The Stevia plant is originally native to South America and has been used for hundreds of years because of its extremely sweet leaves. Still, stevia is popularly grown in Japan and China. It is used as a non-nutritive sweetener and herbal supplement.
Stevia rebaudiana produces sweet leaves that have long been harvested to flavor foods and beverages. Recently, stevia extract called rebaudioside A has become increasingly popular as a natural sugar substitute. The natural sweetener tastes 200 to 450 times sweeter than table sugar and, have little aftertaste, zero calories and no effect on blood sugar.
What Is Stevia?
Stevia is known by different names, including sweet leaf or sugar leaf, but the formal scientific name is Stevia rebaudiana. It’s an herbal plant that belongs to the Asteraceae family, which means it’s related to ragweed, chrysanthemums and marigolds. Stevia contains eight glycosides. These are the sweet components isolated and purified from the leaves of stevia. These glycosides include: stevioside, rebaudiosides A, C, D, E, and F, steviolbioside, dulcoside A. There are two compounds in stevia stevioside and rebaudioside A that are responsible for the sweetness that mimic the sweetness of sugar without any of its negative effects on your health.
In fact, stevia is about 40 times sweeter than regular sugar, while stevia extract is around 200 times more sweet but does not affect blood sugar levels. It also does not have the negative side effects on the body, unlike normal sugar and is useful especially for diabetics.
Now found in foods like soft drinks, candy, and pre-packaged baked goods, stevia extract is also sold as a tabletop sweetener. Suggested uses include sweetening coffee and tea, as well as sprinkling onto cereal, oatmeal, fruit, and yogurt.
Types of Stevia
There are the three main categories of stevia, including green leaf stevia, stevia extracts and altered stevia blends for different purposes.
Stevia leaves: This is the least processed of all types of stevia. The leaves are dried and ground into powder form. This is the type of stevia that’s been used in South America and Japan for centuries as a natural sweetener and health remedy. This stevia is slightly bitter and isn’t quite as sweet as most stevia products on the market —this type of stevia is about 30-40 times sweeter than sugar and is also slightly bitter to taste.
Stevia powder: You also have purified stevia extracts, you are consuming rebaudioside A in either a pure extract. The form in which stevia is primarily used as a sweetener in Japan is that of a white powdered extract. In this form it is approximately 200 to 450 times sweeter than sugar. Not all stevia extract powders are the same. The taste, sweetness and cost of the various white stevia powders will likely depend on their degree of refinement and the quality of the stevia plant used.
Stevia altered stevia blends: There is also the third type of stevia altered stevia blends. These extracts must contain over 95% or more pure rebaudioside A glycosides and may not contain other forms of rebaudiosides or steviosides in order to be legally marketed as food per FDA standards set forth in 2008.
Stevia liquid extract: Another good choice is to choose pure liquid stevia and choose alcohol-free versions if possible. This will ensure the product won’t cause any glycemic or digestive issues or trigger any possible reactions. The liquid varieties are useful for sweetening coffee, teas or healthy smoothies.
Health Benefits of Stevia
While stevia has been documented to have medical purposes as an antimicrobial, anti-diarrheal, anti-tumor, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory actions, the scientific evidence is strongest, and its use is most promising for two indications: high blood sugar/insulin resistance and high blood pressure.
Your Favorite Natural Sweetener
Lowers Blood Pressure
Prevents Heart Disease
Prevents Risks of Diabetes
Acts as Anti-inflammatory
Acts as Anti-cancer
Helps to Lose Weight
No Allergic Reactions
Promotes Oral Health
Promotes Skin Health
Promotes Hair Health
What are the side effects of stevia?
Most people do well with stevia, but listen to your body: Stevia is an herb, and everyone’s body may react differently to it. The benefits and possible stevia side effects really depend upon what stevia you choose to consume. A study to test the long-term side effects of stevia reported that none of the 76 subjects experienced any significant side effects.
Highly refined and purified glycosides of stevia are considered by the FDA to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS) as sweeteners in food. The FDA has not approved whole-leaf stevia or crude stevia extracts as GRAS for food because they don’t feel the safety of these unprocessed extracts has been proven; however, they may be used in dietary supplements.