Stevia is an all-natural sweetener derived from the leaves of an herb related to sunflowers. It has been used in some cultures for centuries, but has only recently come into use stateside. It was first marketed as an herbal supplement back in the early 1990s, but after long and somewhat controversial research, it has gained the FDA's approval as a food product.
To health food gurus and others needing an alternative to cane sugar or corn syrup, stevia is heralded as the best thing on the market. Others warn that it needs further testing before its long-lasting side effects can be determined. If you are still on the fence about it, then here are 8 pros and cons to help you make up your mind about this sweet treat:
1. Con: It Does Have Some Disagreeable Side Effects
There are a few not so fun side effects that have been reported with stevia use, such as dizziness, muscle pains, numbness, nausea, gas and bloating. However, these symptoms are of short duration. The jury is still out on whether these symptoms cause long-lasting damage.
2. Pro: It Lowers Blood Pressure
An interesting little tidbit about this sweetener: it lowers your blood pressure. This makes it a great alternative for people who need to lose weight and have blood pressure issues--they can literally have their cake and eat it too. People who already have low blood pressure should steer clear.
3. Con: It Is Not Recommended for Use By Pregnant or Nursing Women
As with most artificial sweeteners, stevia is not recommended for use by pregnant or nursing women. Until further research has shown any long-lasting negative side effects, it is best for new moms and moms-to-be to find other ways to satisfy a sweet tooth.
4. Pro: It Appears to Be Safe for Use By Diabetics
Studies show that it does lower blood sugar levels, so diabetics should monitor their insulin levels carefully after eating anything containing stevia.
5. Con: It May Possibly Be a Carcinogen
One study showed that stevia could be converted to a mutagenic compound, which causes cancer. However, other studies have proved this false, and critics say the original study was flawed. Until further research has been completed, this is one that does not have a definitive answer.
6. Pro: It's 300 Times Sweeter than Cane Sugar
This sweetener is 300 times more sweet than sugar, which means you only need to use a tiny bit to get the same effect in recipes.
7. Con: It May Have a Contraceptive Effect
As with the carcinogen study, there is a controversial study out there that suggests stevia has a contraceptive effect when ingested in both men and women. Although other studies disprove this, it is another "wait and see" issue that makes stevia use controversial.
8. Pro: It Is Inexpensive and Easy to Get
Now that stevia has achieved FDA approval, you can get it cheaply and easily at most local grocery stores. Before then, you had to order it from an herbal supplements catalog or find it at a health food store. This makes stevia one of the most affordable alternatives to sugar on the market.
If you still can't decide if stevia is the best choice for you, it's wise to consult with your physician. He will be up on the latest research and can help you make an informed decision.