STEVIA: CALORIE FREE SWEETENER
Dr. Vikas Sharma
The blooming health awareness has raised eye brows of many to search for herbal alternatives that can pose therapeutic potential and also can supplement the hunger of the population. Diet consisting of limited carbohydrate and fat has necessitated the use of various alternatives that can substitute the prevailing platter. In view of the above, various herbal alternatives have cropped up, Stevia being one of the candidates. The plant Stevia being a native of Paraguay, is an alternative source of artificial sweetener posing zero carbohydrate and fat. It is highly nutritious owing to its numerous therapeutic potential being antioxidant, antimicrobial, mental sedative, digestive and anti diabetic to name a few. Stevia is a candidate of anti hypertension, it is extensively used in the confectionaries / bakeries as an alternative source of cane and beet sugar and being a key source sweetener for the diabetic world, it has got some cosmetic implications as it helps in skin toning too. Since centuries, Stevia has been consumed in China, Indonesia, Canada, Japan and Argentina as a magical potent.
The plant taxonomically nomenclatured as Stevia rebaudiana, is a member of the compositate / asteraceae family and has herbaceous growth habit with alternate leaves arrangement. It is a perennial plant growing up to 65-80 cm with sessile leaves. It is a semi humid plant and can be grown as any other vegetable as a kitchen garden crop. Being less in calorie, it has been colossally used from centuries in various parts of the world including Japan, Central & South America, Brazil and Paraguay. The use of S rebaudina can be found in various parts of the geographical coordinates as an anti hyperglycaemic sweetener which can also help in controlling weight in obese persons. Biochemically, the diterpene glycosides hold the lion share in grooming it as a natural sweetner, which includes proximately 0.3% dulcoside, 0.6 % rebaudioside C, 3.8 % rebaudioside A and 9.1 % stevioside. Moreover, the chemical composites include stigmasterol and campesterol. The leaves of the species are rich in sweetening compounds such as stevoside, rebaudioside A, D and E, dulcosides A and B, all belonging to diterpene glycosides. The novel chemical composites especially the glycosides are responsible for reducing the level of cholesterol, triglycerides and low density lipoprotein cholesterol. Literature showed that the stevia extract pose a hypolipidaemic effect and can be a boon for various cardiovascular diseases. The herbal sweetener shows various uses as being safe for diabetes, as it does not affect blood sugar levels along with being renal safe. Moreover, stevia has proven anti fungal and anti bacterial along with versatile properties. From centuries, stevia has been used as a flavour enhancer, symbiotically used as a herbal tea sweetening agent owing to be 30 times sweeter than cane sugar. Statistics suggest that by 2024, 40% of the Indian population will be affected by diabetes, so the call of the hour is to search for better sweetening alternatives. Scientists claim that stevia sugar can be a better alternative as other sugar alternatives pose some detrimental side effects.
Stevia pose a myriad of legitimate therapeutic potential in synergetic to being a flavour enhancer. Besides stevosides, being a booty of beneficial compounds including sterols, triterpenes, flavonoids and tannins support the use of stevia as a medicinal herb. It is believed that the presence of stevosides, produce a dozen of empirical and semi controlled hypoglycaemic actions. Various researches suggest the long term use of stevia as a cardio tonic, can aid in various cardiovascular diseases and can produce a mild strengthening of the heart and vascular system.
Therefore, stevia, as an emerging source of calorie free sweetener, owing to being 20 to 30 times more sweeter than cane / beet sugar, aids in digestion and weight reduction simultaneously, posing zero carbohydrate and fat.
(The authors is Assoc. Professor from the Division of Biochemistry SKUAST-Jammu).