Stevia - history and health benefits

Stevia - Geschichte und gesundheitlicher Nutzen

As one of the most popular sweeteners that can replace sugar, stevia has attracted a lot of attention in recent years.

But stevia is not just a sweetener, but a plant that also offers unique wellness benefits.

What is Stevia?

Stevia (SR) is a calorie-free sugar substitute obtained from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. The plant form of stevia is native to the mountains between southern Brazil and northern Paraguay and has been used for hundreds of years.

Although there are over 150 species of stevia, only S. rebaudiana is used for its sweetening properties.

Stevia is 200 to 400 times sweeter than sugar and has no calories. It is produced in powder, liquid or granular form.

Stevia contains several glycosides that are beneficial to human well-being. The main ones that should be mentioned are stevioside and rebaudioside. These are not fermentable like sugar, but are heat and pH stable molecules.

If you try stevia in its common form as a sweetener, you can expect it to taste similar to sugar. It can taste sweet for longer than table sugar and is also known to have an aftertaste described as bitter or licorice-like (especially at high concentrations).

Stevia is also used as an ingredient in many nutritional supplements.

A Brief History of Stevia

The Guarani peoples of South America are said to have used the stevia plant as a sweetener for teas, medicines and foods (as a "sweet treat") for over 1,500 years. The plant got its name after the Spanish botanist and doctor Petrus Jacobus Stevus.

In Paraguay and Brazil, stevia is used as a medicinal plant for a variety of purposes.

Stevia was first scientifically researched in 1887 by the Swiss botanist Moisés Santiago Bertoni. While working in eastern Paraguay, he discovered that the Stevia rebaudiana plant had a "sweet taste."

In 1931, French chemists isolated the glycosides that make stevia sweet. In 1963, all active glycosides in stevia were identified.

In the 1970s, Japan became the first country to regularly use stevia as a replacement for cyclamate and saccharin in Coca-Cola products.

The FDA waited much longer to approve stevia in the United States. A purified version of stevia was approved for use in dietary supplements in 1994. Many brands of stevia-containing foods have been approved to date, although the FDA still does not approve stevia leaves and raw stevia extracts for use in foods.

Wellness Benefits of Stevia

1. Helps reduce calorie intake

As a sugar substitute, stevia can replace high-calorie sugar and reduce the overall calorie count of foods and drinks.

For people trying to reduce their calorie intake, stevia can be a great substitute for sugar.

2. Supports metabolic health

Limited research suggests that stevia may support healthy blood sugar levels within the normal range and help promote metabolic health.

Stevia may also support normal cholesterol levels and blood pressure in already healthy people.

3. Good for reducing sugar consumption

Because stevia sweetens foods and drinks, it can help reduce the amount of sugar you consume. Sugar has a number of harmful effects on human health, which is why nutritionists and doctors generally recommend a low-sugar lifestyle.

This is particularly important for children who are normally used to sugary foods but may find it difficult to transition to a low-sugar diet. Parents can replace the sugar with the stevia plant, which is not associated with the same problems as sugar.

4. Gentle on the body

Many sugar substitutes are known to cause allergic reactions or sensitivities in certain people. However, in the long history of research, no undesirable effects are known from purified stevia extract.

How to use Stevia

There are several ways to use stevia, including as a sweetener or as an ingredient in a dietary supplement.

Powdered/Granular Sweetener: Stevia can be used in powdered form to sweeten foods and drinks. There are different stevia blends, so be aware of what additional ingredients may be included in the blend you purchase. Stevia baking mixes can be used for sugar-free baking desserts.
Liquid Sweetener: Liquid stevia is great for sweetening your morning coffee, a smoothie, or even homemade hot chocolate.
Dietary Supplements: Stevia is often found in dietary supplements to support metabolism and the immune system.
Is Stevia safe?

To date, there are no major safety concerns for stevia when consumed normally on a daily basis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved an acceptable daily intake (ADI) of steviol glycosides of 4 mg/kg body weight. This ADI value has also been confirmed by the European Food Safety Authority.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center warns healthcare professionals: "Laboratory studies suggest weak mutagenic activity at high doses."

However, the Center for Science in the Public Interest published a review paper showing that there are no published carcinogenicity results for rebaudioside A or stevioside.

The bottom line

Stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener and dietary supplement that can replace sugar and promote a healthy lifestyle. Try it next time you make a smoothie to find out what it's all about!


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