It seems that most of the people I know are on a constant search for a healthy, no-calorie sweetener. Rather than give up that sweet taste, they are looking for an alternative to sugar. This post will put stevia under the microscope to see how it shapes up.
Stevia is held up by many to be a natural product. It certainly starts out that way. Stevia is an herb (Stevia rebaudiana) that has been used, in its natural form, for at least 1500 years in Central & South America. Beginning in the 1970s, manufacturers began creating extracts and aqueous solutions from the plant. In my opinion, that is always the beginning of trouble because we can’t expect an extract to behave in the human body in the same way as the whole plant. That has been shown to be a problem.
As a sweetener, stevia can be a good choice since it has no actual sugar or carbs but provides a sweet. But, the bottom line, as always, is this: The less processed, the better. The white powdered stevia has clearly been processed, and many companies aren’t willing to tell you how it was processed. The best choice is either fresh or dried stevia leaves. The dried leaves can be crushed and added to your drink. I even found a recipe for making a liquid Stevia extract!
How can you know your stevia is natural and unprocessed? Someone told me once that you should choose stevia that is green. But that’s not really a certainty because processing could include a green dye. Here’s some pointers:
- Steer clear of white powder stevia products.
- Avoid stevia products that use the word extract.
- Seek out the leaves. If they’re dry you can crush them.
- If you have a green thumb, consider growing your own. Apparently it’s easy to grow.
Stevia Rebaudiana Photo Courtesy FarOutFlora via Flickr (Stevia-Rebaudiana.jpg)
Stevia Packets Photo Courtesy …-Wink-… via Flickr (stevia-packets.jpg)