I still remember the day I popped a stevia leaf in my mouth, the sweet taste lingered in my mouth forever and I was mesmerized by the plant. It is not that I use artificial or natural sweeteners daily, in fact, I have never used them and always prefer our good old jaggery. But still, as a person who is mad about herbs, I wanted to know all about stevia, I even started growing it in my garden. I became very interested because I have seen some of my relatives who are diabetic patients buy sweets made with artificial sweeteners sometimes. I wanted to know about natural sweeteners that do not rise blood sugar levels but with no side effects.
Stevia is a small plant with green leaves, the botanical name of the plant is Stevia Rebaudiana. It is called sugar leaf plant, sweet leaf, and candy leaf in English and Meethi Patti in Hindi. In other languages like Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam, it is usually called by its English name.
You can find this plant in some herbal nurseries in India. The plant has been used by people of South America for thousands of years to sweeten their tea and they also used it as a remedy for some ailments. A few years back scientists isolated the glycosides that were the cause of the plant’s sweetness.
As a Sweetener:
The usage of white sugar is increasing every year and scientists say that the usage is only going to increase and with it, obesity, diabetes, and heart problems are also on the rise as it is highly palatable. Many are switching over to low-calorie artificial sweeteners, but though artificial sweeteners have low calories, they also have many side effects and so natural sweeteners like stevia are getting very very popular.
Now stevia is found in many of the packaged foods we eat like sweets, candies, sweetened yogurts, etc. But though stevia is derived from a plant, in my humble opinion we should get to know fully about it before we start using it daily in our diet. The stevia we get from the markets is highly refined, I have listed the different varieties we get in the markets below.
Stevia Side Effects:
When a culture uses a herb for thousands of years, in my humble opinion they have almost perfected using it. All we have to do is respect their knowledge and follow it exactly but if we try to meddle with it for increasing profits we experience very bad side effects from the usage.
Stevia has been used by native people of countries like Paraguay for many years but they use fresh or dried leaves to sweeten their tea and no major side effect has been reported. They use it for treating cold and cough, improving digestion, and reducing blood pressure and blood sugar levels. The commercial powder we get in the markets is highly refined.
Since the whole leaf cannot be patented, the glycosides are extracted from the plant and then purified by big companies. The 2 main types of glycosides derived from stevia are stevioside and rebaudioside. Rebaudioside is sweeter by almost 30 times than stevioside (it is also sweeter than sugar by 200 to 300 times approximately).
The white crystalline powder derived has a slight bitter after taste so steviosides are converted synthetically into rebauside for improving the taste. This kind of isolating the glycosides and trying to convert them synthetically into another glycoside by adding chemicals will of course have side effects. Some people might experience bloating, nausea, and gastric problems while taking refined stevia.
Though much research has been done on the purified extract for human safety, I would still suggest using fresh leaves or dried leaves to sweeten the tea. Diabetic patients and people who are on pressure medication should be cautious while taking any form of stevia. Also if you are on any medication please mention stevia usage to your doctor before consuming it often.
6 Top Health Benefits, Medicinal Uses & Side Effects Of Stevia | Sweet Leaf | Stevia Rebaudiana:
1. Stevia For Weight Loss:
Stevia has zero calories but the dried leaves of stevia are said to be 20 to 25 times sweeter than sugar. The glycosides got from the plant which is refined and sold as a pure white powder are said to be 150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar but with zero calories! It is because of this quality that it has caught the attention of the whole world.
2. For Diabetes:
Stevoside present in the plant helps in reducing blood sugar levels. You can read the research paper here. Another study done on sucrose, stevia, and aspartame showed that stevia helps regulate blood sugar levels after the meal compared to sucrose or aspartame.
3. For Blood Pressure:
Stevioside, one of the compounds found in the plant has been proven through research to reduce blood pressure. So consuming stevia will have a positive effect on people who have high blood pressure. It is because of this reason that people with high blood pressure are asked to be cautious when taking stevia and pressure medications together.
4. For Digestion:
Being a herb, stevia leaves contain antioxidant properties and contains vitamins and minerals. Tea made with fresh leaves helps in digestion and has a soothing effect on the stomach. It is also used as an effective remedy for cold and flu in countries like Paraguay.
5. For Dental Carries:
It has antimicrobial properties especially against dental carries producing microbes and this has been proved through research. It is because of its anti-microbial property and sweetness that it is added to many of the dental products that we use regularly.
6. For Skin Care:
Fresh leaf extract made by pounding the leaves and applying it as a poultice on the affected area has been done by the native South American people to treat skin problems like acne, eczema, cuts, bruises, acne scars, etc.
Different Forms Of Stevia Available In The Markets:
The stevia we get in the markets is highly refined and we should get to know the different varieties available first to choose the best out of it.
This is the most commonly used form of stevia that can be easily bought everywhere. Though in India we don’t get it in all the shops, we can easily order it online. Stevia powder is a refined product got after separating the glycosides from the plant and refining it.
Purified stevia is compressed into small tablets, packaged, and sold. This is also a refined product.
The drops are made by mixing the purified stevia extract with artificial colors, fragrances, and water to form a liquid. You can easily add a few drops to your tea. You need very less to sweeten compared to our regular sugar but it is a refined product.
Dried Stevia Leaves:
You can get dried leaves online and it is not processed. I would suggest using dried leaves than the refined powder mentioned above. Try a few brands and select the one that you like as the leaves have varying degrees of sweetness depending on where it is grown. The sweetest variety is said to be found only in South American countries.
Raw Stevia Leaves:
Fresh leaves are the best! I love to pluck a leaf and pop it in my mouth, you can also add it to your salads, tea, or even as a poultice for skin problems.