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Stevioside: the sad story of stevia's main glycoside

There was a lot of immediate interest in stevioside, the most apparent glycoside of the eight to be found in the stevia plant, when the first studies on stevia surfaced. Can you believe it's been over a century? Recently though, focus has begun to shift to rebaudioside A, which has an even sweeter taste than its sibling.

 

We all know stevioside as a white powder, crystallized and extracted from the stevia herb through a number of environment-friendly processes. It is the main ingredient of the plant's leaves: concentrations of up to 12% have been measured in the wild. Scientists in both the Orient and the US are currently looking for ways to up this percentage through genetic engineering. Some of its main advantages are:
   

  • it is 100% natural and is extracted naturally   
  • it is about 200-300 times sweeter than sugar   
  • it contains no calories   
  • it has no toxic effects and is ideal for diabetics

 

Stevia has been approved for unconstricted use in Japan since the 1970's - it is now the number one sweetener there with a market share of no less than 40% - and in other countries as well, including China, Korea and Brazil. In fact, China is the number one international supplier of the sweet leaf. In over forty years of using the herb's extracts, no signs of any significant side effects have been reported in these countries.

 

steviosideMake that a few hundred years if you count Paraguay! It's no secret that the native Guarani tribes have been using the little green plant as a sweetener safely for decades, and are well aware of the many benefits of stevia.

The United States and Europe have thus far always resisted the approval of stevia as a sweetener: rumor has it that pressure from the sugar lobby played a significant part in keeping the herb at bay, with governments hiding behind claims of incomplete studies of the plant's safety, and the so-called potential dangers of stevia

But now the tide seems to be turning very slowly: You can find a lot of stevia-based products on the American shelves already, and the sweet leaf stevia has recently finally been approved as a sweetener in Europe as well, with commercially available products on the way! These truly are exciting times for everyone looking to start living a healthier, sugar free lifestyle.




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