I’m writing this post for three reasons. One, I want to capitalize on the opportunity to learn and teach about an ingredient with which I’m largely unfamiliar. Two, perhaps I can add a beneficial ingredient to my nutrition routine. Three, folks ask me about stevia all the time. Oh yeah, and its Sweet Thursday.
You know me, I’m not a fan of artificial sweeteners (or really, artificial anything edible). Stevia has become a popular replacement for crap like aspartame and sucralose. It is a non-caloric sweetener, but unlike most, it is a natural substance. Stevia comes from the leaves of an herb native to South America. It isn’t new and has been used for centuries in places like Paraguay; Japan has been using it for decades. Despite it’s maturity elsewhere, it’s relatively foreign (words are splendid) to us domestically. We’re all still learning about the plant here in the US. From Marksdailyapple.com:
We can think about stevia as a Primal sugar alternative with some potentially therapeutic effects. Kind of like cinnamon or turmeric, we don’t consume it for the calories or as literal fuel for our bodies, but for flavor, variety, and, possibly, the health benefits. It may induce insulin secretion, but it increases insulin sensitivity, reduces blood glucose (i.e., the insulin is doing its job), and does not increase appetite. It’s been used by humans for hundreds of years and by diabetic patients in Asia for decades.
Okay, so stevia is worth experimenting with, at least. I started with a quick taste test. In its powder form, the stuff has a licorice taste on my palate. Interesting that companies and the general public have looked for ways of masking that flavor profile. Give me more, not less licorice, please.
Continuing on with the flavor experimentation, my boys and I had a bowl of fresh lemons from a neighbor’s tree lying around, so we figured, well, duh.
I squeezed a lemon and added a pinch of stevia and mixed the whole thing with a cup of water. I chose that particular brand as the only available organic option at my local Malibu market. One thing to note, for purposes of my taste test, is that this brand has organic agave inulin, a sweetener with a neutral, clean, mildly sweet flavor, added.
Normally I only drink water or coffee. I’m adding in some nutrition to my diet with my lemonade, however. From SFGate:
The compounds in lemons can help protect your health. A 2005 study published in the “Journal of Nutrition” found that the limonoids in citrus fruit, such as lemons, can protect against certain types of cancer. Limonoids are organic substances in citrus fruits that help determine their bitterness or sweetness. The compounds work by protecting your cells from damage that can lead to the formation of cancer. A 2004 article published in the “Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry” notes that limonoids can inhibit the growth of tumors in the mouth and the growth of additional cancerous cells once a tumor has already formed.
There is some evidence that suggests that stevia has some pretty special health properties, as suggested by authoritynutrition.com:
There are some studies in humans showing Stevia to have health benefits. When blood pressure is high, Stevia can lower it by 6-14%. Stevia has been shown to lower blood sugar levels in diabetics. There are also studies in rats showing that Stevia can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce oxidized LDL cholesterol and reduce plaque build up in the arteries.
Back to my lemonade.
I appreciate my drink tart, so I wasn’t liberal with the stevia. At first taste, the sweetness seemed somewhat, well, manufactured or artificial. These aren’t words I’d generally go to for a totally natural product. As it sat in my fridge, my younger son gravitated toward the glass jug and seemed to like it. The colder it got, the more I appreciated the tones. Frankly, however, I won’t be playing too much with this stuff much in the short term. Down the road, perhaps.
What about you? Can you change my mind?