You’ve probably heard of Stevia, a popular sweetener that seems to be all as a new healthy alternative to sugar.
But is the justified?
Stevia plant is a member of the family of daisies and ambrosia, also known as candileaf, sveetleaf and sugarleaf (scientific name Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni). For more than 1,500 years, it has been used by the indigenous people of Guarani in Brazil and Paraguay as a natural sweetener, cure and sweet treat.
Stevia is different from other sugar substitutes in that it is obtained from the plant, not artificially synthesized. The Italian botanist, Moises Santiago Bertoni, is credited with the discovery of Stevia at the end of the 19th century.
However, the Guarani peoples have used it for centuries to treat burns and stomach problems. They also chew leaves as a sweet treat.
Today, the Stevia plant has sweet leaves, which are used to produce many commercially available, non-caloric, artificial sweeteners. Natural chemical compounds in stevia leaves responsible for its sweetness are known as steviol glycosides, specifically, stevioside, rebaudiozid (having 5 variants: A, B, C, D, E and F), steviolbiosis and isostereol.
Stevioside is sweet, but it has a bitter taste of liquor, while rebaudiosides are in themselves sweet, no bitter and usually present in highly refined commercial stevia products. Steve’s cheese products also contain stevioside and one or more rebaudiosides, while most highly-processed forms contain only rebaudiosides.
Stevia is also a good source of other nutrients, such as polyphenols, carotenoids, chlorophyll compounds and amino acids, which makes whole plant extraction the best option if you plan to add stevia to your diet.
Types of stevia
Stevia is commercially available in three forms: green leaf stevia, stevia blends and stevia extract. Green leaf stevia, which is used in South America and Japan as a natural sweetener and a cure for health, is made by drying and grinding the leaves of the plant into powder. The green leaf is about 10-15 times sweeter than sugar, with bitter taste.
Most commercially available Stevia extract consists of 95% or more of rebaudioside A glycosides. In order to be legally marketed as food additives, they must not contain other forms of rebaudiosides or steviosides.
Unfortunately, most of the commercially available alternate stevia mixtures contain very little of the actual Stevia plant. Sometimes they are known to contain even chemical solvents!
Are steviol glycosides safe for consumption?
Among the different steviol glycosides, stevioside, rebaudiozid A, and rebaudiozid C are about 250-300 times sweeter than sugars. Steviol glycosides are categorized by U.S.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). In other words, they do not need further FDA approval for use as food additives and can be legally added to food products sold in the US.
For example, high purity rebaudiozid A, known as Rebian, can be added to foods and drinks. However, the Stevia leaf and Stevia extracts are not considered GRAS and do not have FDA approval for food use.
High-intensity non-calorie sweeteners, such as steviol glycosides used as sugar substitutes, are required in much smaller amounts to achieve the same sweetness level.
They usually give only a few, if any, calories when they are added to food and usually do not raise blood sugar levels. In fact, steviol glycosides have been shown to have positive effects on blood sugar levels.
In addition to their value as a sweetener, Stevia’s glycosides have been shown to act against multiple diseases, including cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, obesity, and even tooth decay.
Let’s take a closer look at some of Steve’s health benefits.
Stevie’s powerful anti-cancer potential
It is well known that sugar can contribute to the development and progression of cancer. On the other hand, it has been shown that different Stevia extracts and purified Stevia compounds prevent DNA replication in cultivated human cancer cells, suggesting that it can protect against cancer.
For example, a laboratory study of 2018 showed that steviol is equally effective against 6 different types of human stomach cancer cells as a 5-fluorouracil cancer agent.Similarly, steviol and related steroidosis have been proven to cause programmed cell death, known as apoptosis, in cultured breast cancer cells.
In another study, it has been shown that the Stevia extract has an antioxidant activity and causes cancer cells death in cervical, pancreatic, and colon cervical.
It is interesting that the study in 2013 showed that when stevia is added to natural combinations for the fight against colon cancer consisting of blackberry leaves and natural sweeteners – including dried apples, plums, figs, raisins, apricots, carrots and sweet potatoes – total levels polyphenolic antioxidants grow significantly.
It is always a good idea to buy stevia products in whole-plant extract formwith steviosides and rebaudzids, as they have proven to have a greater effect against cancer than isolated and purified steviosides.
Other health benefits
- Stevia helps to safely manage blood sugar levels
- Stevia helps to safely manage levels of cholesterol and lipids
- Stevia modulates the immune system