Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a plant originating from South America, mainly cultivated in Brazil and Paraguay. Already in ancient times it was used by these populations for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Its main characteristic is the high sweetening power, about 300 times higher than that of sugar or aspartame, and the absence of calories. In fact, stevia is one of the most used natural sweeteners: it is low-calorie and does not alter glycemia, so it is recommended for diabetes cases. But let's find out more about the properties and possible contraindications of this alternative sweetener.
Active ingredients and composition of stevia
The main active ingredients of stevia are stevioside and rebaudioside A, particularly concentrated in the leaves of the plant. It is precisely from the dried leaves, in fact, that the currently known most powerful sweetener is produced: in fact, a very small amount is enough to sweeten the drinks. Moreover, stevia does not contain artificial sweeteners and has zero calories, so it is considered the ideal natural sweetener for those who follow a low-calorie diet and for those suffering from diabetes.
Healthy Characteristics of Stevia
Stevia is well-known for its therapeutic properties, it is in fact rich in minerals such as manganese and iron, vitamins, proteins and carbohydrates. In medicine it is used for those suffering from high blood sugar level, and it is in fact recommended in diets in which you have to control the blood sugar (therefore it is ideal for those suffering from diabetes). Stevia also helps to keep the high blood pressure under control, so it is recommended in hypertension cases. Moreover, thanks to its low caloric value, it is also useful for those who are overweight. Since it does not contain sugars, stevia also helps to prevent caries, and thanks to flavonoids it has also an antioxidant action: it counteracts the negative action of free radicals with benefits also on the skin, as it fights cellular aging.
Stevia: Where to Buy it and How to Use it
The stevia can be purchased in a herbalist’s shop or in a pharmacy, and it can be used as a sweetener instead of sugar or for the preparation of low-calorie desserts: the absence of calories makes it ideal also for children. How much does it cost? Its price ranges from 10 to 30 euros depending on the size or the quantity we buy. On the market we can find powdered or liquid stevia, but also tablets or lumps of stevia.
Is stevia bad for the health? Is it carcinogenic? Here are its side effects
Initially, stevia was welcomed with enthusiasm, because it was considered a possible substitute for refined sugar, which by now is not advised within all diets. However, there are some worries about stevia that it could be carcinogenic and therefore harmful to our health: this is due to one of its components, the steviol, which could indeed cause cancer. The issue has not yet been clarified, also because it involves dosages that concern only one component of stevia and not of the plant. The pros and cons relating to this sweetener have led many to think of a conspiracy related to issues of commercial interest: a way to put in a bad light stevia in favor of other artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. This thesis is confirmed by the fact that many countries use stevia without any health problems. For example, in Japan stevia has been used for some time to sweeten the Coca Cola light. In Europe (including Italy) and in the United States it was initially admitted as a food supplement but not as a food ingredient. Since 2010, however, stevia can be also used as a food ingredient. In 2013, the Coca Cola life (sweetened with stevia leaves) was launched in Argentina and Chile, and in 2014 it arrived also in Europe and finally in 2016 in Italy.
Therefore it seems that stevia hasn’t any side effects, actually it is also recommended for pregnant women and children, so it seems quite strange that it is considered "illegal". Its contraindications concern possible hypotensive, hypoglycemic or laxative effects, but just if there is abuse. Therefore, moderate consumption is recommended: the daily limit should be 4 mg of stevia per body weight. To regulate your consumption, learn to identify it in packaged products: check the ingredients for the E960 acronym, which stands for steviol glycosides.