If you have diabetes, chances are you consume a large amount of artificial sweeteners. Until now, these sweeteners have been the only sugar alternative for those with diabetes. The problem, however, is that there has always been a concern that overconsumption of these synthetic sweeteners may cause some harm to the body. Could partial or complete stevia substitution for artificial sweeteners be a good idea? We believe so. Stevia leaves have been used as herbal teas by diabetic patients in Asian countries for many years. No side effects have been observed in these patients after continued consumption (Suttajit, 1993). Furthermore, studies have shown that stevia extract can actually improve blood sugar levels (Alvarez, 1981, Curi, 1986).
In 1986, Brazilian researchers from the Universities of Maringa and Sao Paolo evaluated the role of stevia in blood sugar (Curi, 1986). Sixteen healthy volunteers were given extracts from 5 grams of stevia leaves every six hours for three days. The extracts were prepared by immersing the leaves in boiling water for twenty minutes. A glucose tolerance test (GTT) was performed before and after the administration of the extract. During this test, the volunteers were given a glass of water with glucose. Blood sugar levels were then evaluated over the next few hours. The results were compared to those of another group of volunteers that did not receive the stevia extracts. Those with a predisposition to diabetes showed marked rise in blood sugar levels. The group given stevia was found to have significantly lower blood sugar levels as indicated by the glucose tolerance tests.
The results of this study were a positive indication that, potentially, stevia can be beneficial to diabetics. And even if stevia by itself does not lower blood sugar levels, the simple fact that a person with diabetes would consume less sugar is of significant importance in maintaining better blood sugar control.
We suggest that switch to stevia. You can begin by using it instead of sugar or an artificial sweetener to flavor your coffee or tea. After a few days or weeks, as your comfort level with stevia increases, gradually use more of the herbal extract in those dishes or beverages in which you would normally use a different sweetener. With time, more research will become available on the safety of stevia and artificial sweeteners. Based on the results of these studies, you can better determine which sweeteners to continue using in greater amounts.
Although some argue that artificial sweeteners are safe in small amounts, problems may arise if they are used in excess. Even partially substituting stevia for artificial sweeteners can help reduce any potential risk.
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