The Health Benefits of Stevia & The Dangers of Commercial Stevia
Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a South American plant that belongs to the same family as chrysanthemums and sunflowers. Its components have a sweet flavor, so its traditional use has included cutting the bitterness from tea and sweetening other drinks.
Stevia has gained worldwide popularity and it has been touted as a sugar-free, low-calorie alternative sweetener—something which dieters and other health-conscious people have loved it for.
Stevia is hundreds of times more sweet than sucrose (or table sugar – which also called the white poison), meaning just a pinch will do the job to add some sweetness to any drink or meal.
The secret is in the leaves, where the super-sweet extract is taken from. This tasty little helper is not only a delicious alternative to processed sugars, it also has health benefits that no other sweetener can lay claim to. But you have to be careful when you buy commercial stevia as it may contain harmful and unwanted ingredients – read on to find out what are the health benefits of stevia and what to watch for when buying commercial stevia.
The Health Benefits of Stevia
Diet aficionados know all about stevia’s benefit as a weight loss and weight maintenance helper for people who have a sweet tooth, but are cutting out table sugar or even fruit sugar from their diets. But what else can stevia do?
Stevia is an hypoallergenic sweetener
Unlike many other sugar-alternative sweeteners on the market, stevia is hypoallergenic and appears to be well-tolerated by people who have sensitivities and allergies to other types of sweeteners.
Stevia is a great and hypoallergenic alternative to these synthetic sweetens.
Diabetic people can use stevia
Stevia won’t raise your blood sugar levels, and some forms of this sweetener may actually lower blood sugar levels.
A study published in “Planta Medica” in 2005 found that stevioside (the sweet taste of the stevia is mainly produced by stevioside) can lower blood glucose levels and decrease insulin resistance in rats with diabetes. When administered twice daily, stevioside was also found to have an effect on blood glucose levels during glucose tolerance testing.
According to an Italian study published in the European Food Safety Authority Journal in 2010, stevia is well-tolerated by diabetic people and non-diabetic people alike, making it an ideal alternative sweetener.
Stevia can lower blood pressure
If you want to reduce your blood pressure naturally, you will be pleased to know that stevia may have a positive impact on your blood pressure.
In a study published in Clinical Therapeutics in 2003, Chinese researchers at Taipei Medical University found that when people with high blood pressure used stevia extract over the course of two years, their blood pressure got lower.
Stevia has cancer-fighting properties
Research performed at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas and published in the Journal of Surgical Research in 2008 found that one component of stevia called kaempferol (which can also be found in moringa) was able to halt the growth and spread of deadly pancreatic cancer.
If no other reason to use stevia instead of other sweeteners wins you over, this one should! While other sweeteners have been linked to increasing the risk for developing cancer this one has been linked to halting it in its tracks.
Commercial Stevia: What to Watch for
Stevia’s popularity has not come without some very serious drawbacks. Now that many companies are processing and selling stevia extract on supermarket shelves and over the internet, regulation has become a concern.
Not all stevia leaf extracts available commercially are created equal; many of the stevia products you can find online or in markets contain harmful additives that may negate the health benefits of this wonderful little plant.
Know what to watch for, so you can find stevia leaf extract that is safe and healthy. Here is what to look for:
Organic – buy stevia products that are labeled as organic.
Erythritol – this is a separate sweetener added to some commercial stevia products to make them tastier and have a better consistency. However, it often comes from genetically engineered sources and is not well-tolerated by all people, and thus should be avoided when you want pure stevia leaf extract (which you do!).
So-called “natural flavors” – if the manufacturer won’t give you a real name for the specific ingredients, avoid it. Natural flavors could be virtually anything, so avoid these products like the plague.
Dextrose – yet another separate sweetener all-too-often found in stevia leaf extract products available commercially. If you want a pure product, avoid anything listing dextrose on the label.
Silica – even the organic stevia products sometimes have silica in them to prevent caking in the container. However, some people find that silica-containing products irritate their digestive tract, so stevia products containing silica should be avoided.
Agave derivatives – again, this additive can even be found in organic stevia products, so always read labels carefully. Agave derivatives can help with taste, but can also impact blood sugar in a way that the purest forms of stevia does not.
How to Make your own Stevia
If you want to avoid the hassle of checking all of the labels of the various commercially available stevia products on the market, you can bypass all this and just make your own! All you’ll need is whole stevia leaves (you can grow the plant right in your own garden or buy dried leaves) and an organic vodka.
Dry the leaves by using a food dehydrator (there are many dehydrators on the market and the they are readily available on Amazon) or placing them in direct sunlight for 10-12 hours.
Place the dried leaves into a clear glass container (such as a jar) and add just enough vodka to cover the leaves.
Steep the leaves in the vodka for 24 hours—no more, no less.
Pour the mixture through a strainer to filter out leaves and leaf particles. Discard the leafy leftovers.
Heat the liquid on a low setting for 15-20 minutes to remove the alcohol taste. Note: Do not allow the liquid to boil!
When the liquid has cooled, transfer it to a glass dropper bottle (preferably amber or cobalt) and store it in your fridge for up to three months.
It’s that easy! With the help of your garden and the cost of a bottle of vodka, you can make your own stevia extract—and since you made it yourself, you won’t be left wondering about what steps may have been taken (or missed) during the production process.