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stevia - growing and using

 
Leah Sattler
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I think stevia has got to be the least scary of the artificial sweeteners. I do believe that anything used in excess has potential to cause problems in the human body and stevia doesn't get a free pass. after all, lots of natural substances used in excess can be harmful. The best thing to do is of course alter your tastes so that you don't want such sweet things in large quantities but I think it is unrealistic to expect that we will never want anything that is sweetened to make it more palatable.

so.... I would like to learn more about Stevia. how to grow it and get it to the table in a convenient form that can be used for some typical applications such as sweetening tea, coffee etc...

some initial questions

from my understanding it is tropical. Can it be overwintered successfully indoors?

what about preferable conditions during the growing season in more temperate climates?

Since this has been going more and more commercial and widely known, I would also like to explore the economical and social and enviromental impact in regions where it is or could be grown for market.
 
Irene Kightley
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Hello Leah,

I've been growing Stevia for two seasons now and managed to keep the plants overwintered last winter and this winter it looks as though I'll have some to start the new season. (Don't like counting chickens though...)

I've written quite a lot about my experiences growing Stevia in my blog.

http://lafermedesourrou.blogspot.com/search?q=stevia
 
              
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i planted some almost 2 years ago. the plant never grew very big. it survived the winter, but took it a bit to come out. think it might have suffered from cold shock .

it grew in partial shade where i have some greek oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, a few strawberries. i'm in zone 7b/8a. this winter has been a bit colder (for us) we've seen quite a few days that stayed in the 30's and hit the 20's and teens for a bit. saw some camellias budding a bit and daffodils coming up. not sure if that helps much, but figured i give you the little experience i have with it, just in case. i will see if it comes back this year, and might get some more growing to put in my yerba mate and mulberry tea. be careful, as the FDA has not approved the use of the plant as a sweetener. you do not want them knocking on your door because you didn't pay the artificial sweetener tax. now, if i could only find out if i can grow my own yerba mate.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Dr_Temp wrote: if i could only find out if i can grow my own yerba mate.


I understand the traditional stuff is made with coca, in which case there are probably cultivars suited to your climate...but it's probably not worth the legal hassle.
 
              
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Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
I understand the traditional stuff is made with coca, in which case there are probably cultivars suited to your climate...but it's probably not worth the legal hassle.


think what i was talking about is holly, though what i think you are talking about i have not tried (yet).

Yerba maté is a holly.
mate de coca is cocoa.

now i have greater wants . going to stick to mulberry tea this year and go from there this year. have a bunch of them in the yard, so why make it hard.
 
                          
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Growing Stevia is easy , best size pot is a 3 gallon pot , mine has been growing in there for the last 3 years and it is back for a 4th one.
In winter needs to be taken inside and let it go to sleep ,reduce water . Start watering a month before last frost.  Once the weather is frost free it can be set out side in the pot. Keep the container from getting to hot in the sun by shading the container . Water as needed and it will grow just fine.
At first the leaves will not be sweet but as it matures they will get sweeter.
I use a few leaves in my teas. You can dry them and will retain sweetness. HAve fun. 
 
                                  
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Stevia should be planted in the spring after the soil temperature reaches 65 deg F., in full sun and in a light, sandy, open, well drained soil with neutral pH.  In southern states, stevia will require some filtered afternoon shading.  Use a standard garden fertilized. Do not use a lawn fertilizer or fertilizers with high nitrogen. Adding extra Boron will help keep the Stevioside level high. If soil could be “mounded up” into a “raised bed,” this would be even better.
Growing Stevia from seed can be troublesome, so it's easier to buy small plants from a nursery. Young Stevia plants are sensitive to cold temperatures, so wait until danger of frost has safely passed and soil temperature range in a 50 and 60°F range.
 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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Have stevia bought about 4 weeks ago growing well in a 2 gal container.  Worried it would go to seed while I was out of town, so I pruned the tops of the 2 plants, consumed all but the top leaves and stuck the cuttings straight in the potting soil.

