Stevia plant (herb) nutrition facts
Stevia plant is a small, sweet leaf herb of South American origin used by native Guarani tribes of Paraguay since centuries. Does stevia is safe alternative to common sugar in carbohydrate-controlled diets? Does it have healthy nutrient profile safe for human consumption like other herbs such as basil, mint, thyme etc?
Recent scientific trials firmly establish that this sweet leaf herb has in-fact many health benefiting plant derived phyto-chemical compounds that help control blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure in addition to its use as natural sweetener. Together with the rise in demand for low-calorie food alternatives, stevia has drawn the attention of health conscious fitness lovers all around the planet.
Stevia is a small perennial herb belongs to the Asteraceae family of the genus Stevia. Its scientific name is Stevia rebaudiana. Some commonly known are honey leaf plant, sweet chrysanthemum, sweetleaf stevia, and sugarleaf...etc.
Stevia plant grows 2-4 feet in height with slender, branched stems and flourishes well all over temperate and some parts of tropical regions. It is being cultivated as commercial crop in Japan, China, Thailand, Paraguay and Brazil. Today China is the leading exporter of stevia products.
Almost all the parts of the plant taste sweet; however, the sweet glycosides are typically concentrated more in its dark green serrated leaves. The Guarani Indians of Paraguay have used its leaves to sweeten drinks and foods and in various traditional medicines. In the modern times it is widely used in foods in many parts East Asian region and South American countries.
Health benefits of stevia
Stevia herb parts are very low in calories. Parts by parts its dry leaves are roughly 40 times sweeter than sugar. The sweetness of sugar in stevia is due to several glycoside compounds including stevioside, steviolbioside, rebaudiosides A-E, and dulcoside.
Stevioside is non-carbohydrate glycoside compound. Hence it is lack of properties that sucrose and other carbohydrates have. Stevia extracts like rebaudioside-A are found to be 300 times sweeter than sugar. In contrast to sugar, however, stevia extracts have several unique properties like longer shelf life, have high temperature tolerance, non-fermentative, and have near zero calories.
In addition, stevia plant has many sterols and antioxidant compounds like triterpenes, flavonoids, and tannins. Some of flavonoid polyphenolic anti-oxidant phyto-chemicals present in stevia is kaempferol, quercetin, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, isoquercitrin, isosteviol…etc. Studies found that kaempferol can reduce risk of pancreatic cancer by 23% (American journal of epidemiology) .
Chlorgenic acid reduces conversion of glycogen to glucose and also reduces absorption of glucose in the gut thus helps reduce blood sugar levels. The studies also confirmed a reduction in blood glucose levels and an increase in the liver concentrations of glucose-6-phosphate and of glycogen.
Certain glycosides in stevia extract have been found to dilate blood vessels, increase sodium excretion and urine output. In effect stevia, at slightly higher doses than as sweetener, can help lower blood pressure.
Being a non-carbohydrate sweetener, stevia would not favor the growth of Streptococcus mutans bacteria in the mouth which is attributed to be a causative agent for dental caries and tooth cavities. On the other hand, its compounds are found to inhibit caries causing bacteria in the mouth.
In addition, being a herb, stevia contain many vitals minerals, vitamins that are selectively absent in the artificial sweeteners.
Stevia plant uses in traditional medicine
Stevia extract has been in use by native South Americans (where it is known as caa-he-éé or kaa jheéé) to reduce weight; to treat wound infections, inflammatory conditions, swelling in the legs and as a tonic to treat depression.
Selection and storage
In its natural habitat, stevia plant leaves are harvested as and when required. However, most of stevia that is made available in the markets is grown under green house conditions or at least in supervised farming. If you grow your own stevia plant in the backyard, pick up leaves with short stem for fresh use. In general fresh leaves are sun-dried, powdered and stored in an airtight container for future use.
To store, place it in cool, dark, humid free place like you do it for other dried herbs such as oregno, where it will stay fresh for several months.
Preparation and serving methods
Farm fresh stevia plant leaves can be used directly in drinks as sweetener. However, most often its dried powder/ refined stevioside/ stevia syrup are being used in the cooking.
Remember to use dried stevia sugar in small proportions as it is nearly 30 times sweeter than cane sugar. Roughly one teaspoonful of dried leaves powder is equivalent to one cup of sugar; therefore, use it in small quantities adjusting the amount to achieve your desired levels of sweetness.
You can also make stevia syrup by adding a cup of hot water to 1/4 cup of fresh, finely-crushed leaves. This mixture is allowed to settle for 24 hours, filtered and then be refrigerated. You may also buy stevia sugar rebaudioside-A which is a white, crystalline powder, approximately 300 times sweeter than cane sugar.
Here are some serving tips:
In Japan and in many East Asian regions, stevia plant parts are being used to sweeten tea, sweets, sauce, confectionary, and soft drinks.
Stevia extracts are further refined for use as table sugar. It can then be added in jam, yoghurt, ice-creams, smoothies, deserts, chewing gum, and sorbets and also to sweeten bitter medicines.
In Brazil, it is used as a remedy to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, stress conditions…etc.
Truth facts about stevia plant
Stevia is the herb plant in the Asteraceae family. It is being used in some advanced countries as a safe low calorie alternative especially in carbohydrate restricted diets.
It has been used by Guarani tribes of Paraguay for centuries without any any adverse effects; the fact which is endorsed recently by World Health Organisation.
Further stevia has many natural anti-oxidants that help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and control diabetes.
Stevia can be safely used in pregnancy and in infants.
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