Sugar is one of the most dangerous ingredients that exist in the market. It is addictive, it is in almost all processed foods and also fattens up. It causes depression and can cause illnesses if taken in excess. However, it is a relief to know that there are new natural sweeteners on the market that are not harmful to health. It is stevia, which regulates diabetes, controls blood pressure and improves circulation, among many other beneficial effects.
What is stevia?
Stevia is a small herbaceous shrub that does not usually exceed 80 centimeters tall, evergreen, and of the family of the chrysanthemums, which normally grow in South America and, while the extract is 200 times sweeter than sugar, it does not cause increased insulin levels in the blood. That’s what makes it so popular.
Stevia’s taste has a slow onset and a longer duration than that of sugar, and some of its extracts may have a bitter or licorice aftertaste at high concentrations.
Degree in Nutrition and Physic Education, Paola Andrea Coser, nutritionist of the Thinking Method, told ABC that fresh or dehydrated leaves is the best way to consume this sweetener, totally natural to benefit from all its medicinal properties, which are not few.
Fortunately, this sweet leaf can be consumed naturally with far fewer risks than other artificial sweeteners, without calories because you can easily plant it at home, “it grows well in summer and in winter you can put it inside.” You can buy the dehydrated leaves and mash them turning them into a fine sweet powder.
Stevia leaves can be used as is, fresh or dehydrated; to sweeten coffee, tea and other beverages in a completely natural and harmless way, to make infusions with it for its beneficial effects, to make all kinds of pastries and even it can become the ideal ingredient for a healthy and delicious refreshment for the summer months. Later we offer two recipes made with stevia, one for winter and one for summer.
The leaf of this plant, that anyone could plant in the home garden, as for centuries has been done in countries such as Brazil or Paraguay, where it grows spontaneously, when processed, it may leave a slight metallic taste, so it is essential to add artificial flavors. This is where critics of this natural sweetener insist upon the ease to hook into its consumption caused by the added artificial flavors.
Increasingly, manufacturers of sweetened drinks or sodas that have included this natural sweetener in its composition, such as those developed by La Gloria, one of the brands in the catalog of the importing of The Water Company, which has become a new alternative to soft drinks. Refreshments La Gloria, made in Spain, have been the first to incorporate stevia as a 100% natural sweetener.
Stevia manufactured products “are not pure and are often mixed with other types of sweeteners or alcohols’ so that the product has “totally lost its medicinal properties”.
Properties of stevia
The dehydrated stevia leaf helps regulate sugar levels in the blood, lowers blood pressure, regulates the digestive system in general, reduces fat in obese people, helps people with anxiety and it is also a diuretic.
Thanks to its high content of minerals, such as potassium and magnesium, stevia is “highly recommended for hypertension because it reduces blood pressure,” explains Coser, who coincides with the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Medical University of Taipe, Taiwan, which has determined that stevia acts as a hypotensive and cardiotonic to regulate the heartbeat thanks to its vasodilator power.
As a sweetener, it has been used for diabetics and it has been found that there is no “increase in glucose or blood sugar,” moreover, it provides a hypoglycemic action for people with type 2 diabetes, non-insulin dependent. The Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark found that stevia acts on pancreatic beta cells by stimulating the production of insulin naturally. Currently, studies on the effects of stevia are performed in type 1 diabetes, insulin dependent.
In cases of obesity and overweight, it is strongly recommended because it is “a calorie-free sweetener that helps us lose weight,” Coser explains to ABC that studies done with rats that go further and show that “in addition to regulating glucose levels in the blood, these animals ate less and with less anxiety, although it has only been tested in rats so far”.
Among the benefits of stevia, the nutritionist of the Thinking Method explains that it helps regulate the digestive system in cases of constipation for its high content in fiber, it helps the production of gastric juices, so it is an important ally in to make a good digestion.
This sweetener has an important antioxidant power up to 6 times more effective than green-tea, that helps prevent circulation problems, such as cerebral stroke and myocardial infarction, which are caused by atherosclerosis, functional disorder of the liver, diabetes, etc. For its antioxidant effects, it is also one of the best antiaging means.
It is bactericidal and it is used in toothpaste and gum to prevent tooth decay for its antibiotic action against plaque. Its power to dissolve the dioxin, nicotine and histamine makes it a powerful antiallergic, which also helps to strengthen the immune system and defenses, it improves resistance against flus and colds, and it is healing and bactericidal in applications against burns and wounds.
While side effects or contraindications have not still been found, within the long list of benefits of stevia is the “diuretic effect that helps reduce uric acid levels”.
The controversy is served
Although since 2011 stevia is approved for use as a food additive and sweetener in the European Union and the United States; in 1991 the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) refused to approve the use of this substance due to pressure from manufacturers of artificial sweeteners; until 2008, when it allowed Coca-Cola and Pepsi to use a derivative of this plant. However, it still does not allow the use of raw leaf or extract citing potential health problems beyond the interests of the manufacturers of artificial sweeteners.
In Japan, Stevia sweeteners are already commercially available since 1971 and so far, there are no published studies of health problems related to this sweetener.
Two recipes made with stevia: one for summer and one for winter
During winter, although ideally it should be done every day, Diego De Olmedilla, founder of The Thinking Method, gives us the recipe for an infusion of stevia. Simply heat two fingers of water in the microwave. Take a couple of stevia leaves (dehydrated or fresh), squeeze a lemon and leave to infuse for a few minutes. You can then strain and add more hot or cold water, according to the taste of each one: although the ideal is to drink undrained, hot and fasting. In this way, it will become a “great ally of our health.”
When the heat comes and you feel like a cooler drink, you can make a lemonade with crushed ice, a squeezed lemon. Although you can also use lime or grapefruit, add water (fresh or sparkling), a sprig of stevia and a sprig of mint or peppermint. Once shacked “you have a delicious lemonade full of vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants.”