Students of Ethnobotany: Life is Sweet

600px-Bunter_Teller_(27_Stücke)This sugary edition of Students of Ethnobotany is brought to us by the sweet Bryan Q.

In most parts of the world, sugar, the sweet kick to every meal, has been an important part of the human diet. Apart from making human food palatable, it also provides energy. However, the health risk of diabetes has been an ongoing concern throughout the world. Increasing the consumption of sugar-sweeted foods can cause an increase in blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous to many known and unknown diabetic patients. Can this epidemic be solved with our ongoing desire for tasty candy, yummy ice-cream, and 1000+ flavors of cake?

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Stevia rebaudiana flowers

A healthy alternative to sugar can be steviol glycosides. It is a compound derived from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, a herb that belongs to the Sunflower family (Asteraceae). It originates in South America and has been used by Indigenous people for many centuries. It is more commonly known as stevia, sugarleaf, or sweetleaf. Some unique properties of Stevia is that it is 250 – 300 times sweeter than sucrose, provides 0 calories, does not promote tooth decay, and does not lose its sweetness property under acidic or high temperature conditions. However, its most important features are that it does not increase blood glucose or insulin levels.

Stevia’s popularity has increased in foods since health and nutrition has become a much more prevalent topic in the food industry. Apart from diabetes, obesity has been an ongoing disease in many families, including my own, and has a major effect on the kinds of foods many can eat. Luckily, the properties of Stevia allow for a wide variety of applications in foods: energy drinks, pastry goods, tabletop sweetener, etc. Although there are other sweeteners, which do not increase blood glucose levels, insulin levels, and have 0 calories, tend not to be naturally plant derived. Since stevia is a natural sweetener, it is often a consumer favorite for many, including myself, compared to a sweetener that is artificially made (e.g. sucralose, sugar-alcohols, and acesulfame-k). With Stevia being perceived as a natural healthy alternative, it is now being produced widespread all around the world. There are over a dozen applications for Stevia that is currently being used worldwide; however, one could only imagine how many more applications Stevia could be used for in the future as its popularity grows.

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German stevia tablets

Reference:

Skura, B., E E., Li-Chan, E., and Liceaga, A. (2012a,b,c,d,e). Food and Nutrition 200 – Exploring Our Food. [Lessons 3]. Retrieved from https://www.elearning.ubc.ca

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