What is Stevia?

Natural Health September 2002
Written by: Cheryl Redmond

The stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana) is native to Paraguay, where for centuries its leaves have been used to sweeten food and beverages and as a folk remedy for diabetes and high blood pressure. The leaves are sometimes available ground into a greenish powder. The active sweetening components in stevia, called glycosides, are also isolated and sold as a white powder or clear liquid.

In these forms, stevia doesn’t confer the health benefits of the leaves but is intensely sweet–200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. In any form, stevia has no calories and won’t raise your blood sugar level.

In the past 30 years or so, the Japanese have embraced stevia as a food additive and have conducted numerous studies that have proved its safety (as have other countries). Nevertheless, citing insufficient evidence, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not granted stevia GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status, and will allow it to be sold in this country only as a supplement, not a food.

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