Stevia Facts: 6 Reasons to Sprinkle on Stevia
Note: This article has been provided by a guest author. It reflects the author's opinion and does not necessarily represent the opinion of HealWithFood.org.
Stevia rebaudiana — also known as sweet leaf or simply stevia — is a species in the sunflower family of plants. It is the latest sugar substitute to make it mainstream, although it has been used as a medicinal herb and natural sweetener for hundreds of years in South America and Asia. The first stevia consumers were likely the Guaraní Indians of South America. They added the sweet leaf to their bitter mate tea, mixed it into medicinal potions and sometimes chewed on the leaves directly for a straight sugar fix.
In the 1800s, stevia made a break into the New World and its commercial potential was finally dissected. It was in Europe that rebaudioside A. was recognized as an extract of the stevia plant responsible for its sweetness. Finally in 2008, rebaudioside A was generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Today you can find stevia in all forms in the United States: granule, powder, liquid and in individual packets at your favorite restaurants. Like the other artificial sweeteners, there are pros and cons to consuming stevia. For one, stevia can leave a bitter aftertaste in your mouth. On the other hand, stevia is touted as more natural because it's derived directly from a plant — those pink and yellow packets are not. If you're still skeptical about sugar substitutes, these six reasons for stevia may sweeten the pot:
- Diet-friendly. Stevia is naturally free of calories and carbohydrates. Substitute some or all of the sugar in your dessert recipes for a sweet treat without the extra calories — or guilt.
- Metabolizes completely. Stevia passes through the body without being absorbed by the liver, colon or kidneys. Glucose molecules released during stevia digestion are filtered out of the body through the urine, so no residuals are left lingering.
- Cook with it. Try stevia in all of its forms to sweeten a variety of foods. Liquid stevia is great for stirring into iced beverages. Powdered stevia is best for sauces and soups. And granulated stevia is great for sneaking into baked goodies (the kids will never know the difference).
- Homegrown goodness. Add stevia to your herb garden at home. For optimal growth, set stevia in a windowsill with lots of light and fresh soil. (Tip: Growing stevia straight from the seed is difficult, so start with a pre-potted plant instead.)
- Sweet on the cheap. Because stevia is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, you don't need to use as much. Add a packet or two to your morning cup of java or herbal tea — just as the ancient Indians did.
- Herbal applications. Stevia leaf extract is sold as an herbal supplement to support healthy blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels already within a normal range.
Now go ahead, sprinkle some stevia in your favorite foods and beverages. Enjoy the natural sweetness of the newest sugar substitute with an ancient pedigree.