STEVIA: Can Nature’s Sweetener Help Your Blood Sugar?
You know that awful feeling when a sugar low is coming. I break out into a cold sweat, feel panicky, get nauseated, and have trouble answering extremely simple questions like "Do you need to eat?" Well, I was feeling it again, and again, and I didn't know why. That's what I hate the most: When things go wrong, but I think I've been doing everything right.
Blood sugar problems run in my family. My grandpa was an insulin-dependent diabetic, and my mom is a type 2 diabetic on medication. For some reason, I got the other end of the problem, reactive hypoglycemia, but ironically, I did get gestational diabetes during pregnancy. So I guess you could say I've lived on both sides of the blood sugar coin. My diet restrictions are about the same as yours, but I have to avoid sugar like the plague. I can usually handle three bites of my husband's dessert (if he's willing to share!), but any more than that will have consequences. Sometimes I give in and eat dessert on the ridiculous premise that perhaps I've been cured and I'll just eat this chocolate cake to check and see. That always ends up badly.
So, probably like you, in order to enjoy things that taste sweet without feeling like I'm going to die around 2:00 in the morning, I am an avid fan of artificial sweeteners.But, also probably like you, I've read the reports on their dangers. The huge lists of possible side effects make me feel rather guilty for putting the stuff in my mouth, but not guilty enough to stop. That is, until just a couple of weeks ago, when I decided to go off artificial sweeteners and try the natural, latest-fad-of-health-gurus, non-sugar sweetener, Stevia.
Stevia has been around for awhile, and you've probably heard it praised to the skies by anyone who regularly buys organic food and eats rice cakes for fun. Personally, I could never get past the aftertaste. But then one day, on a rare visit to a health food store, I came across the liquid version of Stevia, and it even had a little lemon added to it for flavor. This stuff was good. It was really good. It had no aftertaste, and it did a good job sweetening my lemonade. I became a fan.
So I stirred up a big jug of my favorite drink, sweetened it with Stevia, and enjoyed it thoroughly. But that day and the next, I started having these random feelings that my sugar was dropping, which was very odd because I hadn't changed my diet, and I hadn't "cheated" on sweets. I really hate having the low sugar feelings without even having enjoyed a donut so that I can pretend it was almost worth it!
After two days of feeling lousy, I finally sat down in front of the computer and started doing some research. The only thing I could think of that had changed was that I was taking in a lot of Stevia. Of course, I knew that Stevia supporters went on and on about how it had no side effects whatsoever and was totally safe, but I've learned to listen to my body more than to "experts" and dig a little deeper until I find answers. I dug deeper, and I found answers. I noticed that while people were praising the benefits of Stevia, they mentioned that, though it has not been proven, Stevia has the potential of benefiting diabetics by lowering blood sugar levels. Bingo. I wish I had found that website before I'd downed that half-gallon of Kool-Aid!
I did find one website that said that Stevia would both help diabetics lower blood sugar levels and balance their levels, but I personally beg to differ.Finally, I found one fantastic website about hypoglycemia that made the Stevia situation clear. It reads, "Because of its blood sugar-lowering and blood pressure-lowering potential, the sweetener Stevia * should be evaluated first on an individual basis before being regularly used by anyone suffering from hypoglycemia or general glucose tolerance problems. Feedback has been mixed, with Stevia being well tolerated by some, but less so (i.e., aggravated low blood sugar symptoms) by others."
This let me know that Stevia was not an option for me. But then I started thinking of my mother, who loves sweet-tasting treats as much as I do. Perhaps my experience, however negative for me, could turn out to be good for her, especially because Stevia may also lower blood pressure, another struggle that she has. So I told her all about it. Mom was excited about the news and plans to try it. But we certainly shouldn't keep such a potentially beneficial secret to ourselves, so here I am, telling you too.
Now, because it is not proven or tested (outside of Brazil), and apparently different people have different levels of sensitivity to it, don't hate me if it doesn't work wonders for you. But the way I figure it, you might as well give it a try, as it is better for you than the artificial version anyway.
After looking up multiple websites regarding the history of Stevia use and reading about studies that have been done on both people and rats, I'm pretty convinced that diabetics can't go wrong trying this. Imagine, a sweetener with no side effects except perhaps good ones, complete with potential blood sugar-lowering properties without needing a prescription. I'm no expert, but based on my research and my own experience that it lowered my sugar, as a hypoglycemic, I'm keeping away from it from here on out, but I'd definitely give some to my mother. She may want to eat it by the spoonful!
Sidebar: The Official Word on Stevia:
Stevia is an herb that grows wild in Paraguay and Brazil. It is a member of the chrysanthemum family. In Paraguay, Stevia has been used for centuries as a sweetener and as medicine. It became very popular in Japan in the 1970s and continues to be used now. Statistics say that at present, Stevia accounts for 40 percent of the Japanese sweetener market.
Stevia has no calories and no carbohydrates, and it can be used in cooking and baking.
Studies done in Brazil have shown Stevia to lower blood sugar and blood pressure.
Check out the following websites to find out more about Stevia:
(This last one has a conversion table for sugar to Stevia)
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