Stevia: The Healthy Sweetener

Wouldn't it be great if you could reach for a sweetener that would not only satisfy your craving, but endow you with healthful properties too? Before you dismiss the thought as fantasy, take a moment to learn about stevia. This sweetener is derived from a plant and not associated with any of sugar's less desirable qualities. Though it is enjoyed as a sweetener, stevia is very unlike white sugar, which is a menace to anyone whose health is compromised.

In countries such as Brazil and Paraguay, stevia has long been used to sweeten the native drink, yerba mate. People use stevia to help make bitter medicinal teas more palatable, but also for the qualities it provides. Stevia is helpful in treating obesity, heartburn and other serious conditions such as high blood pressure.

Japan is reported to use the highest amount of stevia as a food sweetener. In the 1970s, when the popular sugar substitutes cyclamate and saccharin were suspected of being carcinogenic, Japanese researchers became interested in stevia as a natural substitute. Now it is widely used in soft drinks, foods and for table use. Although some European studies suggest that more research is needed, the Japanese maintain that stevia causes no major health concerns in its millions of users. It accounts for about 40% of the food sweetener products use in Japan.

Stevia is much sweeter than sugar. A little tiny spoonful of powder packs a potent punch, so be conservative with use. It is a handy sweetener for those of us who are watching our weight, because it contains nowhere near the calories of sugar or honey. When using it in any recipe, be sure to adjust your amounts. Taste it to see how sweet it is. Stevia comes in powder and extract form, and in green or brown powder or extract, as well as in white or clear. You'll be getting much more of stevia's nutritional qualities with the green or brown type.

Sad but true, white refined sugar and many of its chemical substitutes will more than likely help ruin your teeth, add fat and weaken your immune system, making it harder for you to ward off colds and flus. Stevia seems to be a much sweeter choice, because the evidence seems to point out that it's even good for you.

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