All You Need To Know About Stevia
For centuries the Indian subcontinent has relied on the power of natural remedies to tackle the most complex health issues. The history of Indian Ayurveda goes back thousands of centuries, and it continues to remain one of the most ancient practised medicinal sciences. However, with the advent of modern medicines and several “research studies” conducted around its benefit over all other forms of medicine, the usage of plants to cure as well as prevent medical conditions has comparatively reduced.
However, the changing lifestyles and emergence of diseases among the younger population have now forced experts to consider making some profound changes. Additionally, the rising awareness among the young Indians pertaining to health & fitness has further brought to the forefront some of the most neglected issues. India has over a period of time turned into diabetes capital of the world. Today, over 50 million Indian citizens are affected by type-2 diabetes.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) data, globally about 3.4 million people lose their lives each year due to diabetes. It is estimated that by 2030, 87 million people will be affected by diabetes in India. From reducing the consumption of sugar in the regular diet to replacing sugar in packed food with substitutes, there is a need to address the issue on multiple fronts. This is where the age-old plant-based options can be used to address one of India’s biggest public health challenges.
What Is Stevia?
Stevia, also known as a Stevia Rebaudiana is a small perennial herb in the genus Stevia. While all parts of the plants are sweet, the glycosides are mostly concentrated in the leaves. It gets its sweetness from the glycoside compounds such as rebaudiosides A-E, stevioside, dulcoside, and steviolbioside. Native to the South American region, stevia has been used by the Guarani tribes of Paraguay as a substitute to sugar for culinary purpose and in traditional medicines.
Even though the plant is a sweet naturally, it does not have carbohydrates in it which is the case with table sugar. This makes it a perfect substitute for table sugar which is one of the leading factors leading to diabetes. Being a non-glycoside compound, it lacks the properties of sucrose as well. Rebaudioside-A, a stevia extract is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Additionally, stevia extracts are known to have properties such as long-shelf life, non-fermentative, high-temperature tolerant, and PH stable. These properties make them safe to be used in FMCG products.
Is Stevia Safe?
100%. And most importantly Stevia is safe for one and all. Children, Pregnant Women. Phenylketoneurics. It is now fully approved as a food ingredient in 130+ countries including approvals from US FDA, EFSA, FSSAI in India. Stevia also had a long history of usage in Japan, Korea and South America where it represents 20-40% of the overall sweetener market.
Health Benefits Of Stevia?
This plant offers several health benefits to its users and does have the potential to replace table sugar completely. Let us look at some of the vital health benefits provided by the stevia plant.
- Stevia leaves are composed of an element called Steviol Glycoside which is a non-carbohydrate glycoside compound. It lacks the properties of carbohydrates and sucrose ensuring that there is no rise in the sugar levels. Therefore, people suffering from diabetes or high blood sugar levels can switch to stevia.
- Stevia plant has an important compound called the rebaudioside A which is a zero-calorie food ingredient. It is also zero on the glycemic index. Thus, this is beneficial for those who want to reduce weight but without a stringent diet or reduced sugar intake.
- It also contains many vital minerals and vitamins that are absent in other artificial sweeteners. Therefore, this natural sweetener gives the body healthy vitamins and minerals while helping you eliminate sugar from your diet.
- Stevia plant can also eliminate Lyme disease by getting rid of the spirochete bacteria associated with the disease. As per a recent study, it might also ensure that the body does not contract any bacteria.
- Stevia prevents cavities and gingivitis while reducing the chances of bacterial infection in the mouth. These properties of stevia have promoted its use as additives in mouthwashes and toothpaste.
Is Stevia Legal?
The usage of stevia in the open market has been a very controversial discussion both in political and medical circles. In the early 21st century, most of the countries banned the usage of stevia plant as a sweetener and such was the case with India. In July 2009, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India did not allow selling of stevia in the Indian market. But gradually as the global market started accepting stevia as a sweetener, the FSSAI reversed its decision and lifted the ban on stevia in 2015.
Sadly, for stevia, this has been a common pattern across the world. Most advanced as well as developing nations have banned and unbanned stevia over the last decade. However, as the benefits of these plant continue becoming more clearer, it is gaining government approvals and is being researched in government funded laboratories. At present, top brands such as Amul, Coca-cola, Pepsico, Mother Dairy, and others are using stevia in some of their products.