What Is Stevia?Stevia is a natural sweetener and an alternative to sugar. It is produced from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. These leaves have been used by South Americans for years as a sweetener and for medicinal purposes. The shrub grows naturally there. Stevia is produced in crystal form like sugar and also in liquid extract. It is said to be over 300 times sweeter than sugar. You won’t have to use as much to get the same sweet result. A teaspoon of sugar provides 15 calories. One packet of stevia is equivalent to two teaspoons of sugar and provides only 5 calories while keeping your blood sugar from spiking like regular sugar does.
Health Effects of SteviaThis sweet substitute wasn’t approved in the US by the FDA until 2008. It was found to be safe for human consumption without causing health problems. Using a substance such as this can lower sugar intake, thereby helping sufferers of metabolic syndrome, hypertension, diabetes and other conditions. It may be easier to wean oneself off of sugar this way. *Note regarding cooking with Stevia: Stevia doesn’t brown foods like sugar and won’t ferment yeast for breads. It doesn’t provide the same bulk to foods as sugar because it is such a concentrated sweetener, so cooking and baking with it may need some extra adjustments. Just like any other substitute in the body it is important to know about side effects. While stevia is ruled safe by the FDA, some consumers have experienced dizziness, bloating, nausea and muscle pain; however, most people do fine using it. Because stevia is manufactured from a plant, those who are allergic to ragweed might experience an allergic reaction while using stevia. Stevia can interfere with some medications so inform your doctor if you are using it as a sugar substitute. Stevia interacts with lithium, medications for diabetes and some medications for high blood pressure. Try to use the smallest amount possible whenever you can. Since it is so much sweeter than sugar, one packet of stevia should suffice for coffee and tea. Test the sweetness as you add the stevia to ensure you don’t add too much.
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