Stevia, the Sweet Leaf
The sweet-leaf plant Stevia has been used for centuries by the Guarani Indians in Paraguay. They used it for both nutritional and medicinal purposes. This plant belongs to the sunflower family, It is a small shrub like perennial.
As The Stevia Story tells, the plant was made popular to the rest of the world when the Spanish conquistadors “discovered” it, and started using it, and taking it to other countries. The credit is given to swiss botanist Dr. Moises Santiago Bertoni, who officially named it and documented its discovery. After that, it went to Europe, and was used in England and other countries. In the1970’s, Japan started using stevia commercially. Today, stevia represents 50% of Japan’s sweetener industry, making them the biggest consumers of stevia in the world.
Stevia has a very concentrated sweet taste, it is 300 times sweeter than sugar. However, it is important to note that this sweet taste is not due to carbohydrate-based molecules, but to non-caloric molecules called glycosides, so it is carb and calorie free!
This leaf is not only an amazing natural sweetener, but it has medicinal properties as well. It is sold in South America to aid diabetics and hypoglycemics. Research has shown that Stevia has a regulating effect on the pancreas and helps stabilize sugar levels in the blood. It has also been said to help lower high blood pressure, improve digestion, and prevent obesity. It has also been found to increases energy levels and mental sharpness. Another study found stevia to aid with calcium formation, implying that it is beneficial for bone health.
Added to tooth paste or mouthwashes, Stevia has been shown to inhibit the growth periodontal bacterias that cause gum disease and tooth decay. Added to shampoo, it helps prevent dandruff, and improve hair health. It is also said that using stevia concentrate as a facial mask may help soften and tighten the skin and smooth wrinkles.
Stevia is an antioxidant, and as we have talked about in other articles, increasing our intake of antioxidants has great health benefits. Several studies done to look for any level of toxicity in stevia leaves have come back negative, suggesting that it is an absolutely safe sweetener to eat.
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