want pure extract.
I use SweetLeaf Liquid Stevia brand in liquid form and don’t detect any bitter after taste unless I use too much. Sweet Leaf also offers a bunch of different flavors. The Chocolate Raspberry, Orange, Vanilla Creme, English Toffee and Chocolate are excellent.
In my experience, the powder forms have more of that back licorice taste. the liquid form tastes great in flavored seltzer water, and mixed with softened cream cheese to make a sort of cheesecake pudding.
You can also bake with it, and there are several cookbooks on the market featuring this healthy sweetener. See the bottom of this page for references.
Measuring rule for baking:
The Curse of the Sugar Lobby
Even in 2008, after other countries have been using stevia for years without ill effects, there is still a great deal of controversy around the use of stevia in the United States.
In the late-1980s, as the popularity of this all natural sweetener was growing, opponents (read: the artificial sweetener and sugar lobbyists) began citing studies which linked it with mutagenic effects, but those studies were riddled with procedural errors, and accused of bias due to funding from the sugar and artificial sweetener manufacturers.
The bulk of unbiased research results show an absence of harmful effects. Other studies have shown that stevioside improves insulin sensitivity in rats and may even promote additional insulin production, helping to reverse diabetes and metabolic X syndrome. It has also been shown to have beneficial effects on tooth decay and gum disease, aid in digestion and to heal a host of skin problems when applied directly.
Although this natural sweetener is relatively unknown to most Americans, it is legally consumed by millions of people, from its native origin Paraguay and Brazil to Japan, Korea, China, India, Australia, USA, Latin America, Hong Kong, Israel and many others.
Indeed, millions of Japanese have been using stevioside for over thirty years with no reported or known harmful effects. Similarly, the leaves have been used for centuries in South America as a treatment of type II diabetes.
Despite years of safety and toxicity testing in other countries, the FDA still has not approved it for use as a sweetener, and there are reports that the FDA has withheld approval because of pressure from the aspartame and sugar industries.
More than 1200 studies have been done on stevia in a variety of forms. The few studies that concluded that stevia could possibly cause harm under some circumstances have been refuted over and over again by independent laboratories.
The researched and objective conclusion of eminent scientists throughout the world is well represented by Dr. Jan Geuns, a world renowned stevioside researcher:
"The conclusion is that stevioside is safe when used as a sweetener. It is suitable for both diabetics and PKU patients, as well as for obese persons intending to lose weight. . . . No allergic reactions seem to exist. Stevia and stevioside have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people during a very long period of time, both by adults and by children without giving the smallest indication of any harmful effects."
Resources for Further Reading
Stevia Products at Amazon: