Herb of the Month: Stevia

Stevia leaves with sugar in a wooden spoon on a wooden background

A little-to no-calorie sweetener that has been known since the 16th century, the stevia plant is originally native to Brazil and Paraguay, but you will find it grown widely in both China and Japan. Stevia has gained popularity as a natural alternative to high calorie (and unhealthy) sugar in foods and beverages.

In a world where we are led around by our desire for sweet foods, and our taste buds are calling the shots, stevia provides a tasty alternative, without the ramifications we presently are subject to with excessive sugar consumption. Because stevia leaf extract is up to 200 times sweeter than sugar, a small amount goes a long way.

There are different types of stevia, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been slow to get completely on board with the plant’s use: FDA banned the marketing of stevia as a food additive in 1987, but in 1999 the plant regained its status as a sweet, sustainable dietary ingredient (1). The stevia plant itself is regulated not by the FDA but by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Organic stevia is gluten-free, has little to no glycemic effects, and is non-GMO. Non-organic stevia may be grown using pesticides and chemicals, so reading labels is important. Stevia is a great choice for low carb, Paleo, and Keto diets, as well as among diabetics who are trying to keep sweetness in their diet, without the negative health effects of white sugar.

Use the low-and-slow protocol when you start using stevia. Not for health reasons, but because a small amount is very effective, and incredibly delicious and sweet when very little is used. Although stevia is sweet to the palate, many people notice a hint of licorice, or anise.

Researchers reporting in the Journal of Nutrition explain that natural-origin steviol glycosides are constituents of the leaves of the S. rebaudiana Bertoni plant, which remain unaltered during extraction and purification. They note that the safety of consumption of high purity steviol glycosides at or below the acceptable daily intake (ADI) is well established, and that human studies have shown no negative gastrointestinal side effects. The researchers also stress the benefits of this plant: “Stevia leaf extract sweeteners are a beneficial and critical tool in sugar and calorie reduction, diabetes, weight management, and healthy lifestyles” (2).

 

References

  1. What Is Stevia. Medical new Today January 2018. Hannah Nichols
  2. Stevia Leaf to Stevia Sweetener: Exploring Its Science, Benefits, and Future Potential. Oxford Academic- The Journal of Nutrition https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxy