The Healthy Way to Indulge Your Sweet Tooth
Most people have quite a sweet tooth. And for thousands of years, that was no problem. Hunter-gatherers like our ancestors didn’t have a lot of sweet foods available. They ate fruits in season. And maybe had an occasional treat of honey… if the bees didn’t object too strongly. But that was about it.
Farming changed all that. Our ancestors settled down. They began growing grains, baking with those grains, and then adding sweeteners. Eventually, they moved on to cakes and candies.
As we ate more and more sugary foods, our health began to suffer. Science introduced artificial sweeteners to help us cut down. But these sweeteners came with their own problems. Some have already been banned as health hazards.
Even the “safe” ones are controversial. Studies have linked artificial sweeteners to everything from increased appetite to blood sugar trouble.1, 2
For those of us with a sweet tooth, it’s a real problem. Fortunately, there’s an answer. And this answer isn’t just sweet… it may actually be good for you!
You may have heard of stevia before. It’s a South American plant that’s up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. And though it’s sweet like sugar, it doesn’t have all the calories in sugar – or sugar’s other health effects.
In South America, the Guarani people have used stevia as a sweetener and medicine for centuries. But western science only “discovered” stevia about 100 years ago.
We’ve been slow to recognize stevia’s benefits, too. The Japanese approved stevia as a sweetener back n the 1970’s. But it wasn’t approved here in the US until 2008. Before that, you could only find it in health food stores – sold it as a “supplement.”
In a way, calling stevia a supplement wasn’t far off the mark. Because – unlike artificial sweeteners – stevia appears to have genuine health benefits.
Scientist in Florida gave a group of men one of three drinks before a meal. The drinks contained either stevia, sugar or an artificial sweetener. The researchers found one big difference after each meal. The sugar and insulin levels in the men’s blood were always lower among those who had the stevia drink.3
A Danish team performed a similar experiment. Except their subjects had serious blood sugar problems. But these men also had lower blood sugar levels after a meal containing stevia.4
In other words, stevia appears to support a “smoothing out” of the blood sugar spikes most people experience after eating. And that’s great news for anyone trying to control their blood sugar.
But it’s not the only benefit stevia may offer. There’s also evidence that it has a positive influence on blood pressure, too.
Researchers at Taipei Medical College took a group of men with high blood pressure. The men ranged in age from 28 to 75. Some of the men were given stevia. The rest received a placebo.
After three months, the men taking stevia had much lower blood pressure, while the placebo group didn’t. Plus, over the course of a year, far more in the placebo group developed complications linked to high blood pressure.5
A more recent study found that stevia promoted such a big difference in blood pressure that it actually helps improve the quality of life. And that’s using a medical definition of the term.6
But here’s the amazing thing. Stevia only appears to promote lower blood pressure in people whose blood pressure is already high.
When researchers gave stevia to people with normal blood pressure, their blood pressure levels stayed normal. Even when they took far more stevia than you’ll probably ever get in a day.7 In other words, stevia appears to have a normalizing influence on blood pressure.
Of course, I’m not recommending you start loading up on stevia. But if you have a craving for something sweeter than fruit, it’s probably the healthiest way to indulge your sweet tooth.
Dr. Kenneth Woliner, M.D.
Best Life Herbals
1 Rogers PJ and Blundela JE. Separating the actions of sweetness and calories: Effects of saccharin and carbohydrates on hunger and food intake in human subjects. Physiology & Behavior, Volume 45, Issue 6, June 1989, Pages 1093-1099.
2 Nettleton JA, et al. Diet soda intake and risk of incident metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Diabetes Care. 2009 Apr;32(4):688-94. Epub 2009 Jan 16.
3 Anton SD, et al. Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. Appetite. 2010 Aug;55(1):37-43. Epub 2010 Mar 18.
4 Gregersen S, et al. Antihyperglycemic effects of stevioside in type 2 diabetic subjects. Metabolism. 2004 Jan;53(1):73-6.
5 Chan P, et al. A double-blind placebo-controlled study of the effectiveness and tolerability of oral stevioside in human hypertension. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2000 Sep;50(3):215-20.
6 Hsieh MH, eet al. Efficacy and tolerability of oral stevioside in patients with mild essential hypertension: a two-year, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Clin Ther. 2003 Nov;25(11):2797-808.
7 Maki KC, et al. The hemodynamic effects of rebaudioside A in healthy adults with normal and low-normal blood pressure. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008 Jul;46 Suppl 7:S40-6. Epub 2008 May 16..