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[STEVIA CONVERSION TABLE]
[STEVIA AND DIABETES]
[STEVIA AND WEIGHT LOSS]
[STEVIA AND TOOTH DECAY]
[CHILDREN AND STEVIA]
[STEVIA AND HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE]
[STEVIA'S ANTI-AGING POTENTIAL]
[STEVIA AND PREGNANT OR BREASTFEEDING WOMEN]
Most people have at least an occasional craving for some thing sweet, and they often satisfy this desire with sugar-laden, fat-filled, foods. One of the biggest problems with sugar is that it can markedly elevate blood sugar levels, throwing off the body's delicate chemical balance. Addictive in nature, sugar also leaches important minerals from the body, causing weakness to the immune system. And any excess sugar is converted by the body into fat. Artificial sugar alternatives such as saccharin and aspartame are certainly not the complete answer, considering their health risks are not fully known (see Chapter 3). So how can that sweet tooth be satisfied without compromising good health? The answer may lie in stevia, nature's calorie-free sweetener.
Although anyone can benefit from using stevia instead of sugar or chemical sugar substitutes, there are certain people who are more likely to benefit from its remarkable sweetening potential. Some of these people include those with diabetes, those interested in decreasing caloric intake, and children.
STEVIA AND DIABETES [back to top]
If you have diabetes, chances are you consume a large amount of artificial sweeteners. Until now, these sweeteners have been the only sugar alternative for those with diabetes. The problem, however, is that there has always been a concern that overconsumption of these synthetic sweeteners may cause some harm to the body. Could partial or complete stevia substitution for artificial sweeteners be a good idea? We believe so. Stevia leaves have been used as herbal teas by diabetic patients in Asian countries for many years. No side effects have been observed in these patients after continued consumption (Suttajit, 1993). Furthermore, studies have shown that stevia extract can actually improve blood sugar levels (Alvarez, 1981, Curi, 1986).
In 1986, Brazilian researchers from the Universities of Maringa and Sao Paolo evaluated the role of stevia in blood sugar (Curi, 1986). Sixteen healthy volunteers were given extracts from 5 grams of stevia leaves every six hours for three days. The extracts were prepared by immersing the leaves in boiling water for twenty minutes. A glucose tolerance test (GTT) was performed before and after the administration of the extract. During this test, the volunteers were given a glass of water with glucose. Blood sugar levels were then evaluated over the next few hours. The results were compared to those of another group of volunteers that did not receive the stevia extracts. Those with a predisposition to diabetes showed marked rise in blood sugar levels. The group given stevia was found to have significantly lower blood sugar levels as indicated by the glucose tolerance tests.
The results of this study were a positive indication that, potentially, stevia can be beneficial to diabetics. And even if stevia by itself does not lower blood sugar levels, the simple fact that a person with diabetes would consume less sugar is of significant importance in maintaining better blood sugar control.
We suggest that switch to stevia. You can begin by using it instead of sugar or an artificial sweetener to flavor your coffee or tea. After a few days or weeks, as your comfort level with stevia increases, gradually use more of the herbal extract in those dishes or beverages in which you would normally use a different sweetener. With time, more research will become available on the safety of stevia and artificial sweeteners. Based on the results of these studies, you can better determine which sweeteners to continue using in greater amounts.
Although some argue that artificial sweeteners are safe in small amounts, problems may arise if they are used in excess. Even partially substituting stevia for artificial sweeteners can help reduce any potential risk.
STEVIA AND WEIGHT LOSS [back to top]
It would seem quite obvious that even partially substituting a no-calorie sweetener for sugar would help reduce caloric intake and thus contribute to weight loss. (One ounce-approximately 2 teaspoons-of sugar contains 50 calories. The average daily sugar intake for persons in the United States is 13 ounces, or 650 calories.) Such is the case with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.
Researchers at the Center for the Study of Nutrition Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, studied the influence of aspartame on obesity (Blackburn, 1997). In one study, 163 women were randomly divided into two groups. Each group was assigned to either consume or abstain from aspartame-sweetened foods and beverages for sixteen weeks. Both groups were also actively involved in a weight-control program using a variety of modalities. At the end of the study, both the group on aspartame and the group without the synthetic sweetener lost an average of 10 kilograms (22 pounds). During the maintenance phase that lasted for the next two years, the women assigned to the aspartame group gained back an average of 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) while those who were not on aspartame gained back 9.4 kilograms (20 pounds)- practically all of the weight they had previously lost. The researchers concluded, "These data suggest that participation in a multidisciplinary weight-control program that includes aspartame may facilitate the long-term maintenance of reduced body weight."
Unfortunately, no formal studies have been done to evaluate stevia substitution in relation to weight loss. However, as stevia has virtually no calories, we would suspect the results to be similar to those in the aspartame study.
Are you the type of person who uses a lot of sugar? Do you use it to sweeten beverages? Do you sprinkle it on cereal? Do you consume it in baked goods and other sweet treats? If so, there's a good possibility that even partially substituting these refined sugar calories with calorie-free stevia can make a difference in your weight.
