The stevia plant has been used for more than 1,500 years by the Guaraní people of Brazil and Paraguay, who refer to stevia as ka’a he’ê, which means “sweet herb.” These native South Americans love using this non-caloric natural sweetener in their yerba mate tea, as medicine and a sweet treat. In these South American countries, stevia has also been used specifically as a traditional medicine for burns, stomach problems, colic and even as a form of contraception. So, if it’s such a sweet treat, are there stevia side effects that may make it bad for you?
Stevia extract averages about 200 times sweeter than sugar, depending on the specific stevia compound discussed. When it comes to using stevia, you only need a tiny bit at a time to sweeten your morning tea or next batch of healthy baked goods. Stevia side effects are typically not common, especially if you choose the right stevia product.
What exactly is stevia?
Stevia comes from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, which is a member of the chrysanthemum family, a subgroup of the Asteraceae family (ragweed family). There’s a big difference between the stevia you buy at the grocery store and the stevia you may grow at home.
Stevia products found on grocery store shelves, such as Truvia and Stevia in the Raw, don’t contain whole stevia leaf. They’re made from a highly refined stevia leaf extract called rebaudioside A (Reb-A). In fact, many stevia products have very little stevia in them at all. Reb-A is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar.
Reb-A sweeteners are considered “novel sweeteners” because they’re a blend of different sweeteners, such as Reb-A, erythritol (a sugar alcohol), and dextrose (glucose).
Some stevia brands also contain natural flavors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t object to the term “natural flavors” if the related ingredients have no added colors, artificial flavors, or synthetics. Still, ingredients that fall under the “natural flavor” umbrella may be highly processed. Many argue that this means there’s nothing natural about them.
What is Stevia Leaf Extract ?
Stevia leaf extract comes from the stevia plant, which originates in South America. The primary components extracted from the stevia leaf are called steviol glycosides. Extract from these plants are used in stevia sweeteners to provide a sweet taste without calories in many foods and beverages.
Steviosides10%-99% / RA20%-98%
White Crystal Powder
The benefits of stevia
As an alternative to sucrose, or table sugar, using stevia as a sweetener carries the potential for considerable health benefits.
Stevia is considered "no-calorie," meaning that it contains less than five grams of carbohydrate. They can be combined with other ingredients, so a few calories from those additional ingredients may be present depending on the product.
Stevia does not strictly contain zero calories, but it is significantly less calorific than sucrose and low enough to be classified as such.
The sweet-tasting components in stevia sweeteners occur naturally. This characteristic may benefit people who prefer naturally-sourced foods and beverages. The low calorie count qualifies Stevia to be a healthful alternative for diabetes control or weight loss.
Here are some of the possible health benefits of stevia.
Research has shown that stevia sweeteners do not contribute calories or carbohydrates to the diet. They have also demonstrated no effect on blood glucose or insulin response. This allows people with diabetes to eat a wider variety of foods and comply with a healthful meal plan.
2) Weight control
There are many causes of overweight and obesity, such as physical inactivity and increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and added sugars.
The intake of added sugars has been shown to contribute an average of 16 percent of the total calories in the American diet. This has been linked to weight gain and reduced control of blood glucose levels.
Stevia contains no sugar and very few, if any, calories. It can be part of a well-balanced diet to help reduce energy intake without sacrificing taste.
3) Pancreatic cancer
Stevia contains many sterols and antioxidant compounds, including kaempferol.
4) Blood pressure
Certain glycosides in stevia extract have been found to dilate blood vessels. They can also increase sodium excretion and urine output.
5) Children's diets
Foods and beverages containing stevia can play an important role in decreasing calories from unwanted sweeteners in the diets of children.
There are now thousands of products on the market containing naturally-sourced stevia, ranging from salad dressings to snack bars. This availability allows children to consume sweet foods and drinks without the added calories while transitioning to a lower sugar diet.
Excessive sugars and calories are linked to obesity and cardiovascular disease.
The Application of Stevia
In the U.S., stevia sweeteners are primarily found in table sugar products and reduced calorie beverages as sugar substitutes.
Extracts from the stevia leaf have been available as dietary supplements in the U.S. since the mid-1990s, and many contain a mixture of both sweet and non-sweet components of the stevia leaf.
The sweet components in stevia sweeteners are naturally occurring. This may further benefit consumers who prefer foods and beverages they perceive as natural.
Worldwide, more than 5,000 food and beverage products currently use stevia as an ingredient. Stevia sweeteners are used as an ingredient in products throughout Asia and South America such as:
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