I was researching the natural sweetener stevia last week and made a surprising discovery: It has an under-publicized healing effect on Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.
In one study, researchers induced diabetes in laboratory rats by giving them alloxan, a chemical that damages the cells in the pancreas responsible for producing insulin. (This is the same alloxan found in white bread by the way.) In the study, researchers discovered that giving stevia to the diabetic rats counteracted the damage done to the pancreas.
Granted, this was an animal study. But many scientific studies begin with rats because their physiology is remarkably similar to that of humans.
A human study conducted by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center showed that people who consumed stevia with their meal had lower insulin and glucose levels compared to people who consumed the very same meal with Splenda or aspartame.
Stevia is a centuries-old folk remedy for diabetes
In case you don’t know about it, stevia is a super-sweet plant from South America, where it has been used as a sweetener for more than 1,500 years.
A member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae), the species known as stevia rebaudiana (commonly called sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or stevia) is 45 times as sweet as table sugar (sucrose) in the natural plant form.
But when its steviol glycosides are extracted, the resulting product is an incredible 300 times sweeter than pure cane sugar.
Not only have the early cultures of Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia used stevia to sweeten their food and beverages, but it’s also in their “medicine cabinet.” They’ve used stevia medicinally for centuries to regulate blood sugar (they also appreciate its anti-hypertension, anti-hypoglycemic, and many other healing properties).
Modern research confirms stevia’s health benefits
Indeed, stevia is an ideal sweetener for people who want to control their weight and/or blood sugar. And here’s why…
While it is super-sweet, stevia contains zero calories, making it ideal for weight loss. (By comparison, a teaspoon of table sugar contains 16 calories.)
In addition, stevia has no negative effect on blood glucose — nor does it trigger the body’s insulin response. In fact, some preliminary studies are giving scientists reason to believe that stevia may even play a key part in stabilizing blood sugar levels in diabetics.
Another explanation offered for stevia’s beneficial effect on diabetes and blood sugar problems is that it allows the pancreas to rest and repair itself because it doesn’t stimulate the insulin response.
Stevia: The safe, smart sweetener
The same can’t be said for artificial sweeteners such as NutraSweet, Splenda, and Sweet-n-Low, which contain aspartame.
Stevia is very different from these so-called “diabetes safe” chemical products.
First of all, stevia is completely natural and safe. Aspartame, on the other hand, produces a number of adverse side effects and is linked to brain disorders, MS, Parkinson’s, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.
In his excellent book, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, Dr. Russell Blaylock describes numerous research studies that show a direct link with aspartame and the destruction of brain cells connected to these disorders.
Aspartame is also responsible for 75% of all adverse reactions reported to the FDA, including seizures and death, making it the most dangerous additive in our foods and beverages. People relying on these diet foods and beverages to help them lose weight and/or manage their blood sugar are making a big mistake.
How diet soda makes you fat
Soda is bad for your health — that’s a no-brainer. And, contrary to what many dieters and diabetics believe, diet sodas containing NutraSweet and Splenda — are just as bad, if not worse.
A University of Texas study reveals there is an alarming 65% increase in the risk of being overweight for each diet soda consumed each day — and a 41% risk of obesity.
One reason is that the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas create a negative hormonal response in the body, increasing the production of insulin (the fat-storing hormone). Research also shows that diet sodas trigger cravings for even more sweets and refined carbs in after drinking them.
And another recent study confirms that women who drink the most diet soda have a 61 percent higher risk of heart attack and stroke than women who just say no to diet sodas.
Stevia produces none of these ill-effects
While stevia has been around and consumed for millennia, it is relatively new to the US. But other countries know it well.
For example, the Japanese have used it for the past 40 years, turning to it as a safe, healthful alternative to saccharine (a known carcinogen). Today, stevia represents 40% of their sweetener market there and it is the only sweetener used in their Diet Coke.
Until very recently, stevia has been banned in the US, due largely to the efforts of lobbyists from Big Sugar and Big Corn, the predominant sweeteners in our food supply.
It wasn’t until the agribusiness conglomerate Cargill and the Coca-Cola Company realized stevia’s market potential in America that they pressured the FDA to lift the ban in 2008.
Since then, the use of stevia has skyrocketed in the US and it can be purchased as a sweetener under the brand names Only Sweet … PureVia (Pepsi’s brand) … Reb-A … SweetLeaf … and the market-leader, Truvia (developed jointly by Cargill and Coca-Cola).
Truvia’s sales have made a quantum leap of 73% since it was introduced in the US, while sales of Splenda, Equal, and NutraSweet dropped dramatically.
Stevia’s is almost perfect
Stevia seems to be the ideal “sweet choice” for people watching their weight … needing to control their blood sugar … or for those who just want to improve their health.
There’s just one shortcoming: Stevia leaves a bitter aftertaste in your mouth.
Last year, our Test Kitchen put every single stevia-based sweetener to a stringent taste test — and not one of them passed.
Every product and brand produced this aftertaste to one degree or another.
It’s a shame, because everything else about stevia makes it a “dream sweetener” — and perfect for weight loss … blood sugar control … and, quite possibly, helping to reverse Type 2 and prediabetes.
Some people I’ve spoken to don’t mind stevia’s aftertaste. One man told me: “It’s a small price to pay for being able to eat sweets again without blowing my diet or spiking my blood sugar.”
Still, with so much going for it, you’d think someone would be able get rid of stevia’s bitter aftertaste. That would take it from “almost perfect” to “absolutely perfect” in my book.
Who knows, maybe someday someone will.
Do you use stevia — or have you tried it?
Have you tried stevia? How do you currently use it? Do you like its flavor?
Do you have a favorite food or beverage recipe using stevia that you and your family really enjoy? Would you like to share it with our readers?
Please enter your comments and suggestions below. I’m eager to read how you feel about stevia.
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