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All About Stevia

Stevia is an inconspicuous herb native to sections of Paraguay and Brazil in the subtropical part of South America. The plant resembles mint, but reaches 2-3 feet in height and does not spread so readily. The stems take root easily and form new plants, but propagation from seed is more difficult because of low germination rates.

Native Guarani Indians used Stevia for centuries before M.S. Bertoni "discovered" it in 1887. Outsiders had some catching up to do, but soon stevia was scrutinized with that new world mainstay, the scientific research study.

In the United States, the potential for stevia has not yet been fully realized as it has in other countries.

Green stevia powder and dried stevia leaves are up to 15 times sweeter tha cane sugar. Stevia extract powder may be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. This means it takes very little to sweeten a recipe, so cost must be evaluated on that basis.

Stevia has undergone numerous toxicity tests. None of these tests have shown any harmful effects. Few substances can make this claim. The real test, though, was centuries of continuous use by natives of South America. In addition, thousands of tons of stevia have been consumed over the past 20 years in many countries without harmful effects reported.

Because of the unique structure of the glycoside monlecules, the number of caliries we get from stevia is almost zero. Some of the recipes are high calorie due to other ingredients, so do be careful about recipe selection if you are trying to limit calories in your diet.

Stevia has been long "prescribed" by herbalists in Brazil. Stevia is thought to have a regulating effect on blood sugar levels. These effects have not been confirmed. More research in certainly warranted in the area.

The long term use of stevia is thought to produce mile strengthening of the heart and vascular system. Here again, more research is needed.

Research has shown that many strains of harmful bacteria do not thrive in the presence of stevioside. This has led to the use of stevia in products such as mouthwash and toothpaste. Unlike sugar, stevia may actually be good for your teeth. What a switch!

While this action has not been proven, stevia has been used in Brazil as an aid to digestive functioning.

-Jeffrey Goettemoeller


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