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Stevia: The Sweet, Sugary, Low-Calorie Herb

Stevia: The Sweet, Sugary, Low-Calorie Herb

The stevia plant, first cultivated in Paraguay, has been used as an herbal sweetener for centuries in South America. The Guarani Indians of Paraguay have long used stevia to make a sweet tea, and the dried leaves and twigs of the plant are commonly sold in local markets and pharmacies.

Also called sweet leaf or sweet herb, an extract is made of the leaves and flowers. Stevia contains a very sweet component called stevioside, with a sweetening effect similar to cane sugar. In Japan, where the government approved the herb in 1970, stevia and its extracts make up 40 percent of the sweetener market, and it is used by companies such as Coca-Cola and Beatrice to sweeten various products such as Diet Coke.

In 1991, the U.S. FDA placed an important ban on stevia, declaring that there is “not adequate evidence to establish that such use in food is safe.” This ban was reversed late in 1995, although it still is required to be sold as a nutritional supplement rather than as a sweetener.

Only a few drops will sweeten a cup of tea; it is also delicious in yogurt, cereal, and baked goods. Stevia’s sweet flavor is not affected by heat, thus it can be used in teas and other beverages, in canning fruits, and when baking all kinds of desserts.

Tests have shown the sweetening agent, the glycoside stevioside, is 30 times sweeter than granulated table sugar. Because it is a whole herbal food, stevia contains other properties that nicely complements its sweetness. A report from the Hiroshima University School of Dentistry indicates that stevia actually suppresses dental bacterial growth rather than feeding it as other sugars do.

Japanese and Latin American scientists have discovered other attributes as well, including its use as a tonic, diuretic, to combat mental and physical fatigue, to harmonize digestion, regulate blood pressure, and assist in weight loss.

Editor’s Note: This book was published in 1996, and since then the stevia market has boomed and there are many stevia products available in health food stores.

Read more: Food, Basics

Adapted from Whole Foods Companion, by Dianne Onstad. Copyright (c) 1996 by Dianne Onstad. Reprinted by permission of Chelsea Green Publishing.
Adapted from Whole Foods Companion, by Dianne Onstad and published by Chelsea Green.

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Annie B. Bond

Annie is a renowned expert in non-toxic and green living. She was named one of the top 20 environmental leaders by Body and Soul Magazine and "the foremost expert on green living." - Body & Soul Magazine, 2009. Learn Annie's latest eco-friendly news on, a website dedicated to healthy and green living.

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3:06AM PST on Dec 28, 2012


7:13AM PST on Dec 27, 2012

Thank you Annie, for Sharing this!

11:25AM PST on Dec 26, 2012

Use Stevia everyday. Love it in my Cappuccino.

7:53AM PST on Dec 17, 2012

Thank you!

8:11PM PST on Dec 4, 2012

WHEN i use sweeteners i use stevia now - especially since i discovered that some xylitol is made from non-gmo corn -- important to know for those of us who are allergic to corn in any form.

7:35AM PDT on Sep 21, 2012


4:16PM PDT on Jul 24, 2012

I just bought a stevia plant, can't wait to try it out!

7:30PM PST on Jan 9, 2012

Shame the rest of the world didn't know about it sooner, I never use anything else, it's wonderful, and freely available in supermarkets here in Australia.

2:49AM PST on Jan 31, 2011

Thanks for the info.

12:23AM PDT on Apr 13, 2010


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