What is stevia, what are health benefits of stevia and possible side effects?
Rarely does a product that comes onto the market cause as much controversy, as stevia has. Stevia has been recognized as a safe to consume food additive by the US Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but there are still concerns about possible short and long term health issues with the product. Despite these concerns, big brand manufacturers are now beginning to use Stevia as a ‘natural’ sweetener in products, so here are some facts about stevia to help you decide, if you want to have stevia in your diet:
What is stevia?
Stevia is a herb like plant, a sugar substitute, belonging to the sunflower family that has been used for centuries in both Paraguay and Brazil, as a sweetener. It was first marketed in the US, as a herbal supplement and has only recently, after much controversy, been approved as a food product.
What is stevia used for?
Stevia is used in foods as a non-calorific sweetener alternative to sugar in foods and drinks. It is already used as a sweetener in many other countries around the world and it is marketed as a natural alternative to chemical based sweeteners.
What are the health benefits of stevia?
Apart from its obvious benefits, as being an alternative to sugar, it is actually three hundred times as effective as a sweetener, as sugar, it also has some other purported health benefits. It has been used as a treatment for diabetics and it is thought to reduce blood pressure. It may also promote healthy heart muscles.
Is stevia safe?
We have to stress that stevia has been deemed safe by the US Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, there are still health concerns about the product in some quarters. Some studies have indicated that people experience side effects from using stevia and that one of the chemicals, found in stevia, steviol, may even be a cause of cancer. For the sake of balance, though, there have also been concerns about the side effects of other artificial sweeteners, as well.
What are the reported stevia side effects?
Some consumers of stevia have reported experiencing mild side effects after consuming stevia and these have included feelings of nausea, mild dizziness, muscle pain and numbness. These are consumer reported and have not been taken from any supervised medical trials.
What’s the final verdict on stevia?
Well, to be honest, the jury still appears to be out on stevia. The FDA has not approved the use of stevia leaves or simple extracts of the plant; it has only approved the use of specific compounds that can be extracted from the plant, calling these chemicals ‘generally recognized as safe’. On the other hand, many of the potential health fears over stevia stem only from experiments that have been carried out on animals and when those animals have been fed very large quantities of stevia.
At the moment, it would appear that, like many foods, too much stevia may not be good for you and, certainly, any food that lowers blood pressure should be treated with caution, especially, if you are taking any kind of medication. With so much contradicting evidence and given the relative newness of stevia based products on the market, you might want to give it some time, before you start using stevia products extensively.
Do you like adding stevia in your tea or coffee? Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below.
Stay healthy and happy!