Raw stevia is a sugar substitute derived from small shrub-like plants, which belong to the sunflower family. Stevia is also known as sweet herb of Paraguay, honeyleaf, and sweetleaf. Stevia leaves are used to produce a natural sweetener without calories, which is considered to be sweeter than table sugar (or sucrose). This zero-calorie sugar substitute is used in many parts of the world also for its medicinal properties, including South America, Central America, Asia, and other countries. The leaves of the plant were initially used dried or fresh but scientists were able to isolate glycosides called rebaudioside and stevioside from these, which were found to give raw stevia its sweetness.
Raw stevia is a rich source of trace elements, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and volatile oils, which have medicinal and nutritional properties. Stevia has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a sweetener that is safe to use for food and beverages. Aside from these, steviol glycosides are used as ingredients in herbal supplements. Another advantage of using raw stevia is that unlike other sweeteners, it can be used for cooking and baking even in small amounts.
Benefits and Uses of Raw Stevia
Recent studies suggest that stevia may be useful in treating various health conditions. It is believed to possess anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-septic, anti-oxidant, anti-hypertensive and anti-glycemic properties. These properties may help treat high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, upset stomach, indigestion, heartburn, colds and flu, weight loss, gingivitis, dental cavities, tooth decay, hair loss, dandruff, weak bones (osteoporosis), bacterial and fungal infections, and many skin conditions. It is also known to strengthen the immune system, improve one's energy levels, enhance mental activity, and help in relieving withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and tobacco addiction. Here are some specific benefits of raw stevia:
- Hair Care. Stevia is believed to be useful in eliminating dandruff and improving dry scalp and dull, thin hair. Regular use of stevia concentrate mixed with shampoo helps retain natural hair color, moisture, and strength.
- Diabetes. Studies show that stevia, a low carb, low calorie sweetener stabilizes blood sugar levels, increases insulin resistance, and promotes insulin production. Steviol glycosides do not accumulate in the body because they are excreted without being metabolized. Some research suggests that stevia inhibits your craving for sweets and oily foods. You can also drink tea made from raw stevia leaves to reduce blood sugar levels. To make a tea, place a tea bag of raw stevia leaves in one cup of hot water, allowing it to steep for five to seven minutes. You can also use a few drops of the extract mixed in hot or cold water.
- Gingivitis. The antibacterial properties of this natural sweetener may help treat gingivitis, tooth decay, mouth sores, and dental caries. It helps suppress the growth and proliferation of bacteria in the mouth and helps promote oral health. Raw stevia extract can be used as a mouthwash by simply gargling and brushing the teeth with it added to toothpaste.
- Digestive Problems. Stevia tea has been used in South American countries to soothe symptoms of heartburn, upset stomach, indigestion and other gastrointestinal dysfunction. Drink Stevia tea after meals to aid in digestion and relieve stomach pain or heartburn.
- Hypertension. Some studies show that stevia may help lower increased blood pressure. Drink Stevia tea twice a day to stabilize blood pressure levels.
- Osteoporosis. Animal studies suggest that stevia leaf powder may increase calcium metabolism and help promote its absorption. Raw stevia tea may be used with Alfalfa herbs and taken twice or thrice daily to prevent weak bones. Add vitamin D to the tea or take as a supplement to promote bone health.
- Weight Loss. Research suggests that stevia is useful for weight management. By interfering with the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls hunger, it may reduce hunger and aid in weight loss. Its effects in controlling blood glucose levels also helps prevent weight gain. Drink Stevia tea or add several drops of the concentrate to warm or cold water and take before meals.
- Skin Care. The antiseptic, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties of stevia are responsible for its use in treating many skin disorders, such as skin blemishes, eczema, dermatitis, acne, scarring, itchiness, rashes, chapped lips, and wrinkles. Stevia concentrate can be applied directly on the affected skin to promote healing. It may also be applied to the face before bedtime to smooth out wrinkles. Make a paste from crushed stevia leaves or concentrate, apply on your face and let dry for several minutes. Then wash, pat dry your face, and apply some extra virgin coconut oil. Leave on overnight to enjoy its antioxidant effects.
Side Effects of Raw Stevia
Raw stevia is a natural substance that has not been reported to have serious side effects when taken moderately. WHO (World Health Organization) and FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) have approved the safe use of steviol glycosides up to a dose of 4 mg per kg body weight taken daily. However, its use must be medically supervised if you are taking medications for high blood pressure or diabetes.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women must consult their physicians before using stevia for therapeutic use. Some side effects that have been noted include:
- Low Blood Sugar. Inappropriate intake of stevia may lower blood sugar levels, resulting in hypoglycemia, which can be dangerous. This may also cause reflex overeating as the body compensates for lack of energy.
- Obesity. Raw stevia is naturally low in calories compared to regular sugar. The American Dietetic Association warns that trying to satisfy your sweet tooth by eating too much of this sweetener may increase your appetite and lead to weight gain instead of weight loss.
- Cancer. Raw stevia contains some compound that may act as a carcinogen. This has been shown in laboratory studies but it is not clear whether this could occur inside the human body or not. Researchers advise caution in using stevia as a regular sugar substitute.
- Fertility Problems. Animal experiments show that fertility problems may arise with stevia, including decreased testosterone levels, testicular abnormalities, fewer offspring, and low birth weight in offspring. However, further studies need to be done to show if these effects also occur in humans.
- Temptation Hazard. The stevia derivative rebaudioside A is used as an artificial sweetener in soda and other beverages that promote low- or zero-calorie products. Critics are concerned that excessive amounts may be consumed because of the temptation to use these products instead of sugar-sweetened products.