Naturally Sweet and Healthy – The Wonders of Stevia
Stevia (STEE-vee-uh) is an outstanding, sweet tasting herb that has remarkable health promoting qualities. The sweetness of Stevia is largely due to its complex stevioside molecule that is composed of glucose, sophorose and steviol. A second compound called rebaudioside, which is present in Stevia, also contributes to Stevia's sweetness. Stevia has a taste that is unique and has been described as very sweet with a slight licorice, almost bitter aftertaste. Generally, high quality Stevia contains very little of this bitterness. The sweetness of Stevia is much different than the sweetness of other natural sweeteners, sugar, or artificial sweeteners, but it is delicious. For some people the taste may require some “getting used to,” but most people quickly develop a taste for it.
Stevia is a South American shrub whose leaves have been used for centuries by native peoples in Paraguay and Brazil to sweeten their yerba mate and other stimulant beverages. The stevia plant belongs to the Compositae (sunflower family of plants). Centuries ago, Natives of Paraguay used the leaves of this small, herbaceous, semi-bushy, perennial shrub to sweeten their bitter drinks. Originating in the South American wild, it could be found growing in semi-arid habitat ranging from grassland to scrub forest to mountain terrain. The plant made its way to Pacific Rim countries where in recent decades it became cultivated domestically, used in its raw leaf form and now is commercially processed into sweetener.
If you've ever tasted stevia, you know it's extremely sweet. In fact, this remarkable noncaloric herb, native to Paraguay, has been used as a sweetener and flavor enhancer for centuries. Stevia is a natural, non-caloric, sweet-tasting plant used around the world for its pleasant taste, as well as for its increasingly researched potential for inhibiting fat absorption and lowering blood pressure.
Stevia is about 300 times sweeter than sugar in its natural state, and much more so when processed. Its medicinal uses include regulating blood sugar, preventing hypertension, treatment of skin disorders, and prevention of tooth decay. Other studies show that it is a natural antibacterial and antiviral agent as well. Stevia is actually good for you! On top of that, it is calorie and carbohydrate free. Stevia is a great sweetener choice for diabetics, those watching their weight, and anyone interested in maintaining their health.
Topically, Stevia has excellent healing capabilities. If placed on a cut or scrape, it stings initially followed by a significant reduction in pain and accelerated healing with no scarring. Whole leaf Stevia extract can be used as a facial mask by smoothing the dark liquid over the entire face, allowing it to dry for 30-60 minutes, then rinsing. This will help tighten the skin, smooth out wrinkles and heal skin blemishes and acne. This has been reported to be effective when used on seborrhea, dermatitis and eczema, as well. Stevia is also beneficial for the hair and scalp; good results have been obtained by adding Stevia concentrate to shampoo, and also applying concentrate to the hair after shampooing, allowing it to remain on the hair for a few minutes, then rinsing.
Stevia is also able to perform a number of other beneficial tasks. For example, it has been shown that Stevia may enhance moods and increase energy levels and mental alertness. What's more, it is also been shown to stop the growth of bacteria in the mouth is responsible for the production of acids that are responsible for gingivitis and cavities.
In recent years, Stevia has made its way to the Far East. In the 70's and 80's Stevia was developed as a sweetener/flavour enhancer which has since been used widely for this purpose in Japan, China, Korea, Israel, Brazil and Paraguay. It has been embraced in Japan, where it's used in soy sauce, sweet pickles and soft drinks. In Japan, Diet Coke has been sweetened with Stevia.
The products in which Stevia has been used include soft drink, ice cream, cookies, pickles, chewing gum, tea and skin care products. In Japan about 40% of the sweetener market is stevia-based. The main producers of stevia are Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Korea, Brazil, Malaysia and Paraguay.
The cosmetic industry also employs the use of Stevia in many of the available skin care products. It has been shown to reduce skin blemishes when applied topically. Stevia also relieves stomach discomfort.
There are no symptoms of deficiency but everyone can benefit from the use of Stevia. Populations that may benefit from the use of Stevia include: diabetics, the obese, the elderly, children, and athletes.
Diabetics, individuals with blood sugar problems, or the obese, may benefit from supplementing with Stevia due to its ability to regulate blood sugar.
Individuals suffering from hypertension may also benefit from the use of Stevia. It has been shown that in cases of high blood pressure Stevia has the ability to act as a vasodiolator, thus helping to lower hypertension.
In the late 1980s an “anonymous firm” lodged a “trade complaint” with the FDA about Stevia when it started to surface in the United States. One company using stevia was the Celestial Seasonings herbal tea company. They were ordered by the FDA to stop producing tea “adulterated” with Stevia. Traditional Medicinals, another tea company, had their inventory of Stevia teas confiscated during an unexpected FDA raid and were told the tea would be burned.
Why did the government treat Stevia like a controlled substance? FDA documents call Stevia a “dangerous food additive” even though the safety of Stevia has been widely tested for many years by scientists in Japan. The FDA will not reveal who made the “trade complaint” (despite the Freedom of Information Act) though many suspect that it was the makers of the artificial sweetener Aspartame (aka “Nutrasweet”) trying to fend off competition, as the artificial sweetener is very profitable.
To judge from the extensive measures the FDA has employed to keep Americans in the dark about Stevia, one might assume it was some type of dangerous narcotic. But, in fact, no ill effects have ever been attributed to it, although it has been used by millions of people around the world, in some locales for hundreds of years.
So adamant has the FDA remained on the subject, that even though Stevia can now be legally marketed as a dietary supplement under legislation enacted in 1994, any mention of its possible use as a sweetener or tea is still strictly prohibited.
In 1995 the FDA reversed their decision to ban Stevia, but only halfway. Stevia can now be sold as a “nutritional supplement” but not as a sweetener in the United States. This is also the case in the European Union, and the World Health Organization is pressuring other countries to follow suit.
• non-caloric sweetener
• inhibits fat absorption and lowers blood pressure
• regulates blood sugar levels