Stevioside, the main sweet component in the leaves of the Stevia plant, tastes about 300 times sweeter than table sugar, which means only a small amount is needed for sweetening purposes. As the incidence of type-2 diabetes and obesity is sharply increasing, stevioside is an excellent substitute for sugar. The annual cost of treating these diseases is estimated at 5 billion euros in Belgium, 30 billion euros in Germany and 300 billion US dollars in the USA.
However, in 2000 the European Commission refused to approve Stevia and stevioside because of insufficient evidence for their safety. Now an international team of scientists, led by Jan Geuns and Johan Buyse of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, claim to have proven that stevioside is completely safe for use as a sweetener.
The scientists name numerous benefits of Stevioside as a sweetener: It is 100% natural, stable, contains no calories and promotes good dental health by reducing sugar intake. It can be used by diabetics, obese persons and patients suffering from phenylketonuria, an illness which requires a strict diet without artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.
High concentrations of stevioside lower the blood pressure of hypertensive patients without affecting the blood biochemistry. No significant adverse effects would have been observed, and stevioside intake does not affect male potency. It also has potential as a treatment for type-2 diabetes, according to the scientists.
Stevia and stevioside are permitted as food additives in Brazil, Korea and Japan. In the United States, they are permitted as a dietary supplement. In response to the European Commission's request for more research, K.U. Leuven professors Geuns and Buyse set up the European Stevia Research Centre in 2003 at K.U. Leuven in order to co-ordinate research on Stevia and stevioside. One of the centre's goals is to develop a quality label, hopefully lifting the European ban.
MEDICA.de; Source: Katholieke Universiteit Leuven