The sweetening power of Stevia is amazing. It is rated between 70 to 400 times sweeter than white sugar. What is really intriguing about Stevia is that it is completely calorie-free, never initiates a rise in blood sugar, and does not provide an intestinal source of food for bacteria and yeasts.
Stevia enjoyed some popularity during the 1980s as a natural sweetener and was found in a variety of consumer products. However, in 1986, the FDA stopped the sale of Stevia and in 1991 said it was not suitable as a food additive. Advocates for Stevia say that this happened because the herb is a natural, inexpensive and non-patentable sweetener, and poses a threat to pharmaceutical sweeteners. As of now, Stevia has received approval by the FDA to be sold only as a 'dietary supplement', not as a sweetening agent.
Stevia is a small perennial shrub with green leaves that belongs to the aster or chrysanthemum family of plants. It grows primarily in the Amambay mountain range of Paraguay but over 200 species of Stevia have been found around the world. Stevia rebaudiana is the only known species which possess the ability to sweeten.
During the 1970s the Japanese developed a new method to better refine the active ingredient in Stevia. The result was a compound called stevioside which is 200 to 300 times sweeter than white sugar. Processing also helps reduce the "green" taste sometimes experienced with unprocessed Stevia. The Japanese approach artificial sweeteners with great caution and they believe stevioside to be safer and more effective than other artificial sweeteners.
The leaves of the Stevia shrub contain specific substances (glycosides) which produce a sweet taste but have no caloric value. Stevia also contains protein, fibers, carbohydrates, phosphorus, iron, calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, rutin (flavonoid), zinc, vitamin C and vitamin A.
While Equal™ and Saccharine continue to dominate the non-caloric sweetener market, a remarkable herb called Stevia remains relatively unknown. Anyone who suffers from blood sugar disorders or who need to limit their caloric intake needs to know about the remarkable properties of Stevia. Stevia offers an ideal alternative to other sugars or sugar substitutes. This herb also has numerous therapeutic properties and has proven to be safe and effective for hundreds of years.
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