Sunshine Natural Food & Grocery | Grants Pass, OR

Stevia – Sweetener of Choice for Generations to Come

Stevia Rebaudiana is a small plant that grows throughout Latin America as well as parts of the southwestern U.S.  It is becoming highly sought after for its sweet leaves and flower buds.  It has been used for hundreds of years as a sweetener in South America and now has wide commercial value in Japan where it is used in everything from soft drinks to soy products.  With 15-200 times (depending on the level of refinement) the sweetness of sugar and negligible calories, this herb is expected by Japanese researchers to be the main natural sweetener for generations to come.

Because Stevia is a whole herbal food, it contains other properties that nicely compliment its sweetness.  A recent report from Hiroshima University School of Dentistry indicates that Stevia actually suppresses dental bacteria growth rather than feeding it as sugars do.  In addition, Stevia has shown to have virtually no effects on blood sugar levels, making it an ideal sweetener for diabetic or hypoglycemic people.  Stevia’s sweet flavor is not affected by heat making it perfect for use in hot beverages and baking of all kinds.  In desserts, however, it does not add the richness or moisture of most high calorie sweeteners; therefore it does not appear to have the same damp producing qualities in the body making it potentially a good sweetener for the overweight person or those suffering from mucus, Candida, edema, and other signs of dampness.

Why is Stevia use so uncommon in the U.S.?

In 1941, because of the scarcity of sugar and other sweeteners in England due to the submarine blockade, the British sought a substitute sweetener that could be cultivated in the British Isles.  Within the year, seeds from Paraguay were planted in Cornwall and Devon where test plots yielded the equivalent of two tons of sugar per acre.  For unknown reasons, however, the project was set aside and largely forgotten in the aftermath of the war.

The Japanese began to grow Stevia in hothouses in 1954.  When the Japanese government banned certain artificial sweeteners due to health concerns in the late 60s Stevia use increased dramatically.  Consumer concerns about sugar-related tooth decay, obesity, and diabetes also contributed to this increase.  In 1988, Stevia extracts had captured 41% of the concentrated sweetener market in Japan.

Following the Japanese lead, American food manufacturers began in the 80s to do serious research and development of Stevia sweetened foods and beverages.  These developments caused chemical manufacturing giant Monsanto to take notice.  Monsanto is the brains and bank account behind NutraSweet TM (the widely used artificial sweetener proved to cause brain damage in some cases).  

By 1991, enough pressure had been placed on the FDA by special interests for the agency to issue an import ban that blocked sales of Stevia in this country.  Late in 1995, the FDA was forced to allow Stevia importation, but only if labeled as a dietary supplement.  Stevia and its extracts remain banned as commercial food additives.  The FDA has stated that more toxicological information on Stevia is still needed to prove its safety, this despite the fact that Stevia has been used in Paraguay for at least 1,500 years and in Japan for over 40.  In addition, during the elaborate safety tests done by the Japanese researchers, virtually every toxicology test imaginable was performed.  The results were always very positive: no abnormalities in weight change, food intake, cell or membrane characteristics, enzyme utilization, or chromosome changes, no cancer or birth defects.  Nothing negative was ever reported.

How to Use Stevia

Green Stevia powder is 10-15 times as sweet as sugar.  1-½ to 2 tablespoons will replace one cup of sugar.  Stevioside extracts are said to be 200 to 300 times as sweet as sugar.  ¼ teaspoon replaces one cup of sugar.

The great news is that even though the FDA forbids commercial use of Stevia in food production, in the privacy of our own homes we are free to use Stevia anyway we choose.

Questions on how to incorporate Stevia into your diet?  Drop Rob a line.