STEVIA AND TOOTH DECAY [back to top]
Even a five-year-old child knows that sugar can cause tooth decay. There are certain bacteria in your mouth, particularly Streptococcimutans, that ferment various sugars and produce acids. These acids, in turn, eat through the enamel of the tooth, causing a decayed spot or cavity. For a long time, scientists have searched to find alternative sweeteners that are not fermentable by bacteria and, hence, do not cause cavities. Artificial sweeteners have been helpful in this regard.
Does stevia lead to tooth cavities? According to one study done on laboratory rats, the answer is no. In this study, stevioside and rebaudioside A -- the two primary sweet constituents of the stevia plant -- were tested on a group of sixty rat pups (Das, 1992). The rats were divided into four groups. Group 1 was fed 30 percent of its diet in sucrose (table sugar). Group 2 was given 0.5 percent of its diet in stevioside. Group 3 received 0.5 percent of its diet in rebaudioside A. Group 4, the control group, was given no sugar or sweetener of any kind. There was no difference in the food or water intake among the groups.
After five weeks, the rats were evaluated. There was a significant difference in the condition of their teeth. The sugar-fed rats in Group 1 had significantly more cavities than the rats in the other groups. The rats in Groups 2, 3, and 4 had about the same number of cavities. The researchers stated, "It was concluded that neither stevioside nor rebaudioside A is cariogenic [cavity causing] under the conditions of this study." It appears that the chemicals within the stevia plant that impart its sweetness are not fermentable, and thus do not cause tooth cavities.
CHILDREN AND STEVIA [back to top]
Candies, sodas, ice cream, pies, cakes. ..It's disturbing how many sugar-sweetened products are consumed by children on a daily basis. As you have seen, sugar is implicated in tooth decay and obesity. Artificial sweeteners, which have other potentiallong-term health consequences, are not the complete answer.
Certainly, limiting your child's intake of sugary products is strongly suggested. Another option is substituting stevia for sugar wherever possible. For instance, instead of sweetening that glass of ice cold lemonade with sugar or aspartame, use a few drops of stevia instead. Or try substituting stevia for the sugar in your oatmeal cookies. We believe that even partially substituting sugar with stevia can help satisfy your child's sweet tooth while decreasing his or her risks from excessive sugar intake.
Eventually, and hopefully soon, stevia will be used in this country as an added ingredient in a variety of commercial products such as soda, candy, chewing gum, prepared foods, and baked goods. It has been a successful addition to such products in Japan for the last two decades.
STEVIA AND HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE [back to top]
In 1991, Dr. M.S. Melis, from the Department of Biology at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, did a study to determine the effects of stevioside on blood pressure. After giving a one-time high-dose injection of stevioside to a group of laboratory rats, he found that they experienced a reduction in blood pressure as well as an increased elimination of sodium (Melis, 1991). A slight diuretic effect also occurred. The effect was even stronger when stevia was combined with verapamil, a medicine commonly prescribed for lowering blood pressure.
In a similar study in 1995, Dr. Melis administered oral doses of stevia to lab rats for up to sixty days. After twenty days, there were no changes in the stevia-treated rats compared to those who did not receive the extract. However, after both forty and sixty days of administering the stevia, the rats showed reduction in blood pressure, a diuretic effect, and an increase in sodium loss. The amount of blood going to the kidneys was also increased. (Melis, 1991).
One small study in Brazil involved eighteen average, healthy human volunteers between the ages of twenty and forty years. After the test subjects were given tea prepared with stevia leaves for thirty days, a 10-percent lowering of blood pressure occurred (Boeck, 1981). Although this study gives an indication of stevioside's effects on lowering blood pressure, certainly more human studies are needed before we can know the full vascular effects of stevia consumption.
STEVIA AND PREGNANT OR BREASTFEEDING WOMEN
[back to top]
No human studies involving stevia and pregnant or breastfeeding women have been conducted at this point in time. As a result, we do not know with certainty whether its use during this period is safe. Although we suspect that small amounts of stevia will not cause any problems in these women, we cannot say for sure.
STEVIA'S ANTI-AGING POTENTIAL [back to top]
We know from numerous animal studies that reducing caloric intake can be a factor in extending lifespan. We know that excess amounts of calorie-laden sugar can contribute to high blood sugar, obesity, and a number of other unhealthy side effects, including aging.
Glucose (sugar) has been implicated in the aging process by its ability to react with some proteins, like collagen, to produce glycation. That is, the glucose molecule attaches to some amino acids of a protein and makes the protein less functional, leading to disturbances within a cell. The initial phase of this attachment is called glycation.
As we age, the amount of glycation of the proteins in our bodies tends to increase. We should also note that blood sugar generally increases as we age. It is known that glycation of human tendon and aortic collagen increases with age in proportion to the increase in blood glucose that occurs with aging (Schleicher, 1996 and 1997).
This age-related increase in glycation, though, can be partially prevented by caloric restriction. In other words, avoiding high sugar and high calorie consumption could, theoretically, over the years and decades, help our proteins stay healthier.
Although, at this time, the therapeutic potential of stevia has not been fully determined, a number of positive effects have been indicated. Partial substitution of stevia for sugar can have a positive effect on blood sugar. Stevia is helpful for those with diabetes, those interested in reducing their caloric intake, and those interested in reducing sugar-related tooth decay. It also promotes general good health and longevity.
Reprinted from The Stevia Cookbook by Ray Sahelian, MD and Donna Gates.
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