You may have seen this particular plant name on sugar packets when you’ve wanted to add a little sweetness to your tea. With its extracts being 200 times sweeter than the average packet of sugar, the stevia plant has been used for more than a thousand years by the Guarani people native to Paraguay and Brazil.
Stevia offers an array of benefits over white cane sugar, including weight-loss, protecting oral health, and preventing certain forms of cancer. It’s why stevia is not only a sweet treat for your taste buds, but can also be a sweet deal for your health when consumed moderately.
Botanical Name of Stevia
Stevia is botanically known as Stevia rebaudiana and has been used for centuries for its distinct healing capabilities. Along with sweetening beverages, stevia has been used in traditional South American medicine for stomach aches, burns, and even as a form of contraception.
Botanical Family of Stevia
Stevia is the name given to a species of green leafy plants called Asteraceae, which is derived from South America. Stevia received its newfound fame as being an artificial sweetener when it was realized that stevia is more than 40 times sweeter than sugar and does not affect blood sugar levels. It’s popularly used by those struggling with diabetes, considering it isn’t accompanied by the same negative side effects as sugar.
What Is Stevia?
Whether you’ve used it to sweeten your cup of coffee in the morning or not, it’s plausible that you’ve encountered this plant before. If not, stevia has more than 240 species of shrubs and small flowering plants in the Asteraceae family, which is the same family as sunflowers. Stevia is known by many names, including Honey Leaf, Sweet Chrysanthemum, Sweetleaf Stevia, and Sugar Leaf. It typically grows in the tropical areas of North and South America.
Types of Stevia
Depending on the extent to which the plant has been processed, stevia can be found in three forms:
Green Leaf Stevia: This is the least processed form of Stevia and is 30 to 40 times sweeter than sugar with a slightly bitter taste.
Stevia Extracts: It’s processed more than Green leaf Stevia but is almost 200 times sweeter than sugar and less bitter.
Altered Stevia: As the name suggests, this form of stevia has been altered and contains genetically modified ingredients (GMO) and considered one of the worst forms of stevia.
Active Ingredients Found in Stevia
The reason behind stevia’s sugary taste is the sweet substance known as stevioside, a non-carbohydrate glycoside compound. Steviosides are 200-300 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). Almost all the parts of the plant taste sweet, however, the sweet glycosides are concentrated in its dark-green serrated leaves.
Stevia also has many sterols and antioxidant compounds such as flavonoids, triterpenes, and tannins. Some of the flavonoids consist of polyphenolic antioxidant phytochemicals, including kaempferol, quercetin, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, isoquercitrin, and isosteviol.
Health Benefits of Stevia
Stevia has been recommended for a variety of ailments, including the following health benefits:
- Supports weight loss
- Lowers high blood pressure
- Prevents osteoporosis
- Helps to prevent cancer
- Helps prevent cavities and gingivitis
Stevia is also useful against skin conditions like dermatitis and eczema. When applied topically, it prevents the growth of bacteria and acts as a steroid. Along with all the health benefits previously mentioned, stevia is also known for its anti-diarrheal, antihypertensive, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory capabilities.
Different Ways to Consume Stevia
You can use stevia leaves, liquid, and leaf powder form as a healthier alternative to sugar in various beverages and foods:
- Beverages: tea, lemonade, coffee
- Packaged foods: sauces, condiments, candy
- Dairy products – ice cream and yogurt
- Baked goods – cakes, desserts, and sweet bread
A tablespoon of ground stevia equals a cup of sugar. Substitute the use of sugar with a sugar alternative like stevia to reap its health benefits. Remember, a little goes a long way when using it as a replacement for white cane sugar. Store your raw stevia in a cool and dry place for longer shelf life.
Side Effects of Stevia
Stevia is generally safe for use, but certain conditions or over-consumption of stevia may not sit well for some people. Though the side effects are few, some rare side effects include nausea, bloating and decreased appetite. In rare cases, it may even cause an allergic reaction.
If you have diabetes and/or expecting a new addition to the family, consult your doctor to make sure adding stevia to your daily diet is safe for you.
How many packets of stevia equal 1/2 a cup?
12 teaspoons or 24 packets of stevia are equal to 1/2 a cup.
How much stevia is too much?
According to the Stevia Institute, the recommended daily consumption depends on your weight.
- 100 pounds — up to 540 mg/day — up to 3 ½ tsp/day — up to 14 drops
- 150 pounds — up to 340 mg/day — up to 5 ½ tsp/day — up to 22 drops
- 200 pounds — up to 454 mg/day — up to 7 ½ tsp/day — up to 30 drops
- 250 pounds — up to 567 mg/day — up to 9 tsp/day — up to 36 drops
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2. Misra H, Soni M, Silawat N, Mehta D, Mehta BK, Jain DC. Antidiabetic activity of medium-polar extract from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana Bert. (Bertoni) on alloxan-induced diabetic rats. Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences. 2011;3(2):242-248. doi:10.4103/0975-7406.80779.