Stevia first natural sugar substitute
July 5, 2013 in Health
The plant extract called stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar
- Natural sweetener has been used in South America for thousands of years
- Food industry adopting sugar substitute in attempt to tackle obesity
It sounds too good to be true – all the sweetness of sugar but with none of the calories.
The final product is a white powder (similar to powdered sugar).
The species Stevia rebaudiana, commonly known as sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or simply stevia, is widely grown for its sweet leaves.
As a sweetener and sugar substitute, stevia’s taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar, although some of its extracts may have a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste at high concentrations.
With its steviol glycoside extracts having up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar, stevia has attracted attention with the rise in demand for low-carbohydrate, low-sugar sweeteners. Because stevia has a negligible effect on blood glucose it is attractive to people on carbohydrate-controlled diets.
The availability of stevia varies from country to country. In a few countries, it has been available as a sweetener for decades or centuries; for example, it has been widely used for decades as a sweetener in Japan. In some countries health concerns and political controversies have limited its availability; for example, the United States banned stevia in the early 1990s unless labeled as a dietary supplement, but in 2008 it approved rebaudioside A extract as a food additive. Over the years, the number of countries in which stevia is available as a sweetener has been increasing. In 2011 stevia was approved for use in the EU
But an extract from a plant found growing wild in South America is being trumpeted as a major weapon in tackling the obesity crisis threatening the health of millions of people around the world.
Dr Margaret Ashwell, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Global Stevia Institute, an information service provided by the main suppliers of stevia, believes the health benefits cannot be understated.
‘Stevia can help people enjoy natural-origin sweetness while reducing calories as part of a healthful, balanced diet,’ she told the Independent.
She added: ‘There are enormous opportunities for industry to meet national and international pledges to reduce sugar in products to help the obesity crisis.’
Used for thousands of years in South America cooking, it was added to food as a sweetener as well as a health tonic and treatment for high blood pressure, heartburn, gout and type 2 diabetes.
The plant, used for centuries by Paraguay’s Guarani Indians, it has shot from relative obscurity to being used as a key sweetener by large companies such as Coca-Cola and Danone in just a few years.
Sales of the extract have soared in recent years – up 400 per cent between 2008 and 2012.
In 2011 it was approved by the European Food Safety Agency for widespread introduction.
Dr Robert Lustig, author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar, said that weight-loss diets might not be achieved because the body expects real sugar, the Independent reported.
But this doubt over the effects of stevia has not stopped some food manufactures introducing the additive to some of their most popular ranges.
In March, this year, fizzy drink Sprite ditched its ‘full-fat’ recipe in favour of a lower-calorie version that uses the ‘natural’ sweetener.
The new formulation of the popular beverage contains 30 per cent fewer calories – but fans fear it will have an unusual aftertaste.
The drink is being altered as part of the parent company Coca-Cola’s anti-obesity drive and follows a call by the government to address the issue.
A Coca-Cola spokesman said: ‘We are introducing Sprite with Stevia in the UK.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF STEVIA
Research into stevia’s alleged health benefits have been mixed and many believe the plant could in fact pose health risks.
Some research has found that the plant lowered blood pressure.
There has also been research into its effects on diabetes.
The most obvious benefit of stevia is that it provides sweetness but does not elevate blood glucose levels as white sugar does.
But in addition to this, early research has shown that it can actively lower blood sugars.
Scientists found that taking 1000 mg daily of stevioside reduced blood sugar levels after meals by up to 18 per cent in people with type 2 diabetes.
Other alleged benefits of stevia were analysed in a 2009 review of recent stevia research.
Experts at Mahidol University in Thailand found that a number of studies did show stevia to have blood pressure-lowering, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-diarrheal, diuretic, and immunomodulatory actions.
This will contain 30 per cent fewer calories and, instead of being added as a mid-calorie addition to the Sprite range, it will completely replace the current Sprite,’ it read.
‘Stevia, a sweetener from natural origins, is sweeter than sugar but without the calories.
‘It is an extract from the leaf of the stevia plant which is native to Paraguay. Stevia has been used for centuries as a source of intense, natural sweetness.’
The increasing introduction of the calourie-free natural sweetener comes amid mounting concern about the health effects of the soft drinks enjoyed by millions of Britons every day.
Heart attacks, diabetes, weight gain, brittle bones, pancreatic and prostate cancer, muscle weakness and paralysis have all been flagged up as potential problems of drinking soft drinks.
Earlier this year, a study warned that just one can of a sugary soft drink a day can raise the risk of diabetes by up to a fifth.
A can of Coke contains around eight teaspoons of sugar and 139 calories. This is around 7 per cent of the 2,000 calories a woman is recommended per day. Two cans would use up more than a tenth of a man’s 2,500 daily calorie allowance.
Harvard University’s respected School of Public Health warns that sugary drinks ‘are a major contributor to the obesity epidemic’.
Research it cites to back this up includes a 20-year study of 120,000 men and women which found those that drank an extra soft drink a day gained, on average, a pound a year more than those that did not up their intake. Over seven years, it would add up to half a stone.
Homemade Stevia Extract
Liquid stevia extract is a relatively easy tincture to make at home, and it is a much cheaper alternative to the store bought versions. If you grow your own stevia, you can preserve the leaves while still fresh to make the most potent extract. This is my basic stevia recipe, and it is suitable for kids and pregnant women as the alcohol cooks out.
you can get dried stevia leaf from Mountain Rose Herbs, or you can preserve your own.
- 1- Quart or pint glass jar with lid (both boiled to sterilize)
- fresh or dried stevia leaf
- enough vodka, rum or everclear to fill the jar (at least half of the total size of the jar)
- a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer
- small sauce pan
- Put the fresh or dried stevia leaf in the jar, filling it ⅔ full.
- Pour vodka/rum/everclear over the leaves to fill the jar and put the lid on tightly.
- Put in a place where you will see it and leave for 36 hours, shaking occasionally. (I put on the counter and shake every time I’m cooking) Leaving it for longer than this seems to make it bitter.
- Strain the liquid into the small sauce pan (it will be greenish-brown)
- Turn heat on low and bring to a simmer. Important: do not boil! It will ruin the taste!!!
- Simmer for about ½ an hour, stirring constantly and making sure not to boil. It will thicken. When it gets to your desired thickness, remove from heat.
- Store in small jar in the fridge for up to 3 months.
source: Katie – Wellness Mama