  Went out of town for 10 days and the cuttings seemed to have survived, despite 90 degree S. florida heat.  Thankfully we had several days of rain.  The original plants are putting out new growth in a bushier shape. 

I am still not sure how I actually want to use the stuff.  I hardly use sweeteners in anything at all.  Might put it in salad just to add some variety.  Also thinking about some kind of lemonade smoothie.  Any suggestions?
 
                          
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Well i have a sweet tooth ,and it makes a great candy chew mixed with with some Tulsi ,(holy basil ) 3 leaves of stevia and 4 of tulsi .
Or make some tea with fresh leaves ,it has a liquorice after taste.nice and healthy break .
 
                    
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We just love our stevia plants!!
We make green smoothies with it, the trick is only fill the blender part way with a smallish amount of liquid & add crisp stevia leaves(wilted leaves do not blend as well as crisp ones), then blend well until the leaf pieces are about 1mm in size then add the rest of your liquid & your other ingredients.

We pick ours when it gets too bushy & then we freeze it in a zip lock that we puff up with air so the leaves won't get crushed. When blending it frozen do not thaw, add it to the blender directly from the freezer.

We also like it with tart apples & cream cheese.

D

 
Suzy Bean
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Mmm...Stevia with tart apples and cream cheese sounds really good.

I just read an article on it in Mother Earth News (Aug/Sept 2010), and they gave a pretty good summary of the current scoop on stevia.

Basically, it is from Paraguay/Brazil originally, is 10-15x sweeter than sugar, and actually reduces blood sugar, blood pressure, and gives you an immune boost.

An anonymous somebody in the '80s told the FDA it could cause genetic mutations linked to cancer and in '91 stevia was banned as it was "unsafe." People think that aspartame and saccharin companies were behind the banning.

It is a short-lived perennial that must be replaced every few years, it grows to about 3 feet, and its sweetness peaks right before flowering in late summer/fall. Harvest as it starts to flower, dry and powder the leaves, and use like sugar.
 
Jen Schellings
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I have tried twice to grow stevia, but it only survives until winter & never grows very large. I'm experienced in growing all sorts of things, but this is not working, I believe, because it is from a very different region with different climate. I'm not fussed about it because I'm one of the few who find it so overly sweet, even using less then recommended, I can't drink or eat anything made with it - especially Truvia. To me it tastes like the artificial sweeteners. I instead use agave syrup, maple sugar or syrup or just unrefined evaporated cane sugar.
 
Randy Jamrok
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I have grown stevia in a pot for 2 years now.
Germination is very low, and I believe it prefers "poor" soil.
I overwintered it in the basement. It died back, and then resprouted in the late winter. Then, it died back again, and came back in full force in the spring.
I have attached a picture of it.
I am near Chicago, in Northwest Indiana.
Our climate is pretty much as humid and hot now as a tropical area anyway! Climate Chaos!
DSC00388.JPG
[Thumbnail for DSC00388.JPG]
stevia picture
 
leila hamaya
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i've tried so hard to love stevia...

i know its a good plant and good medicine , especially for those who need to reduce sugar intake and need substitutions (like myself!) but i cant!
i just do not like the taste at all. its true what you say in the thread starter, its best to help acclimate your taste buds to less sweet, and to no sugar, but for serious sweet food junkies like myself, who try hard to avoid sugars but crave sugars of all kinds, i think its one of the best alternatives.
theoretically....but still...its taste is totally unappealing to me. i'd rather have AGAVE, xylitol, and i have been trying coconut sugar, as well as honey, and these work better for me. i've been looking into growing agave, it might be tricky...idk...but i got some seeds and started reading.

i know stevia grows here well, is easy to grow, will be ok with some cold temps but not too cold.
people grow it here often (temperate rainforest) and they sell stevia plants at nurseries and the food co op.
that might be another thing to sell, stevia plant starts.
having a leaf in tea taste better than any extract or stevia sweetener i have had, but still the flavor isnt "my cup of tea" =)
 
Randy Jamrok
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On being a sweet food junkie:
"Diabetes is the CURE--civilization is the disease!" (i.e. the problem is the solution)
(an adaptation of a quote from "truly cultured" by Nancy Lee Bentley, a book I am reading now about fermented foods and how they can balance our systems (as in having a craving for sweets). The original quote is from the founder of marcrobiotics: Cancer is the CURE--civilization is the disease.)
Check it out if you like, fellow Permie!

