Stevia - an Alternative for Sugar? (Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni)

by Karen Railey

Stevia is an outstanding, sweet tasting herb that has remarkable health promoting qualities, yet it is an herb that has been surrounded by much controversy in the United States.

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 small shrub that is native to Paraguay where the native Gaurani Indians have used it for over 1500 years as a sweetener, a digestive aid, tonic, and topical aid in wound healing. In the late 1880's, a scientist named Moises Santiago Bertoni heard of the herb from Gaurani Indian guides while he was exploring the eastern forests of Paraguay. When he found the herb himself he announced his discovery of the "new species" in a botanical journal and was credited with "discovering" Stevia.

Stevia has many favorable and exciting health benefits and it is completely non-toxic. The herb is nutrient rich, containing substantial amounts of protein, calcium, and phosphorous, as well as sodium, magnesium, zinc, rutin, vitamin A, vitamin C, and over 100 phytonutrients.

Stevia is a helpful aid in weight loss due to the fact that it contains no sugar, no calories and has been shown to reduce craving for sweets and fatty foods. People have reported that consuming 10-15 drops of whole leaf concentrate 20 minutes before meals diminished hunger sensations. Also, those consuming the Stevia teas have experienced a reduction in their desire for tobacco and alcoholic beverages. Because it contains no sugar and will not feed yeast, those who are dealing with candida can use it freely. The herb normalizes blood sugar levels and therefore promotes a consistent energy flow, unlike sugar, which causes a rapid peak in blood sugar followed by a crash then a craving for more sugar. Stevia has been used successfully by diabetics and those suffering from hypoglycemia and it has been prescribed by physicians in Paraguay in the treatment of both conditions and for high blood pressure as well. It is interesting that Stevia doesn't effect normal blood sugar levels or normal blood pressure.

The Hiroshima University School of Dentistry and the Purdue University's dental research group have both researched Stevia and found it to retard plaque accumulation on the teeth and suppress bacterial growth that causes cavities. Many individuals have experienced improved dental health when they have included Stevia in their brushing routine, by adding the concentrate to their toothpaste and diluting it in water as a daily mouthwash.

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 has proven beneficial for many when used as a dietary supplement. Numerous people have reported that taking 20-30 drops of the whole leaf Stevia concentrate with each meal brought their blood glucose levels to normal within a short period of time and many have also experienced increased energy levels and mental acuity, and improved digestion and immune response.

Remember that each individual's condition and requirements are different. If you have a serious condition and wish to consume Stevia at high therapeutic levels, work with a nutritionally minded health care professional to determine how to include Stevia in your treatment program.

Stevia is available in several forms, the less refined being the most healthful. It can be purchased in dried leaf form, Stevia leaf powder, tea, or as a liquid tincture, extract, or concentrate. The leaves and powder are light to medium green and are not water-soluble. Stevia in this form is approximately 15 to 30 times sweeter than common table sugar (sucrose). The liquid forms made from the whole leaf are very dark in color, dark brown to almost black, and come in different purities and strengths depending on the type and manufacturer. Read labels; additives are sometimes used in these products, and some are made with alcohol, some with water. Recently whole leaf Stevia has become available in tablet form, which provides a convenient means of supplementation when at work, traveling, or the like.

The refined forms of Stevia, which are the isolated steviosides, come in a white powder or a clear extract. The steviosides do not retain all of the health benefits of the unrefined Stevia products. Stevioside is generally 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. These refined Stevia extracts are safe and preferable to artificial sweeteners or sugar.

Due to Stevia's extraordinary sweetness, many manufacturers are now offering "Stevia blends," which are Stevia (usually in the form of stevioside) blended with malto-dextrin or other fillers. These are generally about four times sweeter than sugar and claims are made that these are easier to bake with. Again, read labels so you know what you are getting.

The sweetness and taste of all forms of Stevia can vary greatly due to a variety of factors including where and how it was grown, processing methods, and if it is diluted or "blended." It has been said that the best tasting and most health promoting Stevia comes from Paraguay. This is due to the rich, fertile soil, pure water and air, the long hours of sunlight, and the expertise and knowledge of the Paraguayan farmers in growing and processing the plants. Chinese Stevia products have proven to be inferior in purity and some have been found to contain high levels of pathogens. Stevia plants and seeds are available from a few mail order nurseries in the United States for those that have a green thumb or are adventurous and would like to grow their own. The plants can be grown in pots or in the garden.

As a sweetener and flavor enhancer, Stevia is very useful for baking and cooking because it is heat stable to 392° Fahrenheit and will not degrade. It is also excellent in smoothies, tea, breakfast grains, or sprinkled on vegetables and salads. It does have some limitations and baking and cooking with these various forms may require some experimentation to determine which forms and amounts suit your taste and recipes. If you prefer to use the whole leaf products for the health benefits and aren't bothered by the green color it conveys to foods, then use those. If green is bothersome then use the stevioside products. Because Stevia contains no sugar it cannot be used effectively in yeast breads, as they require sugar in some form, to activate the yeast and Stevia won't caramelize so can't be used for meringues. Baked goods containing Stevia will not brown in the same manner as conventionally sweetened cookies, muffins, and other baked items. The easiest way to judge doneness is to stick a toothpick into the center to determine if the item is sufficiently dry.

Why has there been so much controversy concerning Stevia, a very useful herb with such great health benefits? Stevia was used in the United States in the 1980's as a sweetener. Celestial Seasonings, one of the world's largest herbal tea companies used it as a flavoring in many of their teas until 1986, when without warning the FDA raided their warehouse and seized their entire stock of Stevia. The FDA gave no reason for this action; the company was simply told they could no longer use Stevia in their teas.

