In the War on Obesity is Stevia Friend or Foe?
In 1899 a Swiss botanist in the jungles of Paraguay discovered a plant that tasted sweet, but wasn't sugar
November 14, 2016
We all know that to live a better, longer and healthier life we need to establish and then maintain a proper weight for our age, height and gender. But we also know that a sweet taste is awesome. Candy, cupcakes, pies, soft drinks – all delicious – all sweet – all absolutely horrible for our well-being so what to do? We invent sugar substitutes such as saccharin and aspartame.
The problem is that those artificial sweeteners bring even more serious health issues including a cancer scare now largely disproven and even evidence that they actually can cause weight gain. We love appeasing our sweet taste buds but no matter what we do it is going to find a way to take us down. Damn!
Then way back in 1899 Swiss botanist Moisés Santiago Bertoni was walking around the jungles of Paraguay when he happened to find a plant that tasted real sweet but wasn't sugar.
By 1931 two French chemists isolated the glycosides that give this exotic plant its sweet taste. Finally by 1955 the exact structure of the aglycone and of the glycoside were published in a scientific journal and thus began the first steps in bringing the non-artificial and non-sugar sweetener Stevia into the commercial world. The first commercial Stevia sweetener came to market in Japan in 1971. Today the Japanese consume more Stevia than any other people on earth. Stevia bumped into a problem with the FDA which banned its use in 1991. But after further investigation the FDA approved its use as a food additive in 2008. Since then the popularity of Stevia has exploded. But is it friend or is it foe?
Do understand that it begins as all natural as a plant but by the time it gets to your store's shelf it most likely has been "enhanced" with one or more additives. The two most common are erythritol, a sugar alcohol or dextrose a starch derived glycose typically extracted from corn, wheat or rice. The good news is that you may use Stevia in baking but it does not caramelize so there goes your crème brulée. Also there has been some recent research that suggested that possibly Stevia use may actually increase weight, but it as of now is far from determinative and is much more applicable to artificial sweeteners such as saccharin and aspartame.
So what does this all add up to? From everything I have been able to find in my research as of now Stevia, a zero calorie sweetener, does seem to be an absolutely wonderful sugar substitute. Not all brands are the same, so do read the labels as always and buy only the most natural of if you must "organic." It will make those strawberries absolutely fantastic and your cup of coffee pure delight. But, Stevia will not all by itself help you to shed pounds if that is your goal. Doing that still requires a full dietary modification along with some good exercise. At least with Stevia you can now have a sweet time doing it.
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