It is possible to sweeten your life with stevia, and without any weight gain, since it as exceptionally sweet herb. In fact it is member of the sunflower family, and is native to parts of South and Central America where it has been used as a sweetener since time immemorial. Also known as sugarleaf, it is a commercial crop, and is available as a dietary supplement.
Extracts of stevia have been found to be up to 300 times as sweet as cane sugar, although does not metabolize in the body to glucose. In fact it is thought to enhance the glucose tolerance of some diabetics, and can be used by people suffering from that condition as a natural sweetener, thus dispensing with the need for artificial sweeteners.
It is also useful for those on diets, especially carbohydrate controlled diets, and any other sweet-toothed person wanting to lose weight and still enjoy their favorite drink or desert. Many recipes have been published using stevia for the preparation of delicious sweets. So why is stevia so sweet and what other uses does it have?
Basically the sweet taste comes from glycosides, which are molecules in which a sugar is bonded to another molecule. The two main glycosides in stevia are called stevioside and rebaudioside. These are formed through glucose combined with the diterpene steviol in different ways, though some minor glycosides also contain rhamnose. Although they contain glucose, the glucose is not released into the bloodstream during digestion and the subsequent biochemistry.
Japan began the cultivation of the plant in the 1970s rather than produce artificial sweeteners that were suspected carcinogens (saccharin and cyclamate). Japan is now the world's biggest consumer of stevia, even being used in the Japanese Coca Cola plants. Around 40% of Japan's total sweetener volume is stevia. However, apart from its use as a natural alternative sweetener to sugar, stevia has specific properties, already alluded to, that renders it of particular attraction to certain groups of people, and we shall now take a closer look at these.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is essential to regulate the glucose content of the blood. It stimulates the cells of the body to take in blood glucose and convert it to glycogen that can be used for energy. Without insulin the blood sugars would increase in concentration without regulation leading to very serious health issues that would eventually result in death.
Diabetes is a condition in which the body either does not produce sufficient insulin, does not use the insulin it produces properly, or produces no insulin at all. Hence, a sweetener that did not exacerbate this situation by being eventually metabolized to glucose, as most sugars are in the body, would be of great benefit to diabetics. This is exactly what stevia is. It is a very powerful sweetener, 250 to 300 times sweeter to the taste-buds than sucrose, normal table sugar, and it does not metabolize to glucose. It is heaven-sent sweetener for diabetics that have a sweet tooth.
It is very safe for them and has been consumed for centuries without any side effects. In fact, studies have indicated that stevia might even regulate the pancreas and help to stabilize the levels of blood glucose in the body, rendering it an effective and safe supplement for those suffering from hypoglycemia (excess blood sugar), diabetes and candidiasis, a yeast infection that thrives on sugar.
Apart from that, stevia is also popular with those who are on a calorie controlled diet or any other diet for that matter, since an excessive sugar intake invariably leads eventually to weight increase. The 21st century western diet is drowning in sugar, with up to 10 spoonfuls of sugar in every small bottle of cola. There is sugar in cookies, hot dogs, bread, soy sauce, ketchup, cans of beans and peas, and even sugar in cigarettes, though that is the least of the health worries there!
For the first time in history, there are now more overweight and obese people in the world than hungry people, yet the sugar corporations claim that there is no scientific proof that sugar leads to weight increase. Worldwide, diabetes kills 6 people every minute, and obesity caused by the consumption of too much sugar leads to Type II diabetes. It had been shown that fructose is a major player in that corn syrup (fructose) is contained in many soft drinks and foods.
One of the major problems with refined sugars is that they contain nothing but pure carbohydrate. All the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients have been removed, so that when they are consumed, your body has to provide these nutrients needed to metabolize the sugar to glucose and then to energy. Humans cannot live on sugar alone, and in fact you are better drinking water than corn syrup or cane sugar solutions since at least water does not make demands on your existing nutrient store.
It was noted in 1929 by Sir Frederick Banting, one of those scientists credited with the discovery of insulin, that there was a significantly large proportion of diabetes among the sugar plantation owners that ate large quantities of refined sugar, whereas there was none detected in the cane harvesters who were able to chew on only the raw cane. The raw cane contains the minerals and vitamins needed to metabolize the sucrose.
Stevia is a potential answer to this problem, and it is such an obvious one that there are a lot of politics regarding its use. The big USA sugar corporations will undoubtedly be opposed to it, and the FDA has refused to allow its use as a food additive, only as a dietary supplement, yet its use in Japan has been very successful. It is also used throughout East Asia, including China, Korea and Taiwan, and also in South America, Israel and some areas of the Caribbean. It is available as a green powder in its crude form, and also brownish syrup redolent of licorice, but also as a more refined white powder that is likely best used as weak solution due to its sweetness.
It is totally free of calories; this may come as a surprise to many since it tastes so sweet. It is an excellent sweetener for children's drinks since it does not cause cavities: unlike sugar it is not degraded by bacteria to produce the corrosive acid that eats into the enamel. It does not metabolize to a burst of energy that is practically addictive, since that generally then leads to tiredness and the need for more sugar to make up for it.
Stevia does not cause diabetes in any form, is not a food for yeast and it is beneficial to the pancreas. In short, it is a completely safe food supplement that has been used for centuries without ill effect, and if you want to prevent yourself from adding weight and protect against the possibility of Type II diabetes in particular, then stevia should be your sweetener of choice.