I just like stevia because you can tear off a leaf and have such an unexpected sweet taste, out of a leaf?!?!?
 
leila hamaya
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hmmm i think i get what you mean.
i've figured out that i have had to do a major change of my WHOLE diet...and this addresses the sweet cravings somewhat. not totally, but it lessens. when i am not paying attention to my diet and not eating the right things, the urge for sugar becomes very intense.

basically the more careful i am with my diet, the less i crave sweets...and its a cumulative thing...the better diet i keep for a longer period of time, the less sweets i want, the less i have the cravings. i...well i really wacked my body out of balance ...eating improperly, yet...i wasnt even always aware thats what was going on...i mean i thought i was eating relatively "healthy" and "vegetarian" and etc...but really my diet wasnt that great for a long time and i had some health issues for a while. so i came around to healing and being healthier.....more because i needed it...not because it was my original interest...

and the first thing was to quit sugar, cutting out sugar was very very difficult for me, i realized what a drug it really is. in fact even still i sometimes have relapses! but...working on it, and been working on it for a long time now...it gets easier. thats where these crutches, the sugar substitutes, REALLY helped me. but truthfully...the best thing is to keep lessening and lessening all sugar intake, acclimating to less sweet foods...just getting sugar from other foods that dont seem as sweet.
 
Shelly Randall
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I have a plant that was given to me this year. It is in probably the worst clay/alkali soil in a hot, dry climate. I water it every day because the ground gets so hot and dry so fast. It is thriving. I have yet to overwinter it. I hope I can dig it up at some point.
 
Mike King
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i dont know if anyone has mentioned this, but stevia isnt artificial.
 
Burra Maluca
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Last year I tried some sweeteners made from stevia. They were so vile that I threw them away. Then I found a stevia plant, so I bought it and tasted it. It was so vile that I composted it.

Then Jocelyn intdoduced me to liquid stevia extracts, and I discovered that while some were vile, others were actually rather good. It turns out that some people are far more sensitive to the bitter flavour in stevia than others, and some brands are better at producing bitter-free extracts than others.

I found another stevia plant in the supermarket yesterday, so I brought it home with me, pruned it, and am attempting to make my own extract. From what I've read, you have to remove the leaves after 48 hours or the bitterness will begin to follow the sweetness into the alcohol.

I'm testing it.

 
William Bronson
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Burra Maluca
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William Bronson wrote:Burra, how did your extract turn out?


Well the good news is that there wasn't a hint of bitterness, and the leaves are still in there!

The 'extract' isn't anything like as strong as the commercial ones. I might have to use a teaspoon of this compared to two or three drops of commercial extract, so whatever I use it in has a rather alchoholy flavour, which is ok in some things but not so good in others. Also, there is a noticeable leafy, green sort of flavour, which doesn't always fit with what you were trying to sweeten, but I'm getting used to that.

So yes, overall it's something that I'm likely to repeat. The original plant I bought recovered well from its pruning and is currently in flower. It's coped with a few frosts, though I'm not sure it will make it through the whole winter. Ask me again in a few months!
 
John Polk
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From my research:
Mulched stevia will die to the ground in Zone 8, but regrow the following spring.
Tan seeds germinate very poorly. Black seeds germinate very well.

Ontario, CA has begun growing this as a cash crop.
For further reading, Growing info has some good info.

For info on Using stevia, this UNeb guide has tons of good info.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I grew stevia last summer. It thrived in my garden. It produced seeds. Alas, I forgot to harvest the seeds when I was cleaning up in the fall. If I'm careful in the spring, I might find some volunteers.
 
