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Conquering Diabetes

with Michael Dansinger, MD

This blog has been retired. We appreciate all the wisdom and support Dr. Dansinger has brought to the WebMD community.


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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Getting to Know Stevia

Stevia is a natural sugar substitute that belongs in your “diabetes reversal” bag of tricks. I recently highlighted the medical problems fueled by excess sugar, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and many other weight-related medical problems. I believe stevia can be a significant part of the solution for many individuals.

The key advantage of stevia (over artificial sweeteners) is that it is all natural – it comes from the “Sweetleaf” plant that grows primarily in tropical and subtropical regions of Western North America to South America. The leaves contain the sweet glycosides stevioside and rebaudioside (discovered in 1931 by French chemists), which are 300 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). The leaves themselves taste sweet and can be used whole or in ground form in food and beverages. More typically, the sweet glycosides are extracted from the plant material and sold as a processed powder. Some companies sell stevia liquid resulting from dissolving the powder into a liquid, which might also contain additional flavor enhancements.

Stevia’s taste is on par with other sugar substitutes – sweetness with a mild after-taste. The key to leveraging stevia’s sweetening power is by masking the after-taste, which is easy to do. Stevia shines when used to enhance the sweetness of foods or beverages that already have some flavor as well as another source of mild sweetness. Its use in the popular beverages Vitamin Water Zero and Sobe Life Water demonstrate that it is gaining traction in the United States. It is usually available as powder, packets or concentrated liquid, in supermarkets, natural foods markets, vitamin shops and health food stores.

Its availability and popularity vary from country to country. It is especially popular in Japan, where it has been in commercial use for nearly 40 years. It is becoming increasingly popular in other parts of Asia and in Australia, and I believe it will become increasingly popular in the United States and Europe as well.

SweetLeaf Stevia

In our home, we use liquid stevia drops regularly. My favorite is the SweetLeaf English Toffee flavor. We also have Vanilla Creme and Lemon Drop flavors. I use it instead of honey, sugar, date or splenda in fruit smoothies. Without the stevia, it tastes bland and cries out for some sweetness. It tastes great with the stevia, and there is no after-taste since the fruit masks it. Here are two favorite recipes:

Banana Strawberry Smoothies

  • 1/2 banana (frozen)
  • 4 strawberries (frozen)
  • 1 cup water
  • 5 drops liquid stevia

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Shake

  • 1 banana (frozen chunks)
  • 2 teaspoons natural peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 12 ounces water
  • 10 drops stevia

My kids and I love these! There is nothing in there I’d hesitate to call healthy. Another example: My 4-year old is much happier to drink milk when it has 3 drops of stevia added. If you have kids that will only drink milk if it is sweetened (eg. with chocolate syrup) but you don’t want them consuming so much sugar, then stevia drops are your answer. Online you can order flavors like Chocolate Raspberry, Cinnamon, Apricot Nectar, English Toffee, Peppermint, Grape, Lemon Drop, etc. A 2-ounce bottle of liquid stevia for about $12 provides about 250 servings (equivalent to about 500 teaspoons of sugar or over 50 twelve-ounce cans of soda). This saves over 8000 calories, with no effect on blood sugar!

I encourage all readers to learn more about stevia and how to use it.

- Michael Dansinger, MD

Tried stevia? How did the sugar alternative taste? Share your opinions on the Diabetes Exchange.

Posted by: Michael Dansinger, MD at 4:36 pm

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