April 2011

What about Stevia?

Bolivia is maybe facing a transition from the use of regular sugar to the use of alternative sweeteners like honey, artificial sweeteners or natural products like Stevia.

Cecilie Winström
Projects Abroad
Vedbæk - Denmark

The reason that Bolivia is facing this transition is that the prices of sugar in Bolivia are so low that sugar-producers, will gain economic benefits from selling the sugar abroad at elevated prices. According to online-newspaper Latin American Herald Tribune (LAHT) this made President Evo Morales to threaten the sugar producers who keep selling the sugar abroad with nationalization. This year the Bolivian sugar refinery UNAGRO has imported no less than one million kilos of sugar from Colombia; this is temporarily to keep the sugar prices artificially low, so that the Bolivian use of sugar can get back to normal as fast as possible. And while the Bolivians are waiting for the sugar, they can use the time to discover the use of the alternative sweeteners like Stevia.

Stevia – a quite old product, but still relatively unknown, is originally from Latin- and South America, and a great alternative to sugar. Stevia is up to 300 times as sweet as regular sugar we all know and use, but as long as you use the right amount. Stevia is said to be good for baking, as well as in coffee and for other kinds of cooking. Like sugar, Stevia is a natural product, so it is not chemically produced like many other sweeteners. Stevia is from the plant Stevia Rebaudiana, and it is said to have many health benefits, it is e.g. the only natural sweetener product on the market that does not contain any calories.

And according to Lance Armstrong Foundation – LIVESTRONG, Stevia is a very good alternative to regular sugar because of the health benefits it brings. Stevia can increase the insulin sensitivity of the body, and by that reduce the symptoms of diabetes. It can as well as many artificial produced medications lower the blood pressure, and according to The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Stevia contains anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory features. The Stevia plant is around 100 years old, and in some parts of the world it is used a lot, while it in other countries still is being tested, before it can get approved. In countries like USA, Japan and most of South America, Stevia is used in several ways, both as a food subsidy and as a sugar extract.

But none of these products is approved by the EU, the European Union, for use in Europe. But why not? The WHO, World Health Organization, confirmed several years ago that Stevia is safe to use, and big international soda companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi are using varieties of Stevia, which is not considered dangerous for humans. But some scientists do think that Stevia has some negative side effects if you consume big amounts of it. Their worries are based on tests with rats, that have shown that after the rats have been exposed to huge amounts of Stevia, their reproductive abilities have been reduced. But this is, as said before, if you consume huge amounts of Stevia.

According to a Danish scientist’s webpage “http://www.videnskab.dk” www. videnskab.dk there is absolutely no reason to worry about consuming too big amounts of Stevia, because it is so sweet that human beings are only able to consume very small amounts at a time. And a lot of people do think that there is no reason to worry about the use of Stevia at all. The rumors about negative side effects can be made up by the producers of artificial sweeteners, who with a product like Stevia on the market would get more competition. According to “http://www.videnskab.dk” www.videnskab.dk the producers of the artificial sweeteners are also a part of the reason why Stevia has not been approved in Europe yet. Because every time Stevia is up for debate, the artificial sweetener producers show up with a lot of arguments to why Stevia should not be approved in the EU. In Bolivia it is possible to buy Stevia in health food stores, you can get it in powder, as dried leafs, sugar cubes, as concentrate or as a liquid. Stevia could be the best alternative to a natural sweetener product, while we wait for the sugar.

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