Stevia was identified and classified by Santiago Bertoni in the late 1800s and named in honour of a Paraguayan chemist named Rebaudi. The Guarani Indians in South America had been using the leaves for centuries to sweeten bitter teas, as a digestive aid, and as a topical salve for wounds.
Some of stevias benefits include
- no calories;
- natural, not chemically manufactured;
- 250-300 times sweeter than sugar, so very little is needed;
- stable to 200°C (392°F);
- does not ferment;
- has plaque-retardant properties that prevent cavities ;
- has no impact on blood sugar, therefore safe for diabetics;
Because of its carbohydrate content, stevia is able to regulate blood sugar and reduce the cravings for sweets or fatty foods. Using a few drops before a meal will reduce hunger. Stevia does not promote fungal growth, therefore is a safe sweetener to use during Candidiasis outbreaks. It is also safe to use during pregnancy and for children.
The stevia leaf contains
- vitamins A and C
- an oil that contains fifty-three other nutrients
Sugar or sugar substitutes that are presently on the market today cannot even come close to containing these nutrients.
Types of stevia available
- Fresh leaves have a mild licorice flavour.
- Dried leaves are only about ten to fifteen times sweeter than sugar and are used in herbal teas and for making liquid extracts.
- Tea cut leaves are small pieces that are sifted to remove twigs and other unwanted matter from the leaves themselves.
- Ground leaves or powders are simply dried leaves ground into a powder and used in teas, but not for use in baking.
- Dark concentrated syrup is made from the dried leaves in a base of water and alcohol. Its sweetness varies among the manufacturers. This form offers the greatest amount of benefit from the stevia plant.
- Clear, a solution of powdered steviosides dissolved in water, alcohol, or glycerin. Sweetness varies among manufacturers.
- Stevioside or ‘white-powder stevia’ is the purified or processed form that results after the removal of unwanted plant matter. The processessing concentrates the sweet glycosides into an off-white powder that is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. The quality of the powder, that is from 80%-100% pure, depends on the purity of the glycosides; the higher the concentration of stevioside, the better the taste. Because of the strength of the stevioside powdered extracts, manufacturers often add filler to tone down the strength, making the product easier to use and more palatable. These fillers are usually non-sweet food additives with little or no nutritional value. For example, lactose (derived from milk) and maltodextrin (a complex carbohydrate derived from corn, rice, tapioca, or other starches).
Another filler that is used primarily in Japan, but becoming more popular, is erythritol. It is a white granulated powder derived from natural grains and fruits, and has virtually no calories and a very low glycemic index. It has the appearance and texture of white table sugar. When combined with a high quality stevioside, it results in the stevia blend dissolving more quickly and tasting almost like sugar. In addition, erythritol is easily digested, promotes healthy teeth, and is safe for diabetics. It is sometimes used commercially to add texture to sugar-free foods.
Stevia has been used since pre-Columbian times with no ill effects; and decades of modern research has also proven it to be safe for human and animal consumption. Despite all this history, stevia has not yet been approved by the same FDA1 who have approved the many commercial sweeteners and substitutes that have proven to be harmful to the human body. Stevia has been around for a long time in the US. However, ever since the 1950s, the sugar industry has fought hard to prevent its use.
- “Greed, corruption and good old-fashioned politics also stood in the way of the public learning about stevia”.2
Chemical sweetener manufacturers and the soft drink industry have long lobbied the FDA to prevent the use of stevia, despite the fact that their products carry some serious health risks. But, the FDA stands firm behind its decisions to eliminate stevia while condoning the use of other sweeteners.3
Armies of special lobbiests are called in to make sure that stevia is not approved at any time. Any natural food cannot be patented and, therefore, available for free to anyone. Therefore, anything that cannot be controlled by big business is looked on as a threat. Programs are then implemented to persuade the public that these free and natural products are indeed bad for them.
Celestial Seasonings used stevia for their sweetener until they had their stock seized by the FDA in 1986.4 No warning or explanation was given. In 1991, the FDA officially banned stevia as an “unsafe food additive,” despite the fact that it is safely used worldwide without incident. However, the saga against its use does not stop there.
- In the late 1980s, health food stores began selling stevia as a natural sugar substitute. When the FDA received an anonymous complaint about stevia, it banned all imports and sales of the herb in the US. After years of pressure from consumers and the health food industry, Congress passed the Dietary Supplementand Health Education Act in November 1994. This act permitted the purchase and sale of stevia as a dietary supplement not as a food or food additive. The Act also set forth rigorous guidelines for the labeling, sales, and marketing of the herb. Simply suggesting that the stevia be mixed with water could be construed as mislabeling and force a recall of the products. These burdensome regulations eventually led to the FDA’s order to ban this book.5
On May 19, 1998, the president of Stevita Company (a distributor of stevia in Arlington, Texas) received a fax from the Dallas District Office of the FDA that ordered the seizure and destruction of cookbooks and other literature related to stevia.6 According to the FDA regulations, Stevita Company’s sale of stevia-related publications was illegal. It is legal to sell literature about the stevia herb, but you may not place the publication next to the supplements. The FDA took this regulation a step further by saying that Stevita Company’s distribution of Cooking With Stevia violated the stringent labeling regulations imposed on stevia. This action almost put the Stevita Company out of business. Only after lengthy litigation was the company allowed to resume distribution of some publications, but not Cooking With Stevia. Regulations like these continue to frustrate everyone in the health food industry.
- 1Whole Foods Market article
- 2Kirkland, James and Tanya. Sugar-Free Cooking With Stevia. 2000, p.13.
- 3 The FDA’s stance
- 4 Celestial Seasonings and the FDA http://www.stevia.net/seasonings.htm
- 5 Kirkland, James and Tanya. Sugar-Free Cooking With Stevia. 2000, pp.33-36.
- 6 Press Release http://www.aspartame.com/Stevia%20Press%20Release.html
- Bonvie, Linda, Bill Bonvie, and Donna Gates. The Stevia Story: A Tale of Incredible Sweetness and Intrigue.