Stevia is a sweetener that produced from a plant called Stevia Rebaudiani Bertoni. It is popularly used around the world as a natural sweetener in many foods. One example is that they are used by Guarani Indians for decades as a means to sweeten bitter teas as well as an ingredient in making sweets.
Growth of the stevia plant originated in just a few parts of the world; namely in Southern Brazil and the mountainous areas of Northern Paraguay. Since its discovery, it was used as a sweetener though it was later replaced by sugar cane brought along by the Spanish. Nowadays, the stevia plant is grown in numerous countries around the globe such as China and Japan as well as India, Europe and also North America.
Stevia is a very healthy sweetener, much healthier than sugar. It is used as a sugar substitute in many health-active and diabetic diets. One of its most important advantages is that it is a sweetener which has no calories. Consumption of stevia will also not cause any fluctuations in the level of sugar in the blood. This means that it is completely harmless and safe to be consumed by diabetic patients.
Benefits of stevia continue onto some aspects of cooking. For one thing, it is much sweeter than sugar; almost 300 times sweeter. It is also not affected by very high temperatures and can withstand heats of up to 200 degrees Celsius. It is also encouraged to be used in sweets as stevia residues on teeth will not form plaque or cavities. This is great news for children!
Because of stevia’s vast array of health benefits, it has become increasingly popular and used in the production of many diet foods and drinks. However, it has been reported that stevia can cause a few side effects. Because of such claims, it has been put under many rigorous tests on many animals. One test on female rats presented results that it reduced their fertility by nearly 79%. But the professionals who carried these tests stated that such results may not be valid for humans. This is supported by the fact that people living in areas where the plant is available have normal birth rates and populations.
However, stevia has supposedly fallen under substantial controversy, mainly in the United States because of one of its main competitor: Aspartame. Proof of this controversy started from the 1980’s which was about the time Aspartame was released. Before 1980, the FDA stated that Stevia was safe for consumption but was considered to be unsafe after this period and was banned without being termed as a supplement. However, FDA has since eased their stance over the ban, and as of 2008 has approved the rebaudioside A extract to be used as a food additive.
In addition, stevia is used around the world without direct links to any major or fatal side effects. In particular, Japan has been using Stevia for ages whereas Aspartame is banned. Even in South America where stevia has originated, it has been used without any ill effects. The supposed cause of this controversy is because Aspartame did not want stevia to be available and it is also suggested that Aspartame has provided the FDA with significant amount of money so that it is declared unsafe.
All in all, stevia is popular consumable herb which has bountiful health benefits for everyone. But because of persistent claims, tests are still being undertaken to decide whether stevia is completely safe or not. Until now, no ill effect has been proven to be directly linked to the consumption of stevia.