Originally published in August 2003 icon - updated January 2009
A Natural Alternative to Sugar
It is puzzling to say the least why the natural compound Stevia, should have faced so many restrictions over the years in both America and Europe. Stevia has been used in South America for centuries and even in countries such as Japan.
Some informed people believe that its history has little to do with science and more to do with powerful forces with financial interests in sugar and sweeteners. Be that as it may two events in the USA are about to clear up the whole mess: Two companies Cargill, which makes a Stevia-based sweetener called Truvia, and Merisant, which makes another named Pure Via, have both said that all research shows that their products are safe and are applying for FDA approval. And international scientists associated with the World Health Organization have agreed that these forms of stevia sweeteners are safe (ABC News 2008 December 2nd).
And importantly, the mighty Coca Cola Company has already made its first stevia-sweetened drinks!
Non-toxic alternative to sugar
For those of you who want to cut sugar from your diet, using an all-natural, no calories sweetener, stevia could well be for you. Stevia is a natural sweetener, 30-100 times sweeter than sugar. The part used is the leaf. There is no after-taste and it is both safe and non-toxic according to Japanese research.
Virtually all scientific researchers who have studied stevia and stevioside have attested to their complete safety. Daniel Mowrey, Ph.D., director of the American Phytotherapy Research Laboratory, has written the following:
Few substances have ever yielded such consistently negative results in toxicity trials as has stevia. Almost every toxicity test imaginable has been performed on stevia extract or stevioside at one time or another. The results are always negative. No abnormalities in weight change, food intake, cell or membrane characteristics, enzyme and substrate utilization or chromosome characteristics. No cancer, no birth defects, no acute and no chronic untoward effects. Nothing."
It has several other added advantages too. For those of you who read the article "Can candida cause cancer?" you will find it recommended by expert Gerald Green as it also is known to kill off yeasts and certain microbes.
Stevia is also high in chromium, (which helps to stabilise blood sugar levels), manganese, potassium, selenium, silicon, sodium and vitamin A. It also contains iron, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin C, and zinc. The best quality stevia leaves, whether whole, cut and sifted or in tea bags are usually imported from South America and Mexico, and are about 12 percent to 13 percent stevioside. The poorest quality, but most ample supply, is currently coming from China, where the leaves contain only about five percent to six percent stevioside. A simple taste test demonstrates the difference.
Stevia leaves and the water-based concentrate are sold in some South American countries as aids for people with diabetes, hypoglycemia and high blood pressure. Research has demonstrated that stevia liquid concentrate inhibits the growth and reproduction of harmful bacteria and other infectious organisms.
Stevia also inhibits the growth of the bacteria that cause gum disease and tooth decay, and in many countries it is used in oral-hygiene products. Less known, but no less remarkable, is the ability of water-based stevia concentrate to help heal numerous skin problems, including acne, seborrhea, dermatitis and eczema.
It also has been observed that placing it in cuts and wounds brings more rapid healing without scarring. This will cause a severe stinging for several seconds, but is followed by a significant lowering of pain.
Placing it in cuts and wounds brings more rapid healing without
Physicians have reported using stevia concentrate to heal psoriasis and burns, while others have reported that it is extremely helpful in healing various lip sores. The stevioside mentioned earlier, although more intensely sweet than the leaf or concentrate and certainly safe for diabetics and hypoglycemics, does not retain any of the healing properties described above.
Prior to 1991, stevia was in widespread use in the United States and several other countries. In Japan, it was developed by a complex refining process into a sweetener called stevioside - a white powder 250 to 300 times sweeter than sugar - which has a 47 percent market share in the Japanese commercial-sweetening industry.
There is no after-taste and it is safe and non-toxic according to Japanese research.
In 1984, stevia importers were informed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that they could no longer import concentrated stevia liquid into the United States for sale as a sweetener. FDA officials did say that there was no problem with importing stevia in tea bags for sale as a tea.
The FDA imposed an import alert on stevia in May 1991, instructing importation agents to not allow stevia in any form into the United States.
The agency later relaxed that order, allowing stevia to be imported and sold only as a liquid concentrate for skin care.
The FDA issued a revised import alert on Sept. 18, 1995, informing its agents that stevia could be imported and sold if, and only if it was labelled as a dietary supplement.
It is far too sweet to be eaten by itself, but it is in high demand by consumers who want a non-calorie sweetener.
A few companies do market liquid stevia extracts or concentrates. Water-based concentrates are superior to alcohol-based extracts because they usually contain a greater concentration of the nutrients essential to the healing activity.
Virtually all research performed with whole-leaf stevia has been done with water-based concentrates. Also, alcohol nullifies much of the plant´s healing activity on the skin and the scalp. The effectiveness of a water-based concentrate depends on its purity and the ratio of leaves to water used in the preparation process. The more leaves to water, the better and more effective the final product.
Chris Woollams comments, I think we will increasingly see the growth and more public use of stevia. It will be nice to have a no-calorie sweetener which has positive health benefits for a change! I personally find the after-taste a little different. But Im sure many people will want to try it.
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