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STEVIA, the "sugar" of diabetics
(Stevia rebaudiana)
 

 
 

Diabetes is a metabolic disease due to high levels of sugar in the blood. It can have genetic origin or be caused by wrong lifestyle factors in general. In both cases, however, there is a high level of blood sugar because either the pancreas does not make enough insulin, or the cells do not respond to insulin normally. As we all know, people with diabetes should concentrate on keeping blood sugar level as close to normal as possible, therefore avoiding the intake of sugar of any kind. But not everybody likes tea or coffee, or even milk, without sugar. And even if, like me, you take coffee or tea without sugar, from time to time it’s quite nice to have a piece of cake...

Fortunately I’m not diabetic myself, but a few of my friends and acquaintances suffer from this disease. Writing about plants in general, and their healing power in particular is one of my hobbies. One day during my research, I learned about stevia, a beautiful plant that all diabetics should have interest in knowing.

Stevia

History: Stevia is native to South America, and it has been used by the Guarani people of Brazil and Paraguay for more than 1500 years. They called it “sweet herb”, and its leaves have a long history of medicinal uses and to sweeten teas.

Stevia was first researched by the Spanish botanist Petrus Jacobus Stevus (1500-1556), from whose name originates the Latinized word stevia. A few centuries later, during his research in Paraguay in 1899, the Swiss botanist Moisés Santiago Bertoni described more extensively the plant and its sweet taste. But it was only in 1931, thanks to two French chemists, that the glycosides responsible for the sweet properties of the stevia were isolated.

Japan was the first country to cultivate stevia for commercial purposes in the early 1970s as an alternative to artificial sweeteners such as cyclamate and saccharin, which were suspected carcinogens.

How to grow stevia: While tolerant of most soil types, Stevia doesn't like to dry out, but hates standing water; any well-drained soil well exposed to sun will be ideal. Water every two to three days. Stevia seeds are rarely used because of poor germination, so plants are generally used instead. However, if you’d like to use the seeds, they are easily germinated indoors, at a room temperature of 20-25° C. Seedlings grow slowly, so allow 7 to 8 weeks. Be sure you are getting Stevia rebaudiana (Stevia is the genus and rebaudiana is the species), since this is the only sweet variety. The roots of the stevia plant are a little superficial, a mulch such as newspapers, grass clippings, or landscape fabric will help control weed and reduce moisture loss.

If you don’t have a garden, don’t worry. You may plant them in a port. Stevia is a plant of the sunflower family; other plants belonging to the same family are of course sunflowers, asters, daisies, and a lot more, since the sunflower family (Asteraceae) is the largest family of flowering plants on Earth. You might like to know that our very common lettuce also belongs to the same plant family...

How to use stevia: The leaves of the stevia may be used fresh or dried, put in teas and food as a sweetener.

To dry the fresh leaves, strip them from stems, spread them on a clean cloth, and put in a dry well ventilated place, if possible in the dark. About one week later, put the dry leaves in a clean glass jar for long-term storage. Repeat the operation when necessary.

An alternative method is to hang the plant upside down, also in a dry well-ventilated place. Bunch a few plants together and bind at the stem end with a rubber band, then slip a paper clip bent into an "S" shape under the rubber band. Hang by the other end of the paperclip. If you have lots of plants, hang them from strings or wires strung across the ceiling. After a few days, strip the leaves from stems, and put in a clean glass jar for long-term storage. Repeat the operation when necessary.

Whole leaves are great for making tea, and powder for use in recipes. To turn the leaves easily into power, use a kitchen blender with metal blades. With the blender bowl half full, process dry leaves at high speed for a few seconds. You may use a coffee grinder instead. Your sweet powder is ready, and you just have to store it in a clean glass jar.

Either for dry leaves or powder, long-storage should not exceed one year.

Health benefits of stevia: As we already saw, the leaves of the stevia plant have 30–45 times the sweetness of saccharose (ordinary table sugar), but low calories, and can be safely used by diabetics. Its sweet taste is much more agreeable than the artificial sweeteners, and stevia does not have harmful effects. The plant resists easily to high temperatures (up to 180° C), which allows it to be used (as powder) for culinary purposes.

Safety precautions: The stevia plant has no adverse effects, but it is advisable to know that the Guarani people used stevia tea for birth control, though at the time they did not have the scientific knowledge that could prove the contraceptive properties of the plant. Studies conducted at the end of the 1960s at the Universities of Montevideu in Uruguay and Purdue in the United States concluded that a daily infusion of about 25 g of dry leaves will prevent ovulation. The good news is that after having stopped taking the infusion for ten day, the woman is able to conceive again without any further problem.

© Dulce Rodrigues

 

References:
1. McCaleb, Rob (1997). "Controversial Products in the Natural Foods Market". Herb Research Foundation. http://herbs.org/greenpapers/controv.html#stevia.
2. Stones, Mike (2011 [last update]). "Stevia wins final EU approval". foodmanufacture.co.uk. http://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk/Ingredients/Stevia-wins-final-EU-approval.
3. "Opinion on Stevia Rebaudiana plants and leaves" (PDF) (Press release). European Commission Scientific Committee on Food. 17 June 1999. http://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/208/stevia_rebaudiana_june_1999.pdf.
4. Bertoni, Moisés Santiago (1899). Revista de Agronomia de l'Assomption 1: 35
5. Bridel, M.; Lavielle, R. (1931). "Sur le principe sucre des feuilles de kaa-he-e (stevia rebaundiana B)". Academie des Sciences Paris Comptes Rendus (Parts 192): 1123–5
6. Brandle, Jim (19 August 2004). "FAQ – Stevia, Nature's Natural Low Calorie Sweetener". Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. http://res2.agr.ca/London/faq/stevia_e.htm
7. New York Medical College (15 January 2009). "Notice to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the use of Rebiana (Rebaudioside A) derived from Stevia rebaudiana, as a Food Ingredient is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)" (PDF). p. Document page 26 / PDF page 39. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/fcn/gras_notices/grn000282.pdf.
8. Nunes AP, Ferreira-Machado SC, Nunes RM, Dantas FJ, De Mattos JC, Caldeira-de-Araújo A (2007). "Analysis of genotoxic potentiality of stevioside by comet assay". Food Chem Toxicol 45 (4): 662–6. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2006.10.015
9. Malerbi D, Franco L. Multicenter study of the prevalence of diabetes mellitus and impaired glucose tolerance in the urban Brazilian population aged 30-69 yr. Diabetes Care 1992;15:1509-16
10. Journal officiel de la République française du 15 janvier 2010, Arrêté du 8 janvier 2010 relatif à l'emploi du rébaudioside A (extrait de Stevia rebaudiana) comme additif alimentaire [archive] NOR: ECEC0929660A
11. Die Zeit: http://www.zeit.de/wissen/gesundheit/2010-04/stevia-zucker
12. Samuelsson, G.; Bohlin, L. Drugs of Natural Origin: A Treatise of Pharmacognosy. 6th ed., Stockholm, Swedish Pharmaceutical Press, 2010. ISBN 1439838577; ISBN 978-1439838570

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