Sunday, June 27, 2010

Stevia, The Real Thing

As I was waltzing down the aisles of the local Whole Foods store in my area, I came across the fresh herb section. I am always looking for a little something new for my garden, and boy did I find it! There it was, hidden behind a stack of chocolate mint plants. It was Stevia or the Sweet Leaf Plant. I was so curious that I did the unthinkable. I picked a leaf of the plant and ate it...right there in the store...without paying first. My curiosity overcame me. I was not sure what to feel, guilt or satisfaction. With the first bite, a release of sickly sweet flavor raced across my tongue. It was not like sugar, but more like the sweetest of sweet artificial sweetener. But it did not have the strange after taste. After eating my leaf I plopped the plant in my basket, and then prayed that there would not be an adverse reaction for foolishly eating an herb without doing my research first. Doing research on an herb before you eat it is very important. Some herbs do not mix with modern medicines or even just one's own body makeup. Like sage, for instance, drying up mother's milk. I wondered what adverse effect stevia could have on me. It could not be too bad, after all they make powder out of it and sell it almost in every grocery store.

So, here is the scoop. Why have we not seen stevia for sale in the U.S.A. until the last few years? It was banned by the FDA until 2006. It still can not be used in products as a sweetener; like in a soft drink. But, it can be sold as a powder form to put into coffee, tea, etc. Research in 1999 found that stevia carries some form of carcinogens, and therefore is deemed unsafe in large quantities.

It has been used in tropical areas in South America for decades or even centuries. In Peru stevia was used to sweeten the local Yerba Mata drink. The plant is best used in modern day for the diabetic. It is sweeter than sucrose, but has no effect on blood glucose.

All in all, I found nothing that would compromise my health if I chose to use stevia as a sweetener. I think, however, I will just use it for a great looking herb that has a fun story behind it.

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