Stevia – A Natural Sweetener With Proven Health Benefits
What is Stevia?
Stevia is a green, leafy plant that is native to South America.
It has been used for medicinal purposes for many centuries. The plant has also been bred for its strong, sweet flavor and used as a sweetener.
However, the refined stevia sweeteners used today often don’t resemble the whole stevia plant at all.
You can buy whole or crushed stevia leaves, but most often you are getting an extract (either liquid or powder), or a refined version of the plant’s isolated sweet compounds.
The two major sweet compounds that are isolated from the leaves are called Stevioside and Rebaudioside A. These two compounds are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar.
Here is an important point… most of the studies use stevioside, the isolated sweet compound. It would be hard to reach pharmacologically active doses of stevioside just by using stevia as a sweetener. It is only about 10% stevioside, by weight.
People often confuse stevia with another sweetener called Truvia, but they are not the same. Truvia is a blend of compounds, one of which is extracted from stevia leaves.
Stevia leaves contain various vitamins and minerals, like vitamin C and A, rutin, zinc, magnesium and iron, according to Dr. Sanjeev Gupta in the book “Kick Your Sugar Habit." The stevia leaf is also rich in antioxidants, which helps to safeguard the body from free-radical damage as a result of metabolic and environmental factors. A particular enzyme present in the leaf, called superoxide dismutast, may also help to inhibit cancer cell growth, although further research is needed.
Using the highly refined extracts from the stevia leaf as a zero-calorie, 100 percent natural sweetener can help reduce your intake of sugar. Stevia is actually 300 times sweeter than regular sugar with a minimal aftertaste, yet it is suitable for sugar-sensitive people, such as diabetics.
Studies Show That Stevia Can Lower Blood Pressure
Elevated blood pressure is a major risk factor for many serious diseases.
This includes heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.
Studies have shown that taking stevioside (one of the sweet compounds in stevia) as a supplement can reduce blood pressure.
One of these studies was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 174 Chinese patients .
In this study, patients took either 500 mg of stevioside or placebo (dummy pill), 3 times per day.
These were the results after two years in the group taking stevioside:
Systolic blood pressure: went from 150 to 140 mmHg.
Diastolic blood pressure: went from 95 down to 89 mmHg.
In this study, the stevioside group also had a lower risk of Left Ventricular Hypertrophy, an enlarging of the heart that can be caused by elevated blood pressure. The stevioside group also had improved quality of life.
There are also other studies in both humans and animals showing that stevioside can lower blood pressure.
How to Use it
Stevia can be used in many ways.
You can add it to your smoothie, yogurt, tea, coffee and other beverages. It is also a good sugar substitute for baking.
Since you can buy it in liquid and powder form, it’s more convenient to use the liquid form for beverages and the powder for baking.
When it comes to baking with stevia, many people mix it with erythritol, another natural low-calorie sweetener that is much bulkier.
When using it in recipes, keep in mind that it is incredibly potent.
1 teaspoon of stevia extract can have a similar sweetening power as a whole cup of sugar, but this can vary between brands.