I’ve written about how addictive processed sugar is in the past. It’s one of the main culprits behind worldwide obesity and the related health issues. But there is one natural sweetener that could be used as a healthy substitute.
And it’s called stevia (latin Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni). Stevia is a natural wild herb native to South America. In the Guaraní language it literally means »sweet herb«. The natives have used stevia as a natural sweetener long before the Spaniards came. They were also the first to document the use of stevia as a natural sweetener. Nowadays, the crude leaf extracts are also used to sweeten soft drinks, soju, soy sauce, yogurt, and other foods in various countries.
Why is it great?
The main advantage of stevia is that it has no calories and no carbs. This is quite the contrast to industrially used high fructose corn syrup. Or any other kind of sugar we can find in almost anything processed these days. Stevia has a few natural glycoside compounds which make it sweet as it is. These are stevioside, dulcosides, rebaudiosides, and steviolbiosides, and these little babies pack a punch as far as sweetness goes. I’m saying that because a stevioside extract can be 200-300x sweeter than table sugar.
But be warned, a stevioside extract is not the same as stevia you can buy in stores. The store-bought stevia is usually 20-30x times sweeter than normal table sugar – that’s not that bad either, is it?
You might be thinking that such harrowing sweetness would increasingly give to dental caries. Well, you’re wrong. Stevia does not contribute to dental caries or other plaques. 
Because of its sweetness and no caloric content, it is obviously a great substitute for people who would like to lose weight. The average American gets around 340 of his daily calories from sugar, this intake increases to around 400 for the 20-39 age group. 
Diabetic patients are one group that would hugely benefit from a natural sweetener such as stevia that does not contain glucose or any calories. In fact, stevia has been used as a treatment for people with diabetes among Indians in Paraguay and Brazil for many years. Furthermore, the active compounds in stevia (especially steviosides) stimulate pancreatic beta cells to produce large quantities of insulin, which then helps to cut blood glucose – the cause of type two diabetes. [3, 4]
Heart health and blood pressure
A lot of human and animal studies that were testing whether there would be any noted differences or reductions in blood pressure have been done with stevia. In these studies, stevioside was used as a supplement instead of stevia itself. This was done since stevioside is much more potent than stevia, as I’ve already mentioned.
The blood pressure reducing effects due to stevia supplementation have been found quite consistently across multiple studies [5, 6, 7, 8]. However, there is a warning. As I’ve mentioned, it was stevioside that was used in these studies. Getting the required dose to notice the blood pressure reducing effects, simply by substituting stevia with sugar, may be a little far fetched.
Different stevia extracts have shown strong ‘bacteria killing’ activity against many different bacteria; including certain E. coli strains . Moreover, they are also potent against bacteria in mucus, and Candida albicans which causes vaginitis.
And I’ve mentioned it does not give rise to dental caries. It actually even lowers the incidence of dental caries – which is probably a reason why it is being used as an ingredient for mouthwashes and toothpastes by certain companies.
Possible chronic toxicity
I found two studies and two reviews that have concerned themselves with the toxicity and possible cancerogenic effects of steviosides: some did the study on animals).
The two reviews found stevia to be safe. In the animal studies done on mice, the sample sizes were insufficient or the method was a bit fishy as they used a family of mice that has since been discontinued from such research. In any case, the reviews of different human trials concluded that stevia is safe to use. [10, 11, 12, 13]
- Stevia is a natural sweetener that is 20-30x sweeter than table sugar and has no calories.
- It can lead to weight loss if all sugar intake is substituted with stevia.
- It is for diabetics because it doesn’t increase blood sugar.
- It has different antibacterial properties.
- Different studies even noted reductions in blood pressure, however, stevioside was used; this means that through daily use the effects would probably not be so pronounced, if even.