(NaturalNews) Stevia is a natural sweetener extracted from the stevia rebaudiana plant. This plant grows in Brazil, Paraguay, Japan, Korea, China and Thailand. The Guarani Indians in Paraguay have, for centuries, used stevia leaves to sweeten teas and healing potions. They have also chewed it just for pleasure. In the 1970s, stevia, also called sweet leaf, became popular as a sweetener and ingredient in food products in Japan.
Stevia contains a molecule called stevioside, which is 300 times sweeter than sucrose. Yet, stevia has almost no calories -- only about one calorie per ten leaves, which makes stevia an excellent sweetener.
There are a number of situations in which stevia can be especially useful.
Stevia is an herbal sweetener that helps stabilize blood sugar levels without using insulin. Preliminary studies in animals have also found that stevia helps lower blood pressure and blood glucose levels. These effects are highly beneficial for individuals with diabetes.
According to Mark Stengler, N.D., his diabetic patients have reported that stevia did not negatively affect their blood sugar readings. He added evidence exists to suggest that "stevia can reduce blood-sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes."
Preliminary research has shown that stevia helps to lower blood pressure in individuals suffering from hypertension.
Weight loss or maintenance
As stevia is low in calories, it is ideal for individuals who wish to lose weight, overcome obesity or simply limit their calorie intake.
Tooth cavities and decay
According to Stengler, stevia is a better sweetening substance to use than sugar if one wishes to prevent cavities. In addition, James Duke, Ph.D. also recommends stevia for those dealing with tooth decay.
In addition, Duke has stated that stevia is useful for individuals attempting to prevent or fight off recurrent yeast infections since sugar feeds the yeast.
Stevia is generally available in powder, liquid and tablet forms. Dosages vary depending on the potency of the specific product, although to sweeten eight ounces of a beverage, one tablet, three to five drops of liquid or a pinch of powder could be enough. Stevia is also used as an ingredient in cooking.
According to Michael Murray, Joseph Pizzorno and Lara Pizzorno in their book stevia is the "top choice for a noncalorie sweetener" and can be used liberally. Stevia has an excellent safety profile and its use has not been found to have any significant adverse effects.
Sources for this article include:
Trivieri, Jr., Larry, and Anderson, John W. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. 2nd ed. New York: Celestial Arts, 2002. Print.
Murray, Michael, Pizzorno, Joseph, and Pizzorno, Lara. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Atria Books, 2005. Print.
Stengler, Mark. The Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies Medical Doctors Don't Know. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 2010. Print.
Duke, James A. The Green Pharmacy. New York: Rodale, 1997. Print.
About the author: Reuben Chow has a keen interest in natural health and healing as well as personal growth.