Stevia is sweeping the natural-food industry. Consumers want to use it, stores want to sell it and manufacturers want to include it in their food and cosmetic products. Unfortunately, very few people know anything about stevia, the various forms in which it comes, how and when to use it or which forms offer the maximum benefits.
Prior to 1991, stevia was in widespread use in the United States and several other countries. In Japan, it was developed by a complex refining process into a sweetener called stevioside-a white powder 250 to 300 times sweetener than sugar-which has a 47 percent market share in the Japanese commercial - sweetening industry.
In 1984, stevia importers were informed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that they could no longer import concentrated stevia liquid into the United States for sale as a sweetener. FDA officials did say that there was no problem with importing stevia in tea bags for sale as a tea. The FDA imposed an import alert on stevia in May 1991, instructing importation agents to not allow stevia in any form into the United States. The agency later relaxed that order, allowing stevia to be imported and sold only as a liquid concentrate for skin care. The FDA issued a revised import alert Sept. 18, 1995, informing its agents that stevia could be imported and sold if, and only if, it was labeled as a dietary supplement.
Good quality stevia leaves, whether whole, cut and sifted or in tea bags, are about 30 times sweeter than sugar and have no calories. The best quality leaves are imported from South America and Mexico, and are about 12 percent to 13 percent stevioside. The poorest quality but most ample supply is currently coming from China, where the leaves contain only about 5 percent to 6 percent stevioside. A simple taste test quickly demonstrates the difference.
A few companies are marketing liquid stevia extracts or concentrates. The water-based concentrates are superior to the alcohol-based extracts because they usually contain a greater concentration of the nutrients essential to the healing activity. Virtually a11 research performed with whole-leaf stevia has been done with water-based concentrates. Also, alcohol nullifies much of the plant's healing activity on the skin and the scalp. The effectiveness of a water-based concentrate depends on its purity and the ratio of leaves to water used in the preparation process. The more leaves to water, the better and more effective the final product.
In all of its current forms, stevia has a taste unique to itself. With all of its sweetness, there is a bitter taste when the leaf, extract or stevioside powder is placed in the mouth. This bitter taste disappears, as does I the slight licorice flavor, when the product is appropriately diluted in water or another liquid prior to use. The bitter taste comes from the leaves veins. The majority of the veins must be removed during the cut and sift process, or the delightfully sweet taste is overcome by a strong bitterness.
Whether in dry-leaf or concentrate form, stevia has the wonderful ability to help the body regulate blood sugar. Several researchers have reported that, in these natural forms, stevia seems to correct both high and low blood sugar1. Other scientists have stated that stevia appear to lower blood pressure, but does not seem to affect normal blood pressure2. Stevia leaves and the water-based concentrate are sold in some South American countries as aids for a people with diabetes, hypoglycemia and a high blood pressure.
Research has demonstrated that stevia liquid concentrate inhibits the growth and reproduction of harmful bacteria and other infectious organisms, including those that are a problem for the food and cosmetic industries3. Stevia also inhibits the growth of the bacteria that cause gum disease and tooth decay, and in many countries it is used in oral-hygiene products. Because such products are not yet allowed by the FDA, many Americans simply add several drops of stevia concentrate to a small amount of water, swish thoroughly in the mouth and swallow. This ability of stevia to destroy infectious organism may help explain why stevia users report a lower incidence of colds and flu4.
Less known, but no less remarkable, is the ability of water-based stevia concentrate to help heal numerous skin problems, including acne, seborrhea, dermatitis and eczema. It also has been observed that placing it in cuts and wounds brings more rapid healing without scarring. This will cause a severe stinging for several seconds, but is followed by a significant lowering of pain5. Physicians have reported using stevia concentrate to heal psoriasis and burns, while others have reported that it is extremely helpful in healing various lip sores.
The stevioside mentioned earlier, although more intensely sweet than the leaf or concentrate and certainly safe for diabetics and hypoglycemics, does not retain any of the healing properties described above. It is far too sweet in be eaten by itself, but it is in high demand by consumers who want a noncaloric sweetener.
Virtually all scientific researchers who have studied stevia and stevioside have attested to their complete safety. Daniel Mowrey, Ph.D., a renowned scientist and director of the American Phytotherapy Research
Leborstory, has written the following:
"Few substances have ever yielded such consistently negative results in toxicity trials as has stevia. Almost every toxicity test imaginable has been performed on stevia extract or stevioside at one time or another. The results are always negative. No abnormalities in weight change, food intake, cell or membrane characteristics, enzyme and substrate utilization or chromosome characteristics. No cancer no birth defects, no acute and no chronic untoward effects. Nothing6. Stevia is here. Use it, recommend it, sell it and enjoy it.
1.Bracht.A.K. Alvarez. M. and Bracht, A.."Effects of Stevia Rebaudiana Products on Rat Liver Mitochondria, Biochemicial Pharmacology. Vol.34, 6 p.873-882.1985
2.Bocekh, E.A., 'Stevia Rebaudiana (Bert.) Bertoni: Clinical Evaluation of its Acute Action on Cardio-Circulatory; Metabolic and Electrolitic Parameters in 60 Healthy Individuals, "Thrid Brazillian Seminar on Stevia Rebaudiana (Bert.) p.22-23, July 1986
3.Laborator, analyses performed by BBC Laboratory. Tempe. Ariz and ANR Laboratory. Phoenix, Ariz.
4.Mowrey. D.B. Life With Stevia: How Street It Is. P.9
James A. May is founder and President of United American Industries Inc. He has been using researching and experimenting with stevia for 14 years and he established the method of grading the quality of stevia that is currently used in Paraguay.