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STEVIA: Sweet, but innocent

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Six months ago, a rainy day of November, my doctor diagnosed that I have type 2 Diabetes Immediately, I got on medication, along with changing my daily nutrition. Among other things that the doctor told me there was something that I had in my mind every day. “Remember,” he said, “diabetes makes your life better if you are careful.”

 

The doctor was right; after the first week of disappointment and changing lifestyle and diet, with a huge desire for anything sweet, I realised that things were not as complicated as they initially appeared.

 

“Careful,” he said but how? Searching the Internet on diabetes I found foods that really made my body much healthier than I possibly thought. I understood the term glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) of foods. I’ve learned to calculate the glycemic load of a food by multiplying the glycemic index by the amount of carbohydrate in grams provided by a food and dividing the total by 100.

That’s not a particularly user-friendly way of describing it…
Let’s do it simple. The glycemic load for a food, expressed in a value range of 1-100, is also broken into low, medium and high ‘load’ rankings, as follows:

 

  • Low: 10 or less, minimally affects the blood sugar level.
  • Medium: 11-19, medium affects the blood sugar level.
  • High: 20 and over, greatly affects blood sugar level and in short period of time.

 

Doctors say that diabetics should use foods with lower glycemic load of 10 (GL<10), and the lower the better. That’s it. Within two weeks everything changed. I calculated the GL of each food and I adjusted the quantity on my plate. The blood sugar level was stable at normal levels. After a month my doctor reduced my medication therapy after reading the detailed measurements of glucose in my blood.Everything in my daily nutrition came back again, except sweets. My desire for sweets brought Stevia to my life.

Stevia rebaudiana is a small shrub that belongs to the Asteraceae family. It’s really a plant. From Stevia, steviol glycosides are extracted, which have up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar without any calories.

 

The history of the culture of Stevia mainly stems from Paraguay and Brazil. Originally Stevia only grew in the northern regions of South America. The plant has been known for centuries by the native Guarani-Indians for the sweet taste of its leaves. They use it, amongst other things, to make “mate” herbal tea. Stevia is often described as “sweet herb of Paraguay” and is referred to as the “sweetest plant of the world.” Such terms show the amazing power of this herb.

 

Therefore, Stevia rebaudiana has garnered attention with the rise in demand for low-carbohydrate food alternatives. Stevia also has shown promise in medical research for treating such conditions as obesity and high blood pressure. Stevia has negligible effect on blood glucose, as a result it is attractive as a natural sweetener to diabetics and others on carbohydrate-controlled diets.

 

The use of Stevia rebaudiana and its sweet contents (steviol glycosides) as a sweetener is simple and has various advantages over other types of sweeteners:

  1. It is a completely natural non-synthetic product;
  2. steviol glycoside (the sweetener) contains absolutely no calories;
  3. the leaves can be used in their natural state;
  4. thanks to its enormous sweetening power, only small quantities need to be used;
  5. the plant is non-toxic;
  6. the leaves, as well as the pure steviol glycoside, can be cooked and used for baking;
  7. no aftertaste or bitterness at optimal dosage;
  8. stable when heated up to 200 degrees;
  9. non fermentative;
  10. flavor enhancing;
  11. clinically tested and frequently used by humans without negative effect;
  12. ideal, non-addictive sweetener for children;
  13. shelf life of years;
  14. can be mixed with other sweeteners with remarkable enhancing effects

Many different uses of Stevia are already well-known: as table sugar, in soft drinks, pastry, pickles, candy, jam, yoghurt, chewing gum, sorbets etc. The dried leaves of Stevia are about 40 times sweeter than sugar. The high sweetening power of steviol glycoside is remarkable. It is about 300 times that of sugar, at optimal dosage. Therefore, one must check the taste when preparing food in the kitchen. The industry, when using steviol glycoside in ready meals, measures the required amounts extremely carefully according to the optimal dosage.

 

The flavor characteristics of steviol glycoside are dependent on the purity and concentration of Rebaudiosid A. Unlike sugar, steviol glycoside cannot preserve foods (e.g. jam). Browning during baking and caramelising do not happen. Of course, steviol glycosides cannot be metabolised through yeast. (Source: http://www.eustas.org)

 

I bought and planted stevia in my garden, and I have been picking the leaves to use them in my coffee and my tea. Also, I started conducting a more thorough research on Stevia. We are actually preparing an episode in our Functional Foods documentary series. Stay tuned to watch the episode in the near future.

 

The title of this article was borrowed from the book of Mr. Paul Kapoglou, an Agronomist and researcher on Stevia.

The glycemic load (GL) is zero. It’s natural, sweet, but innocent.

 

Vangelis Tremopoulos
Producer/Director

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