Stevia, good or bad for human consumption?
This is a controversial question researchers have been pondering about for quite some time.
While some countries have banned the use of stevia, others like Korea, Japan and Paraguay have widely consumed stevia as a sweetener and sugar substitute for hundreds of years.
Stevia belongs to the family Compositae – Eupatorieae.
Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) Bertoni, is a member of this family and widely grown for its sweet leaves, in South America especially Paraguay. The leaves contain an extract called a stevioside.
There are 230 species of stevia, however the Stevia rebaudiana leaves produce the sweetest compounds and at a very high concentration levels, 200 to 300 times as sweet as sugar.
The good news about stevia is that weight watchers can easily relax because with this sugar substitute there is no caloric intake. Stevia can be used in cooking, coffee, teas and in general for an overall sugar substitute.
Considered as an economical sugar plant, stevia also has few health benefits.
- Used as a natural sweetener for diabetics (does not affect blood glucose levels)
- Possible to reduce dental caries and periodontal disease (less sucrose intake)
- Used in calorie control (the sweet glycosides from stevia are not metabolized by the body) and as a low calorie sweetener
- In homeopathy stevia is used for hypertension, weight loss, digestion, skin diseases
A great amount of research has been done on stevia and yet there are still great speculations regarding human safety when using stevia produce. One of the reasons might be a study with a report that, a breakdown from stevioside and rebaudioside (two sweet compounds found in stevia leaf), is a mutagen. However, WHO later concluded stevioside and rebaudioside A are not genotoxic in vitro or in vivo and there is no evidence of carcinogenic activity.
Whether or not stevia is safe to use is difficult to say. However, one fact is 100% for sure: it has the sweetest compounds and at very high concentration levels, 200 to 300 times as sweet as sugar, it is already used in foods and beverages, and stevia is a low-calorie sweetener.