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Stevia Rebaudina News

The Changing Market for Stevia
by Kerrin Rourke
From Natural Products Insider - 2006-09-19

Stevia, also called sweet-leaf or honey-leaf, is a medicinal plant indigenous to South America, where it has been used for centuries to sweeten foods and beverages by the Guarani Indians. An estimated 280 species of stevia now grow wild in North and South America. However, the only species with the sweetening properties that have attracted so much attention to the herb is Stevia rebaudiana.

Despite the challenging regulatory obstacles that stevia products have faced over the past 15 years, sales continue to climb year after year in both the natural and conventional markets. Currently, sales of stevia and medicinal tea with added stevia total $14.4 million in the natural channel, up 32 percent over the prior year. Total dollar sales are lower in the conventional channel, but they have grown nearly twice as much in the same period—63 percent over the prior year to $3.6 million. (Figures are for the current 52 weeks ending July 15, 2006, in SPINSscan Natural and Conventional channels.)

From Latin America to Asia, stevia is used across the globe as a natural and safe noncaloric sweetener. For example, the herb accounts for 40 percent of the sweetener market in Japan, where artificial sweeteners have been banned due to strict food-additive regulations. Stevia has been used in Japan for roughly 30 years with no reported negative effects.

Stevia is almost completely free of calories, making it a wonderful natural alternative to synthetic non-nutritive sweeteners such as sucralose, acesulfame-K and aspartame, which many natural consumers tend to avoid. Stevioside and Rebaudioside A are two chemical components present in stevia.Together, they give the plant a taste that is 200 to 300 times sweeter than refined sugar, without a single side effect, according to an HerbalGram piece by Mark Blumenthal (35:17, 1995).

Besides being a natural alternative to sugar, stevia has a number of other healthful benefits that make it an ideal sweetener for anyone with blood sugar issues. Rebecca Wood, author of The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia (Penguin Books, New York, 1999), noted stevia has traditionally been used to balance glucose levels, because unlike refined sugars, it does not cause spikes in blood sugar. Blood sugar regulation is increasingly important to U.S. consumers; witness how sales of products addressing diabetes total nearly $1 billion across retail channels, and have increased 25 percent (SPINSscan Natural and Conventional channels).

Due to its regulatory action on the pancreas, stevia also helps to support proper digestion and appetite. Regular use of the herb can help minimize hunger sensations and cravings for sweets or fatty foods. In addition, stevia has an anti-fungal effect and can be used to combat topical fungal infections such as athlete’s foot. It is ideal for Candida sufferers, as it does not feed yeast or other microorganisms. It also has antibiotic properties that have been shown to prevent oral bacterial conditions, specifically cavities and gum disease.

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