Stevia: properties, benefits and contraindications of a natural calorie-free sweetener/


Despite having a much higher sweetening power than sugar, stevia does not bring calories and does not raise blood sugar. It is therefore useful in slimming diets and in diabetics but not only.

Stevia is a perennial plant native to South America and belonging to the Asteraceae family, whose scientific name is Stevia Rebaudiana. It is a small plant with oval, opposite leaves and numerous small, white flowers. The natives already used it centuries ago to sweeten yerba mate, a drink typical of South American populations.

Stevia has a high sweetening power, due to 4 components present in the leaves: stevioside, dulcoside, rebaudioside A and rebaudioside C. This plant, however, in addition to being a sweetener, has numerous other properties, also bringing various benefits to the health. Let’s find out what they are.


Stevia: properties and benefits

Stevia mainly contains carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins (in particular vitamin A and vitamin C) and mineral salts including iron, zinc, potassium and phosphorus. This plant has a sweetening power about 300 times higher than common table sugar, without adding calories.

For this reason it can help fight overweight. As it does not contain sugars, it does not cause the formation of cavities. It fights cellular aging as it is very rich in flavonoids, antioxidants that act against free radicals.

The benefits of stevia are aimed above all at those suffering from diabetes, first of all because it does not affect glycemic values, but also because, according to some studies, it would even be able to reduce blood sugar levels.

This is thanks to the ability of stevioside to modify the functioning of some pancreatic cells that produce insulin. This compound would stimulate the production of insulin, which facilitates the passage of glucose into the cells, resulting in a reduction in blood sugar.

Stevia also seems to have hypotensive effects, even if this property is still the subject of numerous scientific studies, currently in contrast with each other. For example, a 2010 review highlighted positive results obtained from 2 long-term studies (1-2 years) carried out on a sample of hypertensive patients who were administered stevia. However, these results were not confirmed by other short-term studies (1-3 months), which did not show supporting data. Further research is therefore needed to prove the hypotensive effect of stevia. However, it seems that regular use of stevia is effective in preventing the rise in blood pressurein the long term.

This plant also has antibacterial properties, which make it a good remedy to combat skin problems including dermatitis, acne and eczema. These benefits are also exploited in cosmetics, where steviol glycosides are used to make skin care products.

The properties of stevia do not end there. In fact, this plant offers other benefits, in particular it promotes digestion, has laxative and antibacterial properties and helps reduce gastric acidity.


Stevia: how to use it

Stevia is found in the form of dried or powdered leaves, but more readily as a liquid or powdered sweetener in which the extracted steviotic glycosides are found. It can be used to sweeten drinks, syrups, jams, sweet recipes or baked goods. One of its characteristics is that of resisting well to high temperatures (up to 190 ┬░ C) avoiding the formation of toxic products.

Given its high sweetening power, for culinary preparations it is good to consider that generally 40g of pure stevia corresponds to about 100g of sugar. Therefore, if you want to replace sugar with stevia in recipes, you need to re-proportion the amount of sweetener added. It is also good to keep in mind that the taste of stevia is somewhat reminiscent of licorice and is not always appreciated by everyone since it can cover (or modify) the flavor of the preparations or drinks to which it is added.

The cheapest way to get it is undoubtedly to grow a stevia plant at home, just like we grow rosemary or basil. Stevia needs to be exposed to sunlight and have a large enough pot. Fresh leaves can be put directly into tea or coffee instead of sugar. The leaves of stevia have a strong sweetening power, in the measure of one leaf / one teaspoon of sugar.

We can also chop the leaves and put them in cakes, which will be sweet but at the same time accessible to diabetics. Alternatively we can dry the leaves and chop them, to preserve them and use them at will during the year.


Use of stevia in case of diabetes

By not raising the blood sugar, stevia is an excellent solution for those suffering from diabetes but do not want to give up sweet flavors. It can be added to coffee or sweets, without having glycemic fluctuations and even reducing blood sugar levels. Indeed, stevioside appears to have beneficial effects on glucose metabolism. A study seems to have shown how stevia extract is capable of reducing post-prandial glucose levels in subjects with type 2 diabetes.


Contraindications of stevia

Stevia has no major contraindications other than a laxative and hypotensive effect at high doses. Until the 1950s, stevia was widely cultivated by Italian farmers due to its ease of processing and the almost absence of side effects. Studies carried out several years ago suspected that stevia was carcinogenic. In fact, this news has been disproved by further research. This makes stevia a safe sweetener, which can also be used during pregnancy (in this case we still recommend a medical consultation) and by children.

Furthermore, safe to use stevia in food and beverages. Based on the wealth of scientific studies carried out, it is clear that the consumption of stevia is safe in people of all ages and the admissible daily dose of the active ingredient is 4mg / kg of body weight. These data are also confirmed by EFSA.


Sale and price of stevia

The stevia plant can be found in nurseries, where a small plant costs about 5 euros, or on the market you can also find stevia seeds to plant. As a processed product, on the other hand, it can be bought in herbalist’s shops, organic shops or supermarkets. Stevia – based sweeteners are quite expensive. Prices vary according to the manufacturer and the quality of the product. Generally the liquid version costs about 15 USD for 50 ml, 250 gr of sweetener powder cost about 15/20 USD while 200 tablets of 60 mg cost about 9/10 USD.


Nutrition

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