Why Stevia Is a Great Dietary Choice for People with Diabetes

Like everybody else, you and other people with diabetes want to enjoy the "sweetness" in a soft drink or tabletop sweetener.

At the same time, you want to reduce the role that sugar plays in your caloric intake. Not surprisingly, stevia – a zero-calorie natural sweetener – has been a popular choice in the diabetes community for a long time. If you haven’t yet heard of it, chances are you will soon.

The use of the stevia leaf itself was pioneered by many diabetes patients in the U.S. 10 or 15 years ago, even before mainstream brands like Truvia put it in front of most general shoppers. Today, large food and beverage companies are starting to introduce en masse products that are formulated using stevia.

What is stevia, and what makes it a healthy choice for diabetics?

Grown primarily in Paraguay, Brazil and China, the stevia plant is grown for its sweet leaves. In fact, the extract of the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana – one of many stevia species – is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar, but does not promote tooth decay. Stevia has been consumed for decades as a sweetener in Japan, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of stevia extract as a food additive in 2008.

In addition to its sweetness, stevia has no calories or carbohydrates, giving it no glycemic load and making it a favorite option among those with diabetes. Studies have also indicated that stevia may even have direct medicinal effects. These preliminary studies have shown that stevia may be used to lower or stabilize blood sugar levels, that it can raise "good" cholesterol levels and reduce "bad" cholesterol levels in the human body, and that it may help to lower high blood pressure.

Another benefit of stevia – one that distinguishes it from some other alternatives to sugar – is its ability to remain stable under high temperatures. As a result, it can be used to cook and sweeten a wide range of products including coffee, tea, oatmeal, cakes, jelly, bread and chocolate.

Who is using stevia?

Multinational food and beverage companies, including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, are starting to look into stevia as a healthier alternative sweetener for their flagship products. Stevia is currently marketed under the trade names Truvia (Coca-Cola and agricultural giant Cargill), PureVia (PepsiCo and Whole Earth Sweetener Company), and SweetLeaf (Wisdom Natural Brands). Both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo intend to use stevia as a soft-drink sweetener in the U.S., but haven’t yet unveiled stevia-sweetened cola versions of Coke or Pepsi.

Given the wide recognition of the harmful effects of sugar, it is almost inevitable that food manufacturers and individual families – and especially those with diabetes – will learn more about stevia’s benefits and decide to adopt it on a large scale.

Meanwhile, companies such as Stevia First Corp., an early-stage agribusiness based in California’s Central Valley, are focusing on the industrial-scale production of stevia. Stevia First Corp. is developing stevia products in the U.S. as a domestic alternative to Chinese suppliers who account for more than 80 percent of stevia production today.

As I and many others involved in stevia production believe, this sweet leaf is bound to have a bright future as an alternative to sugar and other sugar substitutes in diets around the world – and it may do wonders to keep those with diabetes healthier.

For more information, please visit www.steviafirst.com.

Robert Brooke is a co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Stevia First Corporation, an early-stage agribusiness based in California’s Central Valley and focused on the industrial scale production of stevia.

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