Sweeteners come in all forms these days, but finding a natural sugar substitute can take some searching. One excellent choice is the extract from the stevia plant (pronounced stee-vee-uh or steh-vee-uh) which has found its way into mainstream supermarkets. Stevia has been around for centuries under the name sweet leaf or sugar leaf and is part of the sunflower family. It is grown in parts of Asia, North, Central and South America. The leaves from the plant can be chewed, boiled for tea, ground into a powdered sugar replacement or liquid extract, and have many different benefits besides their sweetening properties.
Stevia has a glycemic index of zero which means that it is safe for diabetics, people with sugar restrictions and those trying to control their weight. It has been linked to some studies that claim it lowers elevated blood sugar levels, helps soothe stomach ailments, inhibits bacterial growth, and when used externally as a compress, can alleviate acne and eczema. Stevia is also loaded with vitamins and minerals including vitamin c, iron, protein, potassium, fiber and beta-carotene. Interestingly, Purdue University conducted a study determining that stevia is fluoride compatible and may inhibit plaque therefore preventing cavities.
What Does It Taste Like?
It does taste different than sugar. Although it is sweet, it can have a slight bitter quality that may discourage people at first. However, given the many positive attributes of this natural sugar substitute, getting used to it is easy. In fact, soda companies are incorporating the use of stevia in many of their products to replace controversial artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, that has been linked to several health dangers.
Where Do You Get It?
As mentioned above, more and more supermarkets are carrying stevia. It can also be found in any health food store. There should not be difficulty in tracking stevia down, but the FDA hasn’t officially approved stevia as a food source, and therefore some businesses will stock it in the nutritional supplement section. Oddly enough, stevia has been used worldwide and has never had any health threatening reports. On the other hand, aspartame is FDA approved, but has the highest number of consumer complaints.
How Do You Use It?
To compete with the artificial sugar companies, stevia manufacturers have marketed stevia in convenient sugar packets as a fine, easily dissolvable powder. It even works well in cold drinks and is easy to carry when eating out.
It seems as though stevia is a friend to its own species as well as humans. Short of miraculous, stevia leaves and stems have been used in Asia as a powerful fertilizer, allegedly producing crops that yield a superior constitution all around, including fragrance, taste and size. Stevia has been used to dissolve agrochemicals as well as boost the immunity of crops insomuch as enhancing their wind and frost defenses.
The fertilizer can be made at home by simply grinding the leaves and stems of the plant and mixing them in the gardening soil or by purchasing the extract. Swanson is a company that offers the formula for sale on the Internet. Seeds to grow your own plants can sometimes be found or ordered in your local nursery or on the Internet as well.