What Is Stevia?
Stevia is becoming more popular as an alternative to sugar or other sugar replacement products. The hype around stevia is due to the fact that it contains no calories and is all natural, deriving from the stevia rebaudiana species of the stevia plant. Stevia extract can be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, wheras the leaves are 30-45 sweeter. Stevia leaves are dried and then put through a water extraction process to eventually turn it into a fine white powder, or a more concentrated liquid.
Stevia plants are native to South America, Central America, and Mexico. Guarani people have used the stevia plant for more than 1 500 years. There is also a long history of usage in Brazil and Paraguay in medicines, teas, and as a sweet treat. In Japan, stevia accounts for about 40% of the sweetener usage. In Canada, stevia has only been approved as a dietary supplement. This is due to conflicting and limited studies on the safety of stevia, although more recent studies are proving stevia to have no health concerns. Due to the fact that stevia is natural and therefore does not require a patent to produce, some say that financial motivations are what is hurting it's acceptance.
Why Use Stevia?
Stevia is derived from a plant that people have been using safely for centuries. It does not contain any calories. Stevia is very sweet, so not much is needed. It can be used in beverages such as coffee and tea, and in cooking. Stevia does not have an impact on blood pressure, and may help to control it.
Although people have been using stevia extracts with no health concerns for years, it still is not fully approved in Canada, which is something to consider as a caution. Also, just because stevia is natural, does not mean it is completely healthy. There are many natural substances, like tobacco, which are very far from healthy. These cautions are just something to consider. Perhaps think of it as you would any other food -everything in moderation, just like how although not likely, you can overdoes on vitamin A from eating too many carrots. Some brands of stevia have a slightly bitter aftertaste, however I have found a few that do not whatsoever. It's about finding the brand that you like best.