Alder Burns
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I've been growing it for quite a while, both in Georgia and California. Usually a big plant will overwinter in both places, but I've occasionally tried to root cuttings or soil-layer it and overwinter some in pots. I have the worst luck with stevia cuttings. I did discover that often small purchased plants are often several plants together, which can be gently teased apart and planted or potted separately.
It's very sweet, especially dried. But it does have it's own taste on top of the sweet which is compatible with some things and not with others. I find it gets along well with the spiced chai I make. Commercial liquid extract is more purely sweet, and I can even use this in coffee (which is ruined by leaf stevia, in my opinion). Right now we have some stevia marinating in glycerin, to try to duplicate the liquid extract, which is expensive.
 
Susanna Pitussi
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I'm about to try growing stevia for the first time this year. We already use it extensively at home. When it's ready, I'm also planning to make my extract using vegetable glycerin rather than alcohol. I've made other herbal "glycerites" before, which are essentially non-alcoholic versions of tinctures - lemon balm makes the most wonderful tasting glycerite!

Alder, I'd love to know how your glycerin extract turns out!

Burra, that might solve the problem of your extract making everything taste alcoholy...
 
Jenna Ferresty
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I've been growing stevia for a few years on and off in southern New England. It does really well in the ground over the summer here, except when four footed garden thieves find it. I find the leaves can be bitter when fresh, so I generally will dry them before use, which removes the bitterness. I have also used fresh leaves to sweeten tea. I find that if I let the tea steep at least 5 minutes the bitterness goes away, and the sweetness fully develops. I've never tried baking with the leaves, as I can't tolerate the commercial extracts. Has anyone else?
 
Deb Rebel
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I've grown stevia for years. You can start it from seed but you must treat it like a zone 10b (aka zero frost) and it's best started WARM like peppers. Start lots and lots. When your seedlings get to 7-8 leaves you start tasting a leaf and the least sweet, pull them. Out of 100 you will probably get 3 you want to keep. Let those get 15-20 leaves and taste again. Keep your top couple plants, and propagate those. Stevia likes a rich and well drained soil, lots of sun and warm. If it sees freezing the plant is dead. It will overwinter as a houseplant, good size pot is about 3-5 gallons. I would usually start about six weeks before frost to start propagating new plants to keep them small as long as possible in the house then harvest the mama plants and dry them up. Picking the leaves fresh, their best use is tea. Some things will overwhelm stevia-I could not put enough of it into oatmeal, for example. Just not going to work... If you use it with other herbs or greens it works the best.

I've even entered a full grown beautiful plant into the county fair as an 'herb' and it won first, even though the judges had no idea what it was. I had to put on the tag what it was! IF you want or need to supplement this, there is NOW Foods organic stevia powder with no filler. Hunt the internet and you can find it in gallon jar (16 oz) size and one of those would last me about a year. I've lost my sweet tooth however so other than tea I rarely use stevia anymore.
 
Barbara Ziegler
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So, I'm not so sure Stevia is Safe at all to use. I went to a Doctor a couple of years ago; Dr. Burton Burkson MD PhD at the Integrative medical center in Las Cruces, NM. He's very non-conventional & has been reversing Liver failure using Alpha Lipoic Acid IV's, any way, long story made short, he wanted me to cut back on sugar, so I started using Stevia. So at my appointment a few months later I told him I was totally off sugar & was using Stevia, at which point he corrected me & said Do Not Use STEVIA, go back to using raw sugar. STEVIA is very toxic to the Liver. So is Tylenol...

There is an article on line about how Dr. Burkson reversed liver failure using ALA & was scolded by the hospital for saving 2 peoples lives after they had eaten poisonous mushrooms...because...the hospital had already told the families of the patients they were going to die.... The patients are alive today, in their 80's with no sign of liver damage.

Also see Julia Shiplack's book "Honest Medicine"
You can also look up Dr. Burkson's credentials on line.

Be Well everyone!
 
