The search for low calorie sweeteners goes back a long way. I remember giving up sugar when I read that Professor John Yudkin was quoted as saying that he, “Would rather have his family face the possible dangers of cyclamates than the certain dangers of sugar”.
Other sweeteners Cyclamates and saccharin were under scrutiny at the time for possible health problems but sugar was not and the casual saying by the Prof prompted me to stop putting sugar in my tea and coffee stat!
Clearly a safe sweetener was needed and fast– I can give up sugar in a split second and did so but most people will not!
Stevia comes to us from Paraguay where it has been used as a sweetener for more than 1500 years. Funny then that there has been so much lobbying and controversy about it since 1500 years of use as a food seems like a pretty thorough way to see that something is safe!
To me it seems to be either politics or lobbying either by the sugar industry or by the other sweetener companies that would account the amazing delay.
An Alternative Sweetener…..
Back in the 1970s when I started to avoid not just sugar but cyclamates and saccharin as well, the search started in Japan for an alternative.
They turned to Stevia and ever since have been using more and more of it. According to the Wiki, ” Japan currently consumes more stevia than any other country, with stevia accounting for 40% of the sweetener market“.
Here in Europe Stevia has only just got approval from the EU and is at last on sale in local supermarkets.
Is Stevia Safe – Does Stevia Damage Your Health?
Of course just because a substance is natural does not mean that it is good for us! Mushrooms are natural and some are yummy and some are killers!
Well we know that Stevia is safe. With 1500 years of use in teas and other food uses and over 40 years research to its name it is as safe as any of our foods.
The most obvious place to look for evidence of Stevia being a problem is how the body handles it.
Stevia does not cause a sudden rise in blood sugar so it appears to be fine for diabetics and others concerned with keeping their blood glucose steady.
It does not encourage dental caries either –one of the most serious problems with sugar and fruit juices.
So far so good! How about using it as part of a calorie controlled diet?
Stevia is either a low or no calorie sweetener so it can help you to cut calories – although I have to say that “calorie counting” is a dumb strategy to try to lose weight and body fat.
Is Stevia a Superfood?
And now let’s move on and see if Stevia is actually beneficial?
Some long term studies – over 1 and 2 years, have shown that Stevia may be effective in lowering blood pressure in hypertensive patients.
In addition there may be other benefits hinted at here is this very technical quote,
“steviol and isosteviol (metabolic components of stevioside) may also offer therapeutic benefits, as they have anti-hyperglycaemic, anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-diarrheal, diuretic, and immunomodulatory actions.”
Well there is enough there to keep anyone explaining that for a few months – so let’s put that in bullet points…
- Stevia is anti-hyperglycaemic – so it puts a cap on blood sugar
- Stevia is anti- hypertensive – reduces high blood pressure
- anti-inflammatory – reduces inflammation which is the major driver in chronic illness
- anti-tumour – acts against cancer but how powerfully I do not know
- anti-diarrheal – good for travellers then!
- Diuretic – reduces water retention, might be useful in some PMS
- Immunomodulatory – sometimes the immune system goes into over drive and Stevia nudges it back to normal
This is an amazing list of properties and if any drug did half of this we would be hearing about every day
And when combined with…..”Taken together, the research indicates that stevia is safely metabolized by the body without any effect.” Global Stevia Institute
“No allergic reactions to it seem to exist.” PubMed
…..then it looks like we are on not just safe ground but potentially the beginning of the exploration of a very useful healing herb.
Named after the Spanish botanist Pedro Jaime Esteve who was the first Westerner to study Stevia it seems that there is a sweet future for this South American herb often called Sweetleaf.
Last words on Stevia
We started with the Question,” Is Stevia Safe?” and we saw the long tradition of use and research results too that answer that question decisively.
However, the future of Stevia or Sweetleaf may well depend more on the taste than on the safety!
Some Stevia products leave a bitter aftertaste which turns some people off. So keep trying other brands until you get one you like.
The benefits are worth it – have another look at those bullet points!
So how about You – Do you like the taste of Stevia?