Stevia Leaves: The Wonders of the All-Natural Sweetener

Stevia Leaves: The Wonders of the All-Natural Sweetener

By: Rex "Ito Domo" Fortu

A lot of people, especially the Filipinos, have a sweet tooth and yes - that includes me. Some of us drink coffee in the morning, and some of us have tea to start our day. More often than not, we pair them with different variants of rice cakes from suman to bibingka, puto, and other pastries laden with sugar and coconut milk. Don’t forget our savory viands like asado, tocino, and adobo which all have sweet undertones. And of course, who could forget about our local-style spaghetti with chopped hotdogs and thick, red sauce made from sweet banana ketchup. Lastly, we also indulge in a lot of sugar-filled desserts from leche flan to halo-halo, ube and many more.

Needless to say, we love sweets. A lot of sweets. Have you ever wondered why sugar is a major part of traditional Filipino cuisine? Sugar was considered a basic commodity and an important agricultural product as the Philippines was one of the major sugar producers for international trade. During the times of Spanish and American rule, the local sugarcane industry ascended which greatly affected the country’s socio-economic growth. Giant sugarcane plantations provided employment for the masses and soon enough the people were using sugar in everyday cooking.

Sugar isn’t bad, as a matter of fact it’s a part of a healthy diet. It provides us with energy and stamina needed to do our daily activities. It activates a certain part of the brain that causes a rush of dopamine, the feel-good hormone. It makes our lives sweeter literally and figuratively but as the old adage says, "Too much of anything is not good for us."

We must be mindful of how much sugar we intake as poor food choices and lack of physical exercise may contribute to contracting diabetes in the future. While most cases of diabetes are hereditary, our lifestyles also pose a significant risk factor. The rising number of diabetes-related deaths are increasing, and we surely don’t want to be a part of this statistic. Excessive sugar and calories are also linked to obesity and cardiovascular disease.

According to the latest update of the International Diabetes Federation, there is a 6% prevalence of diabetes in adults in the Philippines or equivalent to almost 4 million people.

Luckily, we don’t have to completely let go of our favorite sweet treats as there are now a lot of options available in the market including products properly labeled “no sugar added” or “sugar-free.” If you want to decrease your sugar consumption and avoid artificial sweeteners and chemicals, then nature has already got you covered.

As early as the 1700s, the peoples of South America discovered a plant with sweet-tasting leaves. In fact, they used it to sweeten beverages and make tea. This plant native to Paraguay and Brazil is none other than stevia (stevia rebaudiana). It is now also grown in China, Japan and the Philippines. Stevia leaves are commonly used as a substitute for table sugar. It doesn’t strictly contain zero calories and carbohydrates but is substantially less calorific than sucrose. Its low-calorie content qualifies to be a healthy alternative for sugar in managing diabetes control and weight loss. It is currently being used by different industries as a sweetening ingredient for products such as ice cream, bread, chewing gum and some soft drinks.

I found Stevia tremendously helpful as it provided me with not just a delicious cup of tea, but healthy drinks as well! I just brew it with my favorite teas and infusions and voila, a slightly sweeter tea without any of the repercussions. All of our other tea variants are naturally sugar-free but if you want a sweet tea but can't put sugar or honey, you definitely need to try adding these wonderful, all-natural stevia leaves.

Whether it's inhibiting your food cravings, losing weight, or just as a healthy drink, one may drink stevia tea 30 minutes before a meal as it acts as an appetite suppressant. It also helps with hyperglycemia as it aids in controlling blood glucose levels, perfect for those who are managing Diabetes. Lastly, it helps stabilize levels of blood pressure as well.

Enjoy the sweetness of life with better options and healthful alternatives!



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