Have you ever used stevia before? Do you know what it is? I’m talking about the natural sweetener used by the Guarani people of Paraguay and Brazil. Not only is it a great culinary tool, it also has many medicinal effects, used to treat burns, stomach aches, colic and more. Its health benefits are endless, and we will discuss a few in this article. If you want to learn more, keep reading!
What is Stevia?
There are over 200 species of stevia in South America. This herbal plant belongs to the Asteraceae family, making it a close relative of marigolds, chrysanthemums and ragweed. While there are many varieties, the most expensive and valuable is Stevia rebaudiana.
In 1932, two chemists, R. Lavielle and M. Bridel, were able to sequester the rebaudioside and stevioside in the stevia. These components are glycosides and are what make stevia leaves so sweet. The chemists isolated them in five different variations and were able to separate the stevioside, which has a bitter aftertaste, from the rebaudioside, which has no bitter aftertaste.
Many raw stevia products contain both compounds, but more processed products only contain the rebaudioside. The highly pure substance, also referred to as rebiana, is recognized by the FDA as a safe artificial sweetener in beverages and foods.
Types of Stevia
There are three types of stevia, all of which are slightly different. I will explain these in order from most processed to least.
- Altered Stevia. This is the least healthy option. Some manufacturers and companies use various processes to create these blends, which include acetonitrile and many other chemical solvents. This is not healthy for the central nervous system.
- Stevia Extracts. If you are going to buy this kind of stevia in the US, you will consume rebaudioside A in its most pure extract. Even though refined stevia extracts are way more processed than the green leaves, the health benefits are on par with the unprocessed equivalent.
- Green leaf stevia. This is the least processed among all types of stevia. The leaves are dried and ground into a powder. Japanese and South American cultures have used it for centuries as a natural sweetener.
Is Stevia Safe?
Most people who use stevia don’t see any adverse side effects, but always listen to your body. Remember that this is an herb, and your body may react differently to others. This also depends on which type of stevia you use. There are reports of allergic reactions in those who are allergic to ragweed, but this has not been validated in any studies or structured research. Other side of stevia may include dizziness, nausea, muscle pain, bloating and numbness.
Health Benefits of Stevia
Here are some of the most incredible health benefits of stevia:
- Helps lower high blood pressure. Various glycosides in stevia extract may have the capacity to dilate blood vessels and increase sodium excretion. These two things are beneficial in keeping blood sugar at a healthy level.
- Helps improve cholesterol. One study shows that stevia extract has encouraging and positive effects on overall cholesterol levels. It is also effective in reducing elevated serum levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing good cholesterol.
- Helps support weight loss. Consuming added sugars may contribute more than 13% your total daily calories. Since there are no calories in the stevia, if you consume it in moderation, you can reduce your overall daily sugar intake and fend off obesity.
- Helps ease diabetes. If you are diabetic and are trying to avoid conventional white sugar, use stevia instead. Studies also suggest that having stevia before a meal reduce your caloric intake.
- Helps prevent cancer. The antioxidant properties of stevia have the capacity to prevent cancer, but it is also perceived that the stevioside may enhance cancer cells and contribute to cancer growth.