Barbara Ziegler
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Oops folks I misspelled the name : ) DR. Burton Berkson MD PhD
 
Susanna Pitussi
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It's really great to know that stevia does well in New England, Jenna. Here in Nova Scotia we're in a similar zone to Boston.

And thanks for all the info Deb! I haven't started my seeds yet and now I'll start WAY more than I was going to originally.

The stevia we use at home is New Roots Stevia Powder Concentrate and it doesn't seem to have any of the bitterness or aftertaste if used sparingly. As an alternative, especially for baking, we also use xylitol- a sugar made from birch syrup that is low glycemic index & great for teeth.
 
Deb Rebel
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Xylotol, sorbitol, and mannitol just 'rip my guts up' hence I started with stevia. I think on this as with anything else, moderation. Smaller tender leaves are less likely to be bitter. I have bought a few plants over the years, doing the taste test before buying. Seeds, you have no idea what you're getting and I cut the labor early on the seedlings if they're not going to be very sweet. I think a lot of commercially raised plants are seed started and they don't test them.
 
Deb Stephens
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Leah Sattler wrote:I think stevia has got to be the least scary of the artificial sweeteners.


I haven't read through every single word of all the other responses, but since I didn't see anyone pick up on this erroneous statement, I thought I would. Stevia is NOT artificial -- it is a plant that happens to be sweet. Artificial sweeteners are things like saccharine or aspartame created in labs. I won't touch those, but I wouldn't hesitate to eat any natural sweetener like stevia. The trick is in knowing how much to use. Ultra-sweet leaves like those of the stevia plant require very little to go a LONG way.

When you think about it, sugar (or to be more precise, what we think of as "sugar") is almost always from a plant product. It usually comes from cane or beets and is merely processed and refined into that white granulated substance we call real sugar. All plants produce sugar as fuel for growth, so if you want to make your own natural sweeteners, you only need to find a plant -- like maple trees, for example -- that produces abundant amounts of sweet sap; extract it and boil it down until it is concentrated into something resembling syrup or brown sugar.

Our great-grandparents thought of white sugar as something to be reserved for special company fare, however, and for everyday family meals used the less-refined brown sugar, molasses or honey to sweeten things.

And before anyone mentions it, yes, I know honey is produced by bees, not plants, but in a way even they are merely transforming a plant product into something they can eat. Glycerin is another naturally sweet by-product (of the soap industry), but it is usually produced from plant products as well -- though it is also found in animal-fat soap products. In both cases though, the sugar is still ultimately refined from plants originally. Not necessarily relevant to this discussion, but interesting, I think.
 
Deb Rebel
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Stevia is indeed a natural plant based sweetener. It can meet its match, most notably oatmeal, in which case I will choose maple syrup. No bees produce that... and it's easier to get at than what you have to do to refine sugar from beets or cane. I truly do love my stevia.
 
Hans Quistorff
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This is my 3rd year of having a stevia plant. The nursery where ai get them is an enthusiast so I think he taste tests them before he buys them from the producer. I have not had them set seed. They bloom late summer into fall then suddenly die. I harvest the dry plant and strip the leaves off and use them to sweeten my apple/berry butter. I also add a few dry leaves to a traditional chinese medicine blend to improve the flavor.

This years plant is in an improved wicking planter in rich sandy loam which seems to be maintaining constant moisture so perhaps it will do better. A client was conversing about trying to cook for her parents that want to eat more healthy but are having trouble transitioning from the taste they are used to. I gave her a small leaf for a taste test and she said "Can i have another one." She is planing to buy a plant when she returns to California.
 
Beth Tumbaco
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I did a little bit of checking regarding dangers of stevia. Burton Berkson does not seem to have a web site, so I searched "stevia dangers.' The most succinct was from 3fatchicks.com I know, not exactly the Mayo Clinic, but I wasn't willing to spend several hours on this.

" Stevia:Is It a Carcinogen?

