Stevia is an organic sweetener, extracted from a plant which has very sweet leaves. Stevia sweetener is very popular in South America, where the leaves of the plants are used as sugar substitutes to sweeten drinks. The extract from stevia leaves is about 300 times sweeter than normal sugar. Even though it is much sweeter, biologically, the sweetener does not impact the glucose levels of the blood and is very low calories. This sweetener is advantageous to diabetics and is therefore successfully used as an alternative to sugar.
The stevia leaf extract is sweet, but as compared to sugar, the ‘sweet’ effect on the taste buds takes a little longer to be felt. There are some brands of stevia sweetener which might have an after taste of licorice. It may also feel slightly minty. Though not unpleasant in itself, when mixed with the tastes of other foods, stevia sweeteners may taste slightly odd to the taste buds.
Stevia extracts have been used in South America for hundreds of years, but it was only recently, about three decades back, that the side effects of the sweetener were first discovered. Multiple studies, conducted in the 1980s, claimed that there were several stevia sweetener side effects which could not be ignored. As the sweetener metabolized in the body, it broke down into compounds which could cause cancer. However, in the later half of 2008, some more studies were published which reported mixed results in the matter. Stevia redaudiana, or Rebaudioside A, a metabolite of Stevia, which was reported to be a carcinogen, was later found out to be completely safe. However, most of these studies were commissioned and carried out by
a drug manufacturing company that was interested in manufacturing Stevia sweetener.
Eventually, more industry sponsored researches came up and the benefits of stevia sweetener were pointed out. Through researches, it was proved that not only does stevia sweetener taste sweet, it also improves the production of insulin in the body. Further researches suggested that along with helping diabetics, stevia sweeteners can also help fight hypertension, thus making it one of the best natural sweeteners ever. Still, there is not much outside of these studies which is known about the sweetener itself.
There is not enough data which has been produced authentically that can help conclude anything about the sweet leaf stevia. With the limited data and the nature of studies from which this data has been arrived at, not much can be said about the effect of stevia on diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis, which is also claimed to be one of the benefits of stevia sweeteners. There are some specific studies which deliberate on the different extraction methods and the parts of the stevia plant which can be useful in making the sweetener. Since different studies have used different parts of the plant and different extraction methods to extract the sweetener, it is very difficult to compare this data across the studies.
There are many Stevia recipes which can be put to use. Like all plants, stevia too has many antioxidants. Since stevia sweeteners are completely natural and contain these cancer fighting antioxidants, they are considered much better than many other artificial sweeteners which are known to have several side effects.
For some time, stevia recipes and products have been approved in many countries like Israel, Japan, and China. However, the same has not been approved in the US. The studies which came out in 1980 forced the FDA to ban the sweetener unless it was labeled strictly a supplement. Still, the FDA has now approved some stevia products, making it a popular natural sweetener.