What is Sweeter Than Sweet?

steviaWell, besides falling in love and holding your baby for the first time…I’m gonna go with stevia.  Lately, this Paraguayan native has become a favorite in our household.  An herb with naturally sweet properties, it is a great alternative to sugar to sweeten any recipe – teas to icecream.

Not all forms of stevia are created equal, though.

Stevia has a long history in Paraguay and Brazil for its medicinal uses.  In its pure unadulterated form, this herb is safe for diabetics, hypoglycemics, and those with Candida albicans.  It has been used to stabilize blood sugar levels, reduce uric acid levels, and lower high blood pressure.  Paul Pitchford also describes stevia, in its pure form, as an antibiotic, antioxidant, detoxifier, and immune enhancer.

The components of stevia that make it sweet are known as glycosides.  The two glycoside compounds that contribute the greatest sweetness to this leaf are Stevioside and Rebaudioside.  In 2008, the FDA approved Rebaudioside A as  food additive, granting it GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status. The more common white powder and clear tinctures on store shelves are the isolated glycosides of stevia. Please note that when extracted from the stevia leaf, as with any vitamin or mineral, they do not possess the same health benefits as products made from the whole leaf.

Whole leaf stevia can be bought as a green powder or green liquid extract.  The green powder is simply the leaves of the stevia plant dried and ground up.  Green stevia is anywhere from 10-30 times sweeter than sugar.  It is said to have a licorice flavor to it.

The Rebaudioside extract is 100-200 times sweeter than sugar!  This extract generally has a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Whether you choose the green stevia or stevia extracts, this herb is a great way to reduce blood sugar spikes, cut calories, and clean up your diet.  I myself, am still experimenting with this herb in my recipes.  Since some don’t like the aftertaste, it is crucial to get the amounts just right…too little and it won’t be sweet enough.  Too much and it will have that unwanted aftertaste.  So far I’ve tried it in blueberry icecream, and it was delicious!  It also tastes great in sun tea.

Yes, there are studies out there doubting the complete safety of stevia. However, my own research tells me that most (if not all) of these studies were conducted using isolated components of stevia.  Furthermore, as with any vitamin, too much can create adverse affects.  There are actually far many more studies demonstrating the safety of stevia.  For a handful, check out: http://www.stevia.net/safety.htm

If new to stevia, try it in your tea or partially substitute it for sugar in any recipe.  When mixed with other sweetners, you help cut back on calories and blood sugar spikes.  Now what could be sweeter than that?!

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