Stevia is a natural sweetener and a very good substitute of sugar and other artificial sweeteners. It is extracted from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana. The active compounds of stevia are “steviol glycosides” which have up to 150 times the sweetness of sugar, are heat-stable, pH-stable, and not fermentable. Stevia’s taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar, and some of its extracts may have a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste at high concentrations.
Native to South America, stevia is prized for its naturally sweet taste and medicinal properties. Its leaves contain 2 “glycoside” molecules, stevioside and rebaudioside, which are 300 times sweeter than refined sugar, but contains no calories and do not raise blood sugar levels or cause dental cavities. These glycosides are also now available as a processed or concentrated liquid.
How it works?
Glycosides are molecules that contain glucose residues bound to other non-sugar substances called aglycones. Stevoil cannot be further digested in the digestive tract and is taken up into the bloodstream, metabolized by the liver to steviol glucuronide, and excreted in the urine.
Stevia has no calories, and it is 150-300 times sweetener than sugar in the same concentration. Stevia products found in the grocery are not exactly stevia but it do contains a highly refined stevia leaf extract called rebaudioside A (Reb-A).
Reb-A sweeteners are considered “novel sweeteners” because they are a blend of different sweeteners, such as Reb-A, erythritol (a sugar alcohol), and dextrose (glucose). They are available in liquid, powder, and granulated forms.
A pinch of stevia powder is equal to about one teaspoon of table sugar. You can grow stevia plants at home and use the leaves to sweeten foods and beverages. While adding a raw stevia leaf to a cup of tea now and then is unlikely to cause harm, you shouldn’t use if you’re pregnant.
How do I get the best from it?
Always look for stevia products with a minimum of additives. Many contain the sweetener maltodextrin or the alcohol sugar erythritol, and bulking and anticaking agents. Use for some, but not all, the same purposes as refined sugar (it won’t caramelize and can’t be used to make meringues).
Add a fresh leaf to a cup of regular or herbal tea for a hint of sweetness.
How do I use it?
Make an Extract: Add 240 ml warm water to 60 g fresh, finely chopped stevia leaves. Leave to infuse for 24 hours, strain into a clean jar or bottle, refrigerate, and use to sweeten drinks. Consume within 1 month.
Make a Green Powder: Crush dried leaves to a powder in a pestie and mortar, coffee grinder, or herb blender. Store in a clean container to use in baking and other recipes that call for green stevia powder.
What is it good for?
- Helps balance blood sugar levels.
- Helps fight bacteria and viruses.
- Protects the heart and blood vessels.
- Aids healthy digestion.
Anti-diabetic: There is evidence to suggest that for some people it can improve insulin sensitivity and prevent a postprandial spike in blood sugar levels in type-2 diabetics.
Immunity Enhancer: Inhibits the growth and reproduction of bacteria and other infectious organisms, it has been shown to be effective against Streptococcus mutans, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Proteus vulgaris. It is also good as an antiseptic mouthwash and gargle, and studies show regular use can help lower the incidence of dental cavities.
Heart Health: helps strengthen the heart and vascular system. Stevioside, a chemical compound in stevia, is believed to be the active ingredient responsible.
Benefits Digestion: Improves digestion and the overall health of the gastrointestinal tract.