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
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,
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.