Stevia is a plant extract which has been used as a sweetener in Asia and South America for hundreds of years. It is known as a natural sweetener and the leaves from the plant could even be described as a primitive form of gum. The extract is actually 200 – 300 times sweeter than sugar, but calorie free.
With obesity constantly on the rise in the US, sugar-dense food and drinks could be partly to blame. Artificial sweeteners are becoming more popular, but some are known for leaving a bitter after taste or for not tasting very similar to sugar in the first place.
Stevia is commonly marketed in 3 different forms; as a little portion sugar substitute to accompany hot beverages, in drop form (similar to extracts used in cooking) and in large packet form (similar to large packets of granulated sugar). It is also sometimes possible to purchase it in its leaf form.
It is worth bearing in mind that less is more with Stevia, due to this very high sweetness concentration, but it has got many benefits. Here are 10 of them:
1. Assisting With A Calorie Controlled Diet
Americans are known for their “sweet tooth” and can consume up to 20 times what is considered to be a sensible amount of sugar. This has been linked as a contributing factor to gaining weight.
As well as in tea and coffee or smoothies,a small amount can be used instead of sugar in recipes including cookies and cakes as a lower calorie alternative.
2. Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can lead to many serious diseases including heart disease and kidney failure.
Stevioside is a sweet compound in Stevia and a recent study conducted in China of 174 patients concluded that both Systolic and Diastolic blood pressure reduced in the patients who took Stevioside 3 times a day for two years.
3. Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a presently a massive global concern. It occurs either when not enough insulin is produced for the body to function properly, or if the cells in the body don’t react to the insulin. Diabetes can cause serious health problems including loss of vision and kidney failure.
Stevia has been tested in groups of patients and is believed to have improved the production of insulin, reducing blood sugar by about a fifth, making it useful for people who have type 2 diabetes.
4. Essential Nutrients
Stevia leaves contain a surprising amount of vitamins and minerals including zinc, vitamin C and iron. The body needs small amounts of vitamins in order to functions properly, zinc and vitamin C can support a stronger immune system; and benefits of minerals include building strong bones and teeth and turning food that has been digested into energy.
A lot of antioxidants are also found in the Stevia leaf. Antioxidants can have many health benefits including slowing down the aging process and playing a part in reducing the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
5 . Alternative Medicine
In its extract from, Stevia has been used by native South Americans in order to treat infected wounds, swollen legs and even as a tonic to treat depression.
6. Bone Density
It has been suggested, after tests conducted on chickens, that Stevia may help with absorption of calcium into the body, leading to an improvement in bone density.
7. Teeth and Gums
Stevia does not encourage the growth of the bacteria which contributes towards decaying teeth and cavities. When it is used as part of a mouthwash, it can decrease oral infections and gum disease as it can help fight plaque formed on teeth.
8. Hair and Scalp
Concentrated Stevia can help to relieve a dry scalp and dandruff and also revive dull, dry and thin hair. It can be used as a separate part of a shampooing and conditioning routine, or it can be used for both processes. (3-4 drops of concentrated Stevia should be added to your usual shampoo and Stevia tea is recommended as a strengthening conditioner to be rinsed out after 5 minutes.)
9. Heartburn and Indigestion
Certain plant elements in Stevia can soothe an irritated stomach, therefore a cup of warm Stevia tea could be used as an aid against indigestion.
A cold cup of Stevia tea can fight heartburn. This remedy is very popular in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia and some people drink it in tea form 3 – 4 times a day to generally help with their digestive process.
As well as containing antioxidants, Stevia is also an antiseptic that can help with skin disorders including eczema, rashes and general itchiness. It can even soothe chapped lips.
It is mild enough to be applied to the face (either in paste form from the leaves or as a few drops of liquid) and can be used as a cheaper alternative to anti-wrinkle cream.
Are there any side effects when using Stevia and what about the after-taste?
No side effects of Stevia have been reported, provided it is used in moderation. The good news is that the after taste that once put consumers off from using Stevia has now been vastly improved, and it is considered to actually have a very nice taste.