Sugar Alternatives: Stevia

Overall, I am not a fan of fake sugars (aspartame, sucralose, you name it). They are chemically produced or altered, and they give me migraines (never a good sign).
But I have a huge sweet tooth, accompanied by a desire to lose weight. And so begins my love affair with Stevia.
Stevia is a South American herb that has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years. The leaves of this small, green Stevia rebaudiana plant can be 30 times sweeter than sugar. It used to be found mostly in health food stores, but can now be found in packets at my local grocery store. If you want more options, head to your local health sotre – they will have stevia in many forms (powder, granule, tincture/liquid) and many more brands to choose from. I have been told the liquid form can have a slight licorice flavour, but I use the powdered form. It dissolves easily and can be mixed into almost anything for added sweetness.
Stevia has many excellent properties. The body does not metabolize the sweet glycosides from the stevia leaf or any of its processed forms – so there is no caloric intake. Stevia doesn’t adversely affect blood glucose levels and can therefore be used safely by diabetics.
Photo by Ethel Aardvark
I use stevia in my homemade frozen yogurt-and it works great! A few little packets sweetened as much as a cup of sugar!
It can’t be substituted in everything, as its texture is different from sugar. So meringues, icings, most cookies; anytime when sugar’s ability to stiffen and cream with butter is required-then I recommend using the real deal-sugar (unrefined when possible). Try it out in your coffee, on your (homemade) yogurt, anywhere you might be using aspartame or Splenda…
As the Canadian and USA governments slowly approve Stevia, you can now find it in place of artificial sweeteners in some mainstream brands. SoBe has a few of their drinks made with stevia, and the new 10Cal Vitamin water by Aquafina as has it. You’ll often see the brand Purevia or Truvia on the bottle as the stevia brand.
Of course, with any new item your are introducing into your diet, do your research on stevia. The Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans have used stevia in foods and soft drinks for many years as an alternative to the artificial sweeteners. The wide use of stevia has been without any apparent harmful effects.
In 2006, the World Health Organization evaluated stevia and found no evidence that its sweet compounds, stevioside and rebaudioside A, have any carcinogenic activity.  The most recent studies seem to suggest stevia is safe, but there is a lack of human research to determine long-term risks.
In my opinion, anything natural must be a better and healthier option than artificial, chemical sweeteners!
Thanks to http://www.stevia.com/http://www.vegetarian-nutrition.info/herbs/stevia.php and Wikipedia for some of the background info! Go to http://www.stevia.com/ for recipes, and to order some it if you find (GASP!) that your local grocery store doesn’t have it.
This article was written by Aubrey
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