Stevia rebaudiana is a South American plant that grows 2-4 feet in height with slim, branched stem, and thrives in temperate and some tropical regions. Although native to Paraguay, China is currently the leading exporter of stevia products. Stevia refers to the entire plant, but only some parts are sweet. Steviol glycosides are the sweet components that are isolated and purified from the stevia leaves. In fact, the extract can taste 250-300 times sweeter than table sugar.
Although stevia contains zero calories, the leaves contain potassium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B3 and iron. In addition, the stevia plant has many sterols and antioxidant compounds like triterpenes, flavonoids, and tannins.
Natural, plant-based zero calorie sweeteners may be useful in the following ways:
- Weight Control- Replacing sugar in foods and beverages with stevia will decrease caloric intake.
- Lower Blood Pressure- Certain glycosides have been found to dilate blood vessels and increase sodium excretion and urine output which helps to lower blood pressure.
- Diabetes Management- Research indicates that stevia sweeteners do not contribute calories or carbohydrates to the diet and do not affect blood glucose or insulin response.
- Hemoglobin Production- stevia contains a 702 ppm level of iron which can stimulate the production of hemoglobin.