Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the sweetleaf plant. It's 300x as sweet as sugar, so it only takes a small amount to produce the same sweet taste as cane sugar. Stevia has been used as a sweetener in many cultures for centuries, but is only recently gaining acceptance as a sugar substitute in the United States. It was first introduced in the US in the mid 1990s as an herbal supplement. After much controversy, it was approved by the FDA.
There are currently several sugar substitutes available on the market, so what makes Stevia unique? For one thing, it's all-natural, so many health gurus prefer it over other artificially manufactured substitutes. It also appears to offer several health benefits, though the research is often mixed and contradictory. Following are the top five health benefits purported by Stevia fans:
A no-carb, no-calorie substitute
For those watching their carbohydrate or caloric intake, Stevia is both carb- and calorie-free. This makes it possible for dieters to satisfy sweet cravings without wrecking their eating plans.
Lowers blood pressure
Stevia has been shown, in some studies, to lower blood pressure. This makes it an ideal sweetener for people with high blood pressure.
Lowers blood sugar
For people with high blood sugar levels, Stevia has the possible benefit of lowering sugar levels. This makes it a possibly acceptable substitute for anyone with blood sugar or insulin problems, including diabetics. However, diabetics should continue to monitor their blood sugar levels and insulin levels after using Stevia to make sure everything remains in check.
Has antibacterial properties
Stevia, when used orally, has shown antibacterial properties. This makes it an ideal ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwashes, as it can aid in fighting cavities and gingivitis. It has shown the same properties when used topically, and has been used as an ointment in the treatment of eczema and acne.
Aids in calcium formation
Some studies, conducted on chicken eggshells, have shown that chickens who are fed a preparation laced with Stevia lay eggs with significantly tougher shells. This suggests that Stevia aids in calcium formation, which would be an ideal side effect particularly for women and children with growing bones. However, experts warn that this has not been definitely proven to translate to human calcium formation.
For many people, the overwhelming benefit of Stevia is that it offers a seemingly healthy alternative to cane sugar, corn syrup, aspartame, or saccharine. For these people, the fact that it has been used in other cultures for centuries with no apparent ill effects is enough to recommend its use. Of course, if you have questions about the health benefits or side effects of this sugar substitute, you should check with your physician. She should be able to advise you on which sugar alternatives are best for your situation.