One of the most commonly used unhealthy foods is refined sugar.
Type II diabetes is the most common disease of modern times; the high-calorie intake from refined sugar is largely responsible for this disease.
Most of us are forced to look for safe alternatives to refined sugar for health reasons.
Many companies have come out with low-calorie sweeteners, both natural and artificial ones.
Despite the many varieties of sweeteners available, only a few natural sweeteners are safe for health and taste good.
One of the most popular natural sweeteners out there is stevia.
What Is Stevia Sweetener?
‘Stevia is a sweetener and sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana.’
This sweetener is 100% natural. Most importantly, this sweetener has zero calories in it, and it has some health benefits as well.
Stevia rebaudiana plant is mostly found in the South American continent. This plant is also been well known for its medicinal qualities for many centuries.
It is since only a few decades since this plant became popular as the best source of calorie-free natural sugar. The sugar extract from this plant has a strong sweet flavor and excellent taste.
This sweetener is available in whole or crushed stevia leaves/liquid form or as a refined sweet compound.
The refined stevia sweetener looks just like the normal refined sugar usually procured from sugarcane and sugar beet; with no resemblance to the stevia plant at all.
Stevia is the name of the plant, and the refined sugar compound got from this plant is called stevioside. Normal stevia contains stevioside (pure sugar) in about 10% of its total weight.
Health Benefits Of Stevia Sweetener
Millions of people in the world suffering from Type II diabetes will benefit a lot from stevia sweeteners.
Type II diabetes occurs due to the fluctuation of sugar levels in the blood due to a lack of insulin production or insulin resistance prevalent in the body.
Most studies conducted on the effects of this natural sweetener on diabetic patients have shown good benefits in stabilizing healthy sugar levels in the blood.
In one of the studies the diabetes patients who took 1 gram of stevioside with a meal indicated an impressive reduction in blood sugar level by 18% compared to others who had 1 gram of maize starch.
In another study, it was found that people who took stevia experienced lower levels of insulin and blood sugar levels after the meals compared to the patients who took regular sugar or aspartame.
This natural calorie-free sweetener is also good for increasing insulin production as per the tests done in animal studies. This helps in quickly transporting the blood sugar into the body cells for various energy requirements of the body and thereby lowering the blood sugar levels.
Another stevia benefit is its ability to lower blood pressure to healthy levels especially in patients suffering from high blood pressure.
Maintaining a healthy level of blood pressure is important for preventing stroke, heart diseases, and even kidney failure.
In one of the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials in 174 Chinese patients, it was shown that the patients taking 500 mg stevioside daily had experienced a reduction in elevated blood pressure.
This same study also indicated the patients who took stevioside had a lower risk of Left Ventricular Hypertrophy (blood pressure caused by enlarging the heart).
The European Food Safety Authority and the World Health Organization both say steviol glycosides compounds in stevia are safe in the amounts typically used. Various human studies also suggest that stevia doesn’t cause damage to DNA or cancer.
There are several other studies on humans and animals that also categorically proved the efficiency of stevioside in reducing blood pressure to a healthy level.
However, the researchers who tested stevioside are not able to specifically point out the exact mechanism that works toward the reduction of blood pressure in people who use this natural sweetener. The most accepted reason behind this mechanism is understood to be the ability of stevioside in blocking calcium ion channels in cell membranes.
However, it is not so practical to consume large daily doses of this sweetener regularly for the sake of reducing blood pressure.
Just using a little amount of stevia as a sweetener in beverages and sweetened food preparations would not produce any significant effect in lowering blood pressure.
Is Stevia Safe For Health Or Side Effects Exist?
It has been in use by humans for centuries in medicines and its leaves as a sweetener.
Major studies conducted on this natural sweetener do not show any side effects on health.
However, there are certain claims on a couple of side effects that can develop out of the constant use of this natural sweetener. Of course, it was the studies conducted on animals that showed certain adverse health effects that may not apply to humans at all.
In a few of the animals’ studies in which when high doses of stevia extract were fed to scopolamine-treated rats, the impaired memory was retrieved.
One study found an anti-amnesic effect of stevioside in scopolamine-treated rats. Researchers impaired the memory of mice through the use of scopolamine and gave them a 250mg/kg dose of oral stevioside and then checked for memory retention.
The results of the study indicated memory retention recovery and oral stevioside even reduced oxidative brain damage caused by scopolamine.
The findings of these studies countered and refuted the common argument that regular usage of stevioside could cause gradual memory loss, but it is the other way.
People who are allergenic to chrysanthemums, marigolds, ragweed, or daisies could develop anaphylaxis with the use of stevia plant leaves as a sweetener. In the case of an allergy attack, the users may develop dizziness, pale skin, shortness of breath, wheezing, and weakness.
In some individuals, the consumption of stevioside may result in stomach upsets with nausea or stomach bloating.
In some of the studies on animals, it was found large doses of stevioside consumption lead to the suppression of healthy metabolism. It would hinder the proper absorption of nutrients and vitamins.
There are isolated cases where certain individuals experienced stevia side effects like numbness, body aches, or dizziness after a few minutes of consuming it.
Overall, there are no severe side effects associated with stevia that can seriously jeopardize health safety.
Which Stevia Should You Buy?
All stevia varieties available for buying are not the same; some of them even taste quite bad.
It is important to make the right choice and all different varieties of this sweetener are not of good quality and taste.
Most people prefer stevia in powder or cube form as they taste better than the one that comes in liquid form. It is the presence of alcohol content in the liquid stevia that adds a bad after-taste to it.
There are also many brands of stevia products sold online and in shops. One of the best ways to identify and buy the right brand of this sweetener is to have a look at the reviews and ratings added by the actual users; in fact, the Amazon online shop has several reviews on different brands of this sweetener.
If you are buying it online, you should also make sure that the product is made up of pure and organic stevia with no added ingredients in it.
How to Use Stevia Safely?
There are many ways you can use stevia sweetener.
The best method is used as a substitute for natural sugar. You can just mix it in your coffee, tea, smoothies, beverages, and yogurt.
Stevia comes in both powder and liquid form. Some do not like the taste of the liquid stevia as it could contain a bit of alcohol; the powder has a bitter after-taste.
Stevia is a good sugar substitute for baking. In baking, most people prefer to mix it with erythritol sweetener that adds bulkiness.
Pure and refined stevia is 300% sweeter than normal sugar; roughly one teaspoon of it will give the sweetness of one cup of sugar. So you must get used to the right measure of this sweetener to be added to your beverages and refreshments.
The Bottom Line
There is NO other 100% natural sugar like stevia that has zero calories and at the same time provides many health benefits.
This is an ideal substitute for regular sugar that is very high in calories.
It has medicinal qualities that can help in preventing/curing diseases like Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and stroke.
Stevia is undoubtedly the best natural sweetener.