Stevia: Health benefits, side effects and more
Stevia is a sugar substitute made from the leaves of the stevia plant and is classified as a non-nutritive substitute as it has zero to no calories per serving. It is derived from a plant that is a member of the Asteraceae family (sunflowers, daisies and ragweed family). It contains 8 different types of glycosides, compounds that are purified and extracted from the plant, namely:
These glycosides are used to make stevia products, the most common glycoside is Rebaudioside A (Reb-A). It is extracted from the eaves and is the primary ingredient in many stevia products.
Reb-A is 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar. Sweeteners made from Reb-A are considered novel sweeteners as are a healthy alternative to artificial sweeteners as they are derived from natural sources.
You can either buy stevia products or grow them in your own garden. Stevia products are highly refined and extracted through a lengthy process of harvesting the leaves, then drying, water extraction, and purification, whereas homegrown stevia has a bitter taste and foul smell.
You can use stevia in place of table sugar and can add it to your tea or coffee, lemonade, smoothie or sprinkle it on your yoghurt. People use dried stevia leaves to make their tea and coffee sweeter. They also extract the sweetness by putting the leaves in boiling water and keeping it on flame for 30 mins to draw out the flavours. It is easier to use this extract in beverages. It is used as an ingredient in many products throughout Asia and South America such as:
Apart from the “zero calorie” name that stevia has acquired due to the low sucrose level, there are numerous health benefits linked with stevia. Some of them are:
Research says that stevia sweeteners do not contribute calories to the diet and are a good substitute for diabetic patients, as it does not have any effect on the insulin level in the body. In some cases, Type 2 diabetic patients reported a reduction in their blood glucose and glucagon response after a meal where they included stevia.
Stevia contains antioxidant compounds called kaempferol, which is reported to reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer. It is also found that a glycoside called stevioside helps boost cancer cell death in humans and helps decrease some mitochondrial pathways that help cancer grow.
There can be numerous reasons for obesity and weight gain, ranging from hereditary to high intake of sugary food items that are high in fat. Stevia contains no sugar and very few calories that can contribute to a balanced diet, without compromising the taste. A research found that obese patients, have significantly lower insulin levels and were satisfied after eating stevia, despite the lower calorie intake.
Children’s diets are filled with sugar centric meals and snacks. They are more prone to obesity, therefore parents should look for stevia-alternative drinks and snacks that can give them the taste without increasing their sugar levels.
Blood PressureA study showed that stevia lowers blood pressure. There are certain glycosides present in it that might normalise blood pressure and regulate heartbeat. Although, this benefit of stevia is not confirmed.
Stevia extracts are marked as free of side effects, as long as stevia products are highly refined and used in moderations, they will not cause any side effects but the same cannot be said for crude stevia leaves. Some side effects of stevia leaves are:
There is not enough research to back up the safety of crude stevia leaves, therefore it is better to consume stevia products as compared to whole-leaf stevia.
Irrespective of the lack of study in the case of crude stevia leaves, the plant is consumed by millions of people throughout centuries. It is safe to consume and is an ideal alternative to sugar.