When I first began eating organic myself, I couldn’t truly couldn’t fathom giving up my Equal (aspartame) to sweeten my tea, soft drinks, yogurt, and every other diet version of foods I love. I had no idea what was in Equal, but I needed it. Without an artificial sweetener I would surely turn in to an enlarged, grumpy version of myself. Then I discovered stevia.
Stevia is an herb native to Paraguay. It is an all natural sweetener that is 300 times sweeter than sugar. And get this – no calories! True. It even looks just like aspartame – coming in a white powder form. It was and still is, crucial to my diet. I use it to sweeten tea and yogurt, but have yet to bake with it. I can’t figure out how the smaller volume of sweetener will work out in my cookies. I promise to try and let you know. I cruised www.stevia.com recently and discovered all kinds of recipes I hope to try.
I did a little research this week in to aspartame and stevia. Here’s what I discovered. Aspartame is made in a lab by combining two amino acids. Stevia is a plant leaf (commonly called “sweet leaf”). Aspartame has been around since the 70’s and been heavily marketed. Do a search of aspartame online and you will quickly find site after site warning about the effects of aspartame poisoning and other dangers. Stevia has been used for centuries by the Paraguay Indians with no ill effects. Stevia is safe for use in diabetics because it does not raise blood sugar levels.
Stevia was first brought to this country in 1991 but under great pressure, the FDA only approved its sale if it was labeled a “supplement” rather than a “sweetener”. Reading between the lines on several reports it was clear that the Paraguay Indians just didn’t have a very good lobbyist. Somehow it has finally been cleared for take off (this past fall) and the marketing mavens have already begun their descent. You can find stevia marketed now as “truvia”. Truvia is not necessarily pure stevia, so personally, I’d stick with the real deal. Coke has plans to market a new diet sprite with stevia (Sprite Green, I think) and Pepsi will introduce three SoBe drinks with Stevia.
You can find stevia in the organics section of your grocery store and certainly in any health food store. You can buy it in a shake dispenser or in small packets (just like equal). It is also available in a liquid form. It costs about the same as any artificial sweetener. Now that the FDA finally cleared Stevia to be labeled a sweetener, you'll probably start seeing it everywhere. Like everything else, though, be careful about buying complicated products. Be smart and think organic - stick with the real deal.
Have a sweet day!