Stevia, a natural sweetener derived from a South American herb, has been taking the North American market by storm lately. What do we know about this herb?
Stevia originated in Paraguay, where it has been used for hundreds of years by local Indian tribes. Japan and other Asian nations have also been using it for several decades as a sugar substitute. In its purified form, stevia is called rebaudioside A. For the past few years, food production giants have been increasingly opting for this sweetener for many of their low-calorie products, and it seems that this is just the beginning.
The rebaudioside A extract from stevia is estimated to be 300 times sweeter than sugar. Its taste is similar to that of sugar, although it may have a bitter aftertaste if the stevia is highly concentrated. It could be a useful replacement for sugar, particularly for persons suffering from diabetes or obesity, as it contains almost no calories.
According to a report published in 2008 by the World Health Organization, the extract shows no toxicity even at doses much greater than what humans would normally ingest as part of their diet. In a short study involving individuals with type 2 diabetes or hypertension, stevia was found to be safe at a daily dose of 4 mg per kilogram of body weight. This represents a daily dose of 240 mg of stevia for an adult weighing 60 kilograms (132 pounds). However, there is still some controversy regarding the safety of stevia, mainly due to the lack of long-term studies conducted on it.
In short, when used in moderation, stevia appears to be a safe substitute to sugar for persons wishing to reduce their calorie or refined sugar intake. In addition, amateur gardeners can even grow the herb in their garden!