What is Stevia?
Stevia is a fairly unassuming perennial shrub native to the northern regions of Paraguay. It has now been grown commercially in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Central America, the United States, Israel, Thailand, England, Russia and China.
If you have not heard of Stevia – you will soon be seeing Stevia everywhere. Despite efforts to suppress Stevia from the US markets, Stevia has many natural qualities which make it ideal for sweetening:
Stevia is an all-natural sweetener that contains no chemicals
Stevia is up to 300x as sweet as sugar and has no calories
Unlike man-made sweetners which have a host of negative effects (i.e. Neutra-Sweet & Splenda), Stevia has a long history of use among millions in Paraguay, Japan and China without any health concerns
Stevia can be mixed with the natural alcohol sweetners Xylitol or Erythitol – allowing less of these to be used and avoid the gas or loose stools associated with the use of higher amounts
Studies indicate Stevia may lower blood pressure and blood sugar
Health & Political Controversy
A 1985 study reporting that steviol (a metabolite of Stevia) may be cancer causing; however, this study has been criticized on procedural grounds that the data were mishandled in such a way that even distilled water would appear mutagenic.
In 1991, at the request of an anonymous complaint, the United States Food and Drug Administration labeled stevia as an "unsafe food additive" and restricted its import. The FDA's stated reason was "toxicological information on stevia is inadequate to demonstrate its safety." This ruling was controversial because it violated the FDA's own guidelines under which any natural substance used prior to 1958 with no reported adverse effects should be generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Many have suspected that the real issue has been to protect the billion dollar interests in the sweetener industry – especially Splenda and Neutra-Sweet.
Recent Studies Support the Safety of Stevia and Even Point to Health Benefits
More recent studies have not shown any problems with Stevia and cancer. At least 1 animal study showed a stevia extract actually produce a decrease in breast tumors. The most recent studies bolster the safety record of steviol and its glycosides. In 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) performed a thorough evaluation of recent experimental studies of stevia extracts conducted on animals and humans, and concluded that stevioside and rebaudioside A are not cancer causing.
The report also suggested the possibility of health benefits, in that "stevioside has shown some evidence of pharmacological effects in patients with hypertension or with type-2 diabetes" but concluded that further study was required to determine proper dosage.
Stevia remained banned until after the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act forced the FDA in 1995 to revise its stance to permit stevia to be used as a dietary supplement, although not as a food additive — a position that stevia proponents regard as contradictory because it simultaneously labels stevia as safe and unsafe, depending on how it is sold.
Today you can find Stevia in grocery stores everywhere but you may notice the word sweetener is often missing to comply with the FDA restrictions.
Bottom line: The best evidence available shows Stevia is Safe and may reduce blood sugar and blood pressure
Stevia may lower blood sugar
Studies have suggested it may be Stevia has been widely used for diabetes in South America and animal studies have had promising results. Studies report decreases in plasma glucose when stevia was taken in normal volunteers. Additional study is needed in this area to confirm these findings.
Stevia may lower blood pressure
Stevioside is a natural plant glycoside isolated from the plant Stevia rebaudiana, which has demonstrated blood pressure lowering effects. Despite evidence of benefits in some human studies and support from laboratory and animal studies, more research is warranted to compare stevia's effectiveness with the current standard of care and make a firm recommendation. Stevia appears to have no major side effects.
Stevia is Catching On
You can get Stevia at grocery stores and health food stores right now and you are going to see a lot more of it as major players are enter this field.
Cargill has begun marketing of Truvia, a no-calorie sweetener made from certain compounds in the leaves of stevia. Truvia is intended to provide a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners such as Sweet ‘N Low, Equal and Splenda. Since Truvia is made only with compounds from the stevia plant, it can be legally used as a natural sweetener