Stevia: Safety or Dangers

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Have you recently come across mention of a product called Stevia? Or have you seen the product on store shelves? If you know little on this plant then you are definitely missing out on a good thing. As a matter of fact, lots of people wonder “what is Stevia?” because this product is not very well known. Of course, this is about to change pretty soon.

The history

Before aspartame came along, Stevia was available in the United States and many other countries.  With the release of artificial sweetener, the Stevia Plant was considered unwelcome competition.  They issued an import alert, citing a preliminary study on the substance.  Later the same year, another study was done showing that the first wasn’t valid.  This raised many questions about the FDA’s stance on the matter, so in 1995 they changed their import alert. It is now considered acceptable as a food substitute but not as an artificial sweetener.  It has a status as an unapproved food additive.

Is Stevia safe?

It is very safe, much safer than the aspartame contained in artificial sweeteners. Excessive aspartame consumption has been linked to blurred vision, headaches, and even seizures. Stevia powder has none of these issues. It’s been consumed for years by South American natives. They use it for a variety of things, from digestive aid to a topical ointment. Dozens of tests have been carried out around the world to prove the safety of Stevia, and they have succeeded.

The Search for an Effective Sugar Substitute

Any person who is trying to control his or her weight looks out for a variety of food ingredients that can be used to substitute less healthy ones. Sugar is a source of empty calories and its abuse is the cause of many lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes. However, we are so used to eating sweets that it is really too much to expect a person to forgo this taste completely, hence the development of a variety of sugar substitutes.

The problem with most sugar substitutes is that they are not without negative side effects. In fact, some of them have a known link to certain types of cancer. The other problem with ordinary sugar substitutes is that they break down when they are heated. This makes them unsuitable for use in cooking. They also tend to have a strange aftertaste that ruins the taste of the dessert. According to many people the aftertaste is reminiscent of licorice.

What Is It? A Gift from the South American Forests!

The Guarani tribal people of Paraguay have known for more than 1,500 years about the sweetening properties of the Stevia rebaudiana, a plant related to the sunflower. The leaves of this plant are very sweet, hence the plant’s common names of sweetleaf or sugarleaf. This plant is found in tropical and subtropical forests all over the continent. It has also been spotted in parts of North America including Mexico and Texas.

The leaves of this plant are far sweeter than sugar itself. It is believed that they are approximately 40 times sweeter than sugar. Amazingly, extracts from this plant have been found to be 300 times sweeter than sugar. Therefore, they are used in moderation. Excessive use can actually make any food taste terrible. Native American forest dwellers have been using Stevia for centuries not just to sweeten their foods but also as a medicinal herb. Today, this plant is cultivated in different parts of the world because people have come to realize its immense importance. It is widely recognized as the only natural sweetener available today.

While the tribal peoples of Paraguay and Brazil have been using the leaves of Stevia to sweeten their foods and drinks, this product is now available in extract form.

Multiple Health Benefits

You might ask what is Stevia and what does it have that other sweeteners do not have. It is quite natural to be skeptical about a product especially if you hear about it for the first time. Also, you’ll want to know is Stevia safe. However, you’ll be quite impressed once you find out about its many effects. This wonderful leaf actually offers you many different health benefits such as:

  • Lowering blood sugar
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Killing bacteria (it is used in products that have to be used topically to deal with acne, dandruff and eczema)
  • Increasing absorption of calcium by the body

This is definitely a very good product to use if you are concerned that your blood pressure and sugar levels are very high. Since there are no known side effects for this sweetener (as long as it is consumed in reasonable quantities) there is no need to worry about consuming it on a daily basis.

This product is also used in the most unexpected places. There are certain brands of toothpaste that utilize it as a sweetener. When Stevia is used in a tooth paste it prevents tooth decay due to its anti-bacterial properties.

Growing Popularity All Over the World

While the United States has remained largely ignorant about what is Stevia, there are many other countries where artificial sweeteners made from it are very popular. Japan heads this list since sweeteners containing Stevia have been available for many decades now. The EU approved the use of this product in December 2011. The USFDA has finally approved the use of this product as well after initially restricting its sale unless used as a health supplement.

It is very easy to locate Stevia on store shelves these days since there is growing awareness of its benefits. You can buy it as a pellet or powder or even as a liquid; you’ll then be able to use it in any way that you want. You can enjoy your daily cup of tea or coffee and your favorite desserts without worrying about your daily sugar intake as long as you have it handy.

Additional Information as Below:

How to Use

The plant can be used in place of artificial sweetening, or in cooking or baking.  In Japan, Stevia recipes are really popular.  For easier use, Stevia powder can be mixed with water to create a good solution.  Stevia can be used to completely replace sugar in the diet.  Refined sugar has virtually no nutrients and does contain calories.  It is essentially calorie free, and has many of the nutrients that are necessary for healthy functioning of your body.  It can also be used in combination with other sweeteners.

Where to find and buy

Stevia Plants can be difficult to locate if you don’t know where to look.  A natural health food store is the first place you should go. They’re more likely to carry it and its derivatives than a grocery store or supermarket.  Once consumer acceptance of Stevia products goes up, they should be more easily available.  Online health food stores are another helpful place to look for this product.

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