The stevia leaf has gained popularity as a zero-calorie sugar substitute. That's because stevia offers you many health benefits and few side effects. Learning more about this product will help you make wise dietary choices.
What Is Stevia Leaf?
Stevia products use ground leaves from the Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni plant, according to a June 2012 paper in Food Chemistry. This perennial plant is indigenous to Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. Wild-growing shrubs remain rare, but commercial growers have made the cultivated form common. In fact, you can even grow stevia at home.
The stevia leaf has substances in it — glycosides — which have a sugary sweet taste, according to an October 2014 review in the Innovare Journal of Food Science. There are two well-known glycosides in stevia: stevioside and rebaudioside A. Stevioside is 143 times as sweet as table sugar, and rebaudioside A is 242 times as sweet. Manufacturers consider the stevia sweetener safe, but it has a bitter aftertaste — especially stevioside.
Indigenous people like the Guarani used stevia as a natural sweetener. They also used it for medicinal drinks like yerba mate. This practice stayed isolated for hundreds of years. In the 1970s, manufacturers began exporting stevia, and it gained popularity as a sugar substitute in India and Japan.
Government regulations have limited stevia's success in America. In a March 2018 report, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, explained why they won't give clearance to stevia leaves as a food additive. Instead, you have to buy them as a nutritional supplement.
Stevia Leaf: Benefits
A July 2012 paper in
Stevia might also help regulate your blood sugar. The writers of a June 2015 report in the Journal of Medicinal Plant and Herbal Therapy Research tested 114 people with diabetes and found that stevia use improved their symptoms. Compared to a control group, patients given stevia had lower blood pressure and blood sugar scores.
A November 2012 article in Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology showed that stevia has antioxidant effects. The phenolic compounds in stevia seem to mediate these effects. That's exciting because ingesting phenolic compounds lowers cardiovascular risk, according to a May 2014 paper in BMC Medicine. This team studied 7,172 people with a high risk for heart disease. Patients who ingested more phenolic compounds had a 37 percent less chance of dying.
Stevia Leaf: Risks
Stevia belongs to the Asteraceae family of plants. Exposure to some members of this family can cause an allergic reaction. From 10 to 30 percent of all people show sensitivity to ragweed, according to a February 2015 paper in the Journal of Asthma and Allergy. Other examples include chrysanthemum, chamomile and echinacea. You can find these plants in many cosmetic and health products. That's why it's important for you to carefully read all product labels.
Several news outlets have issued warnings about stevia's safety because of these reactions, according to a November 2014 report in Food and Chemical Toxicology. Yet the writers of this report have argued that these warnings have no merit. For example, these researchers couldn't find a single instance of an allergic reaction to stevia in the past 10 years. They attributed the few cases happening before that time to poor quality control.
Manufacturers have dramatically improved stevia processing technology over the years. The authors of a February 2015 article in International Agrophysics used ultrasound to better extract nutrients from the stevia plant. Interestingly, some components of the stevia leaf have avoided the FDA ban. Manufacturers can, therefore, add stevioside to their food products because it has such a high level of purity.
Using stevioside as a food additive should generate tremendous interest because it stays safe at high levels of dietary intake, according to a 2015 paper in the Journal of Biology, Agriculture and Healthcare. In their review, these researchers predicted that the many health benefits of stevia would eventually benefit people with high blood pressure, weight problems or diabetes.
- Journal of Functional Foods: "Functional and Health-Promoting Properties of Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni and Its Glycosides With Special Focus on the Antidiabetic Potential — A Review"
- Food Chemistry: "Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, Source of a High-Potency Natural Sweetener"
- Innovare Journal of Food Science: "Steviol Glycosides and Their Use in Food Processing"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administation: "Has Stevia Been Approved by FDA to be Used as a Sweetener?"
- IJAPBC: "Overview on Stevia"
- Journal of Medicinal Plant and Herbal Therapy Research: "Effectiveness and Safety of Stevia rebaudiana Dried Leaves as an Adjuvant in the Short-Term Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes"
- Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology: "Antioxidant Ability and Total Phenolic Content of Aqueous Leaf Extract of Stevia rebaudiana Bert"
- BMC Medicine: "Polyphenol Intake and Mortality Risk"
- Journal of Asthma and Allergy: "Ragweed-Induced Allergic Rhinoconjunctivitis: Current and Emerging Treatment Options"
- Food and Chemical Toxicology: "Steviol Glycoside Safety"
- International Agrophysics: "Optimization of Ultrasound Assisted Extraction of Functional Ingredients from Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni Leaves"
- Journal of Biology, Agriculture and Healthcare: "Review on Potential Toxicity of Artificial Sweetners vs Safety of Stevia"