If you’ve ever tasted stevia, you know that it’s exceptionally sweet. Even just chewing on a leaf from the stevia plant will give you a mouthful of sweetness.
But unlike other sweeteners like honey or even brown rice syrup, since it’s not actually a sugar (and isn’t pretending to be one), it won’t raise your blood sugar!
Now, researchers have discovered exactly why that is. And what they found might make it possible for stevia one day to become widely recognized not just as a safe alternative but also an all-natural treatment for diabetics.
But there’s something else about this sweet herb you need to know: Most, if not all, of the stevia products you’ll find in the supermarket aren’t stevia.
Stevia has been around — and consumed — for a very long time. And for probably just as long, it has been known that it’s a safe sweetener for diabetics to use, something on which even the Mayo Clinic agrees.
Also, past research has found the herb can improve insulin sensitivity, delay insulin resistance, and reduce blood glucose after eating. And there is now some sound science to support — if not definitely prove — the claims that stevia, unlike other sweeteners, is actually helpful in controlling blood sugar, and may even be beneficial for diabetics.
What researchers at the University of Leuven, in Belgium discovered is that in laboratory mice, two of the main components of the stevia plant (stevioside and steviol) stimulate a protein that can protect against abnormally high blood-sugar levels.
The researchers believe that stevia may even be able to stop diabetes from developing in the first place!
But par for the course where Big Food is concerned, it took a safe, all-natural herb and refined it to the point where even the FDA says that the products you see on the supermarket shelf “are not stevia.” On top of that, they typically contain “bulking” agents that come from genetically-modified corn ingredients.
Years ago, stevia was on some kind of FDA hit list. The agency even went so far as to send armed agents to seize products that contained tiny amounts of stevia leaf or its extracts.
Those familiar with the story said this was because of a “trade complaint” submitted by an unnamed big company that stevia, which had long been used with no adverse effects, had not been approved by the FDA.
But then came Coke, which along with the mega-corn refining company, Cargill, had decided to make a stevia product and use it as a sweetener — something that was long forbidden by the FDA.
And guess what? Suddenly, the agency had no objections!
To get the benefits of this herb, you should look for the real deal. For one of the purest forms of stevia, get a whole-leaf concentrate. It has a molasses-like appearance and is quite strong tasting, so only a few drops are needed for sweetening. (It’s officially considered to be a dietary supplement, per FDA restrictions). You can also find clear stevia extracts in liquid form.
And if you like to garden, you can easily grow your own stevia plants. The herb has gotten so popular lately that I’ve been noticing them at big-box store garden centers. Fresh stevia leaves should be harvested as late as possible in the fall, as the cooler temps will make the leaves even sweeter.
“Researchers unravel how stevia controls blood sugar levels” KU Leuven, April 11, 2017, ScienceDaily, sciencedaily.com