So Sweet (Stevia Rebaudiana)

Sugar leaf is not just a great sweetener , it is full of antioxidants too, reports T.V. Jayan

Calcutta researchers have turned a sweet plant even sweeter. Stevia rebaudiana or sugar leaf   as it is locally known in India   has of late become a craze among farmers in different parts of the country. That’s  because powder made from its leaves is a natural sweetener that’s up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar. It is a boon for diabetic patients as it does not spike blood sugar levels. Moreover, being a natural product, it is considered safer than artificial sweeteners such as saccharin and aspartame.
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.Stevia can now graduate from being called a mere sweetener to being known as a nutraceutical or an externally supplied dietary supplement, thanks to a team of scientists at the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB), Calcutta. The IICB team   led by Sharmila Chattopadhyay   has discovered that stevia leaves also contain considerable quantities of antioxidants, compounds that help the body fight ageing-related cell damage and the formation of free radicals implicated in several diseases such as cancer, atherosclerosis and diabetes.

Our study shows that an extract of stevia contains as many as six or seven flavanoids, in trace to significant quantities,  Chattopadhyay told KnowHow. The study appeared online recently in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published by the American Chemical Society.

Flavanoids are a class of plant polyphenols that exhibit antioxidant properties. What is most significant about the flavanoid composition of stevia is that it packs in a little of all the major flavanoids that would otherwise be available from eating a broad spectrum of cereals, vegetables and fruits. For instance, antioxidant compounds such as apigenin and luteolin are predominantly found in cereals and aromatic herbs. Similarly, two others such as quercetin and kaempferol    also found in the stevia extract   are more common in vegetables and fruits. However, their percentage could be lower than in the individual vegetables, fruits or cereals, says Chattopadhyay.  Nonetheless, we have been able to establish the health-promoting potential of the plant,    she says.

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Products extracted from stevia are yet to gain popularity in India.   This is because India hasn’t approved its use as a food additive yet,   says Bhupinder Sheth of Herboveda India, a Noida-based firm that supplies stevia powder to pharmaceutical companies in the country.

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Sources:The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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