The popularity of stevia has grown in recent years. Increasingly, a range of food products and beverages containing stevia ingredients are becoming available in the market. The main reason for its growing popularity is its use as a natural sweetener – a sugar substitute.
In 2023, the global stevia market was worth USD 382.5 million, and it is projected to become a USD 698.2 million market. Its demand is exploding because people are now more health conscious than ever before, and they want to reduce their sugar intake, which is known to cause health issues, including mood disorders. Stevia, derived from the leaves of the stevia rebaudiana plant, is a non-nutritive sweeter and 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar.
History of Stevia
The indigenous people of Paraguay were the first ones to discover stevia rebaudiana, the plant from which stevia is extracted. They called it “Ka’a he’ê,” which means honey grass in English, and used its leaves to make their drinks sweeter. In 1932, two French chemists, Bridel and Lavielle, succeeded in isolating stevioside from stevia leaves. It is a steviol glycoside that is responsible for the distinct sweet taste. Japanese were the first to commercially introduce stevia as a sweetener. They began using it as a sugar substitute in 1971 after extensive safety testing – when they found that it has no health risk – and following that, stevia gained users in Asian and Latin American countries. In the U.S., stevia extract became available as a dietary supplement in health food stores in the 1990s. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted stevia the GRAS, short for Generally Recognized as Safe, status in 2008.
Why Stevia Is Gaining Popularity?
Research has shown that regular and high sugar intake can cause several health issues, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. There is a greater risk of people who consume a high-sugar diet dying from heart disease. In the U.S., added sugar is present in most processed food and soft drinks, fruit drinks, cereals, cakes, cookies, and chocolates, which is why the intake of sugar among US adults is very high. And stevia is proving to be a great alternative for those who want to reduce that and lead a healthier lifestyle.
Benefits of Consuming Stevia
Stevia is not only a good substitute because it is very sweet but also because it adds no calories or carbohydrates to your diet – or only adds a few. It helps lose weight and prevent obesity, which is a serious health problem in the U.S. Stevia also does not impact blood glucose or insulin response, making it a healthier option for people suffering from diabetes. Also, there is no risk of tooth decay when someone consumes desserts, processed food, or soft drinks containing stevia ingredients.
Stevia is also a sustainable alternative to sugar. Stevia-based sweeteners produce very little greenhouse gas emissions compared to table sugar.
A Great Sugar Substitute
Stevia sweeteners are made by extracting steviol glycosides from a stevia plant’s leaves. It is said that the sweetness of 4g steviol glycosides is equivalent to 1,000g of sugar. It is very sweet compared to table sugar or added sugar, but its sweetness does not trigger health issues. So, with stevia, you do not have to snub cravings for sweet treats. You can enjoy them and still be healthy.