Prior to the 1980's Stevia was on the FDA's GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) list. Strangely, it was removed from that list at the same time Aspartame entered the scene and saccharin was found to be a carcinogen. In 1991 the FDA banned Stevia, claiming (as it still does) that it was an "unsafe food additive," even though it has been used extensively in South America, Japan, China, Germany, Malaysia, Israel, and South Korea, and is available in many other countries. Stevia extracts are used in the Far East as a sweetener in items produced by American companies, such as Diet Coke and sugar free versions of Wrigley's gum and Beatrice Foods Yogurts, as well as for its therapeutic value. The FDA was forced to lift the ban on Stevia due to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. Since that time Stevia has been legal in the U.S., but only if specifically labeled as a dietary supplement. It cannot be used commercially in food products as a sweetener or labeled as a sweetener. In 1998, the FDA made a raid on a Stevia producer located in Texas and attempted to burn all of the books in their warehouse. One book relays the story of FDA's suppression of Stevia and another is a cookbook, which makes use of Stevia as a sweetener, not a supplement. There has been much speculation about the FDA's actions and policies concerning this beneficial herb, but evidence points to the very real probability that these things are the result of lobbying pressure exerted by chemical companies producing synthetic sugar substitutes.

Obviously because Stevia is so much sweeter than sugar, much less of it is required in recipes. Below is a conversion table to help in determining the proper amounts, followed by a couple recipes.

Granulated Sugar Whole Stevia leaf powder White Stevia Extract (powder)
1 teaspoon 1/8 teaspoon Dust on spoon
1 Tablespoon 3/8 teaspoon 1/2 pinch
1/4 cup 1 1/2 teaspoon Pinch
1/2 cup 1 Tablespoon 1/8 teaspoon
1 cup 2 Tablespoon 1/4 teaspoon

Millet Yam Patties

Ingredients:

2 Cups cooked millet
1 Cup cooked, mashed yams
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup shredded onion
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
Juice from 1 orange or blood orange
10 drops of whole leaf Stevia concentrate (or to taste)

Set oven at 375°. Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Form into balls then flatten into 3-inch patties. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Ghee (clarified butter - use organic) works well for greasing the pan, because it doesn't burn or stick. Bake patties for approximately 20 minutes, or until they are dry enough to turn over. Bake on second side for an additional 20 minutes.

Oatmeal Apple Muffins

Ingredients:

1 Cup whole wheat flour
1 Cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1-12 teaspoons cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons Stevia powder
1/4 cup applesauce
3/4-cup soy or rice milk
1/4 cup oil
1 Medium apple, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 375°. Mix first seven ingredients thoroughly. In a separate bowl mix remaining ingredients. Gradually mix dry ingredients into moist ingredients. Spoon into greased muffin tins. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of muffin.

Recommended Stevia Websites

Click here
to visit a non-profit project dedicated to providing accurate and credible information about stevia, the all-natural, zero-calorie sweetener.

Click here to visit SugarFreeStevia.net, another recommended site for detailed information about stevia. Be sure to check out the recipes.

Stevia Sources

Stevia is available at most natural foods stores or can be purchased from the following sources:

Wisdom Natural Brands (Paraguayan Stevia & tea)
1203 W. San Pedro St.
Gilbert, AZ 85233
1-800-899-9908
http://sweetleaf.com

Body Ecology
3040 Ridgewood Road
Atlanta, GA 30327
1-800-4-STEVIA

NuNaturals
2220 West 2nd Avenue #1
Eugene, OR 97402
info@nunaturals.com
800-753-4372(HERB)
541-344-9785
541-343-0915(Fax)

Gaurani Botanical's (Paraguayan Stevia)
16 Rossi Ave.
Pawcatuck, CA 06379
http://www.uconect.net/~oddone

Stevita Stevia
7650 U.S. Hwy. 287, #100
Arlington, TX 76001
1-888-STEVITA
http://www.fastlane.net/~petro/stevia/nutsrb.htm

Stevia plants are available from:

The Herbal Advantage
Route 3, Box 93
Rogersville, MO 65742
1-800-753-9929
http://www.herbaladvantage.com

Richter's Herbs
357 Highway 47
Goodwood, Ontario L0C-1A0
(905) 640-6677 or (905) 640-6641
http://www.richters.com

Well Sweep Herb Farm
205 Mt. Bethel Road
Port Murray, NJ 07865
(908) 852-5390

References:

Bonvie,Linda The Stevia Story: A Tale of Incredible Sweetness & Intrigue Atlanta, Georgia, B.E.D. Publications Company, 1997

Kirkland, James Stevia Overview http://www.fastlane.net/~kirkland/Stevia/notes.htm (February 10, 1999)

Mowrey, Daniel, Ph.D., 1992 Life With Stevia: How Sweet It Is http://www.healthfree.com/herbgarden/stevlife.htm (February 8, 1999)

Richard, David Stevia Rebaudiana: Nature's Sweet Secret Bloomingdale, Illinois, Vital Health Publishing, 1996

Stevia Herb http://www.healthfree.com/herbgarden/Stevia.htm (February 7, 1999)

Stevia Is… http://sweevia.com/whatis.html (February 7, 1999)

Using Stevia: from Herbal Advantage, Inc. Conversion Table http://www.herbaladvantage.com (February 8, 1999)





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