Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni (also known as Stevia, Sweet Leaf and Honey Leaf) is a plant that is cultivated in Korea, China, Paraguay and many other countries around the world. The leaves contain natural compounds that are estimated to be 300 times sweeter than sugar. People in Paraguay and Brazil have used the sweet leaf to sweeten beverages and as an ingredient in medicinal herbal teas for over 1500 years with no harmful effects. Stevia is not synthetic, it’s not produced, synthesized or manufactured, it is extracted from a plant. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, noted physician who advocates natural health and wellness principles, stevia is a safe and natural sweetener that the FDA has been trying to suppress for years, some say at the instigation of the manufacturer of aspartame.
For those who cannot tolerate sugar, including diabetics, stevia is especially useful. It has minimal calories and is reputed to have beneficial effects on fat absorption and blood pressure. Recently there have been studies linking stevia extract with normalization of blood sugar and insulin in diabetics. Stevia has no fat, no carbohydrates, which makes it perfect for diabetics and low-carb diets.
In 1995, the FDA allowed stevia and its extracts to be imported to the US as a dietary supplement, but not as a sweetener. Many countries around the world, however, are major consumers of stevia as a table-top sweetener as well as a food additive, such as Brazil and the whole of South America, South Korea, China and the whole of the Pacific Rim as well as Europe, Australia and North America. In Japan alone, consumers used the equivalent of 700 metric tones of stevia leaves in 1987 and it can be assumed that this figure has since increased. Before approving stevia as a sweetening agent, the Japanese performed numerous safety tests and the results were consistently negative. Moreover, its use without adverse effects for the last 20 years makes a point.
Refined sugar is pretty much devoid of nutritional benefits and, at the least, represents empty calories in the diet. However, at the worst, it has been associated with many degenerative diseases. Stevia has none of sugar’s unhealthy implications.
Aspartame, thought to be the most toxic of the artificial sweeteners currently in use, is a man-made synthetic compound consisting of two isolated amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid chemically bonded by methanol (wood alcohol). When we have elevated levels of phenylalanine it can cause changes in brain chemistry resulting in seizures, mania, severe depression, anxiety attacks and insomnia among other symptoms. Aspartic acid is a neurotransmitter, and some scientists believe the aspartic acid in aspartame causes brain lesions by literally exciting brain cells to death. Methanol, in nature, occurs in combination with ethyl alcohol, its antidote, but in aspartame, methanol appears alone, without its antidote partner to keep it in check. Once broken down in your system, it causes metabolic acidosis and is especially toxic to the optic nerve. There are thousands of complaints associated with aspartame on file at the FDA and the CDC. Some of these serious side effects include nausea, headaches, heart palpitations, blindness, suicidal depression, gastrointestinal disorders and memory loss. It is believed that there are thousands more adverse effects associated with aspartame that people don’t associate with the use of aspartame, or are simply not reported by doctors and patients.
Stevia has numerous benefits as a sweetener – it contains no calories, is natural, promotes good dental health by reducing sugar intake, and is heat-stable, making it a viable alternative to sugar and sweeteners in cooking and baking. It can be used by people suffering from phenylketonuria, a condition which requires a strict diet without artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. Stevia can be used by diabetics and obese people who are trying to lose weight. As an added bonus, some users report that using stevia lessens cravings for sweets. And most important for your health, stevia has a long history of safety.