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 Healthy Kitchen: Stay Healthy the Stevia Way (Diabetics, Weight Loss, Children) 
 
Ray Sahelian We all have a craving for a sweet taste and often satisfy this craving with sugar or fat-filled foods. Even "natural" sugar substitutes, such as honey, maple syrup or molasses, can be unhealthy if over-consumed since they can markedly elevate blood sugar levels. Hence, stevia can be advantageous to practically everyone whose diet contains sweeteners. Although stevia can be helpful to anyone, there are certain groups who are more likely to benefit from its remarkable sweetening potential. These include diabetics, those interested in decreasing caloric intake, and children.

A Godsend to Diabetics
The availability of artificial sweeteners has been of enormous benefit to diabetics. However, there's always been a concern that over consumption of these synthetic sweeteners may cause some unknown harm to the body. Could stevia substitution be a good alternative in diabetics? We believe so. Stevia leaves have been used as herbal teas by diabetic patients in Asian countries. No side effects have been observed in these patients after many years of continued consumption (Suttajit, 1993). Furthermore, studies have shown that stevia extract can actually improve blood sugar levels (Alvarez, 1981, Curi, 1986).

In 1986, Brazilian researchers from the Universities of Maringa and Sao Paolo evaluated the role of stevia in blood sugar (Curi, 1986). Sixteen healthy volunteers were given extracts of 5 grams of stevia leaves every six hours for three days. The extracts from the leaves were prepared by immersing them in boiling water for 20 minutes. A glucose tolerance test (GTT) was performed before and after the administration of the extract and the results were compared to another group who did not receive the stevia extracts. During a GTT, patients are given a glass of water with glucose and their blood sugar levels are evaluated over the next few hours. Those who have a predisposition to diabetes will have a marked rise in blood sugar levels. The volunteers on stevia were found to have significantly lower blood sugar levels after ingestion of stevia. This is a positive indication that stevia can potentially be beneficial to diabetics who substitute stevia in order to decrease their sugar consumption. Even if stevia by itself is not able to lower blood sugar levels, just the fact that a diabetic would consume less sugar is of significant importance in maintaining better blood sugar control.

If you're diabetic, chances are you consume a large amount of artificial sweeteners and you may be concerned about switching to stevia since long-term human studies have not been done with this herb. You may also be accustomed in your use of these artificial sweeteners and would not be willing to completely stop them. One option is to gradually use less of them while substituting stevia. For instance, you can initially use stevia in some of your drinks, like coffee or tea. After a few weeks, if your comfort level with stevia increases, you can gradually use more of the herbal extract. Over the next few weeks and months you can either switch completely to stevia, or you can continue using it in combination with artificial sweeteners. With time more research will become available on the safety of stevia and artificial sweeteners. Based on the results of these studies, you can determine which ones to continue using in a larger amount.

(Excerpted from The Stevia Cookbook ISBN: 0895299267)
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 About The Author
Ray Sahelian MDRay Sahelian, M.D., is a popular and respected physician who has been seen on numerous television programs including NBC Today, Dateline NBC, and CNN, and quoted by countless major magazines such as Newsweek He......more
 
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