Stevia: The Natural Substitute for Sugar
Stevia is a unique sweetener or substitute for sugar, that is extracted from leaves of a I plant known as stevia rebaudiana. Steivol glycosides, which are the basic active compounds found in stevia, have very insignificant effect on our blood glucose and thus hugely popular among people on health diets. They invariably use stevia as the ingredient in place of sugar to make weight loss tea.
Though stevia has been used as a sweetener for many decades in Japan, it was banned in the US in the early nineties. However, after more detailed investigations it was proved to be carcinogenic free and it was approved for use as an additive in 2008. Since 2011, it is widely used in the European Union as well
The plant stevia rebuadiana is widely found in Brazil and Paraguay. Here, the natives have been using it leaves as food sweeteners for over a hundred years. The substance is so popular for its properties that it is also used in treatment of burns, stomach ailments and at times even in contraception! The plant derives its name from the famous Spanish botanist, Pedro Jaime Esteve who lived in the sixteenth century.
Does stevia really work?
Stevia is said to be sweeter than normal sugar by over 200 times. Researchers have said that this sweetener does not carry calories and has no side effects. In fact, studies suggest that stevia may actually have additional health benefits than known. Catherine Ulbricht, a senior pharmacist in Boston has gone on record as saying that stevia may be used in treating hypertension. Studies also suggest that it could be used to treat patients suffering from diabetes. Further research is in progress.
Studies have also shown that usage of artificial and low calorie sugar replacements may not actually result in weight loss. A study conducted on rats in 2004 showed that they actually overate probably due to a disparity amongst the apparent sweetness and likely calories from sugar.
However, there has been no conclusive sign that stevia affects change in one’s eating habits. A later study has shown that people did not consume more food, when made with stevia in place of sugar and in fact their blood sugar levels were lower.
The Safety Factor
There have been some health worries around the stevia plant. It might lead to lower blood pressure and this may be a cause for worry to those consuming medication for blood pressure.
Catherine Ulbricht, the pharmacist, has advised caution while using medicines that could lower blood sugar. She further said that people using oral drugs for diabetes need to be closely monitored by healthcare professionals.
The US FDA has permitted the use of an isolated biochemical from the plant as a food additive and not leaves or other crude extracts from the plant.
The use of stevia has thus gained in popularity and continues in the preparation of weight loss tea and oolong tea. Consumers of these teas have not shown any negative signs even after using these for decades now.