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What is Stevia and the History of Stevia?

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Stevia is an excessive sweet-tasting plant used in sweetened beverages and tea since almost the sixteenth century. 

Stevia is a member of the chrysanthemum family, a subgroup of the Asteraceae family, aka ragweed family, and its scientific name is Stevia Rebaudiana. The main active compound in it is steviol glycoside. The products commonly found in the shops do not contain pure whole stevia leaf but a highly refined extract. These extracts are usually mainly stevioside and rebaudioside-A (Reb-A).  

They are heat stable, pH-stable, and non- fermentable. Since the body is not metabolizing from glycosides to Stevia, these products contain virtually zero calories, similar to artificial sweeteners. Some of the extracts have a liquorice-like or bitter taste. Stevia’s taste has a longer duration than sugar and also has a slower onset than it.

History of Stevia:

The Guarani people of South America have been using this plant for more than fifteen hundred years. They call it ka’a he’ê (“sweet herb”). Traditional use of these leaves has been going on for hundreds of years in countries like Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina in the form of sugar for tea, medicine, or sweet dishes. 

During the 1900s, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not agree with generally recognizing Stevia as safe. Hence, the plant remained banned for all uses. After the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, the FDA revised its stance and gave Stevia’s service permission as limited to dietary supplements and still not as a food additive. In 1999, the European Commission also banned Stevia’s use in food products pending further research. It was not until December of 2008 that the FDA gave a no objection for GRAS status to Rebaudioside-A’s derivatives Truvia and PureVia, which although still weren’t pure Stevia, it’s highly purified extracts. There were still many hurdles in the coming years, but as of 2017, high-purity Stevia glycosides are known to be completely safe and can be used as ingredients in food products sold in the United States.

Health Benefits of Stevia :

To date, many of the researches regarding Stevia are inconclusive. This sweetener’s impact on a person’s health also depends on the amount of product consumed and the time of the day we consume it. Even then, some clear benefits mentioned are not disputable also.

Uses of Stevia :

Stevia can be used in our households in place of table sugar in our favourite foods and beverages. One teaspoon of sugar may be replaced with just a pinch of stevia powder.  Stevia leaf extracts have been available in the US since the mid-1990s in dietary supplements containing both sweet and unsweet components of the leaf. 

Use of Stevia In Tasty Ways:

Things To Know About Stevia:

The FDA still hasn’t approved the use of whole or crude Stevia in food products. There’s also a concern that crude Stevia might harm our cardiovascular system, kidneys, and reproductive system. Usage may also drop blood pressure too low. Although Stevia is safe for people with diabetes, brands containing dextrose or maltodextrin should be taken with caution. A 2019 study presented a possible link between Stevia and disruption in the helpful intestinal flora. Stevia products consumed with sugar alcohols may cause digestive problems.  Stevia made with Reb-A is safe to use during pregnancy. 
 
Some studies theorized that Stevia might be carcinogenic and might disrupt metabolism, but none of these theories has been proven. In fact, there is evidence suggesting Stevia may even help fight some types of cancer.