This is possibly the most controversial issue surrounding stevia–does it cause cancer? One study showed that it could be turned into a mutagenic compound, which does cause cancer. Critics of this study have pointed out potential flaws in the process used to derive the compound. Other studies have shown no mutagenic compounds at all.

For many people stevia is the answer to a prayer–a no-carb, no-calorie sugar substitute that allows them to indulge in sweets while remaining on their diets. However, the actual data surrounding its short- and long-term harmful effects is contradictory and confusing. As a consumer, you should know that stevia did finally get FDA approval for use as a food product and it has their designation of being “safe.” If you have any questions about it though, consult with your doctor. She can recommend whether or not using stevia is a good idea for you."



Another issue: Sorry I have no memory of where I heard/read this. The insulin response begins when the sweet taste hits the mouth, not waiting for sugar to hit the blood stream. If there is no kind of sugar to process the insulin is still doing it's insulin thing. I always use stevia with a tiny bit of caloric sweetener to give the insulin something to do, just to be safe.
 
Beth Tumbaco
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The importance of punctuation. The next to last sentence makes much more sense with a coma in the right place.

If there is no kind of sugar to process, the insulin is still doing its insulin thing.
 
Beth Tumbaco
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"..a comma in the right place." In a discussion about diabetes we don't want unnecessary comas.
 
Deb Stephens
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Beth Tumbaco wrote:I did a little bit of checking regarding dangers of stevia. Burton Berkson does not seem to have a web site, so I searched "stevia dangers.' The most succinct was from 3fatchicks.com I know, not exactly the Mayo Clinic, but I wasn't willing to spend several hours on this.
" Stevia:Is It a Carcinogen?

This is possibly the most controversial issue surrounding stevia–does it cause cancer? One study showed that it could be turned into a mutagenic compound, which does cause cancer. Critics of this study have pointed out potential flaws in the process used to derive the compound. Other studies have shown no mutagenic compounds at all.

For many people stevia is the answer to a prayer–a no-carb, no-calorie sugar substitute that allows them to indulge in sweets while remaining on their diets. However, the actual data surrounding its short- and long-term harmful effects is contradictory and confusing. As a consumer, you should know that stevia did finally get FDA approval for use as a food product and it has their designation of being “safe.” If you have any questions about it though, consult with your doctor. She can recommend whether or not using stevia is a good idea for you."


Another issue: Sorry I have no memory of where I heard/read this. The insulin response begins when the sweet taste hits the mouth, not waiting for sugar to hit the blood stream. If there is no kind of sugar to process the insulin is still doing it's insulin thing. I always use stevia with a tiny bit of caloric sweetener to give the insulin something to do, just to be safe.


Two quick things ...
#1 -- This study is most likely talking about processed stevia, not the completely natural stevia leaves from stevia plants. I am not exactly sure (and don't have time to check right now) what the refining process entails, but when you take something that is a green leaf -- which dries to a dull green dried leaf -- and turn it into a snow white fine powder, you can assume it has at least been bleached. Probably more. Who knows what chemical residues are in that powder that were not in the original leaves?

#2 -- Most people use refined stevia or stevia extract, which has different properties than a stevia leaf right off the plant. Although stevia is very low calorie, it does have calories. It also contains glycoside compounds including stevioside, steviolbioside, rebaudiosides A-E, and dulcoside. Those are the bits that generally get extracted. Stevia is a plant, and like all plants it contains many vitamins, minerals, trace elements, etc. Some are good and some may not be so good. However, that is another thing you can say about a lot of plants. (Take tomatoes for example... the fruits are great, but the leaves are deadly.)

My point is that it is important to look at, and understand the difference between stevia extracts and stevia, the plant. Studies and commentaries about one do not necessarily apply to the other.
 
Beth Tumbaco
Posts: 25
Location: Madras OR 6A on the dry side of Cascadia, 2300 ft
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Excellent point. Even of the extracts only one of several studies indicated a problem. Personally, I will continue to use green stevia.

Thank you for the correction on the glycosides and for upgrading the science of this discussion.
 
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