Sweets are one of the finer things in life... yet often feel like a worst enemy. As much as you enjoy a moist piece of cake or a good bar of dark chocolate, the guilt that comes after eating these treats is no fun. Neither is the eventual energy crash, the headaches and the skin breakouts. Even unrefined sugars can cause these unpleasant side effects. So what's a girl to do to satisfy her sweet tooth? Chew on a plant! Seriously.
There's a remarkable natural alternative to sugar called stevia, which is a shrub with sweet leaves. It can be used fresh or dried. In fact, you could grow it in a pot on your windowsill! Though it carries 300 times the sweetness of sugar, stevia has a slightly bitter, licorice-like aftertaste, and it is often compared to artificial sweeteners (you might say it's an acquired taste). It's praised as a truly natural sugar alternative, especially when in an unprocessed form. If you're on a special diet you'll be happy to know that stevia is calorie free and does not raise blood sugar levels, so it's safe for most diabetics. It is even acceptable on an anti-candida diet, which doesn't allow any other type of sweet food.
While stevia has been used as a sweetener in Japan for decades, several countries have actually banned it, including the United States. In the 1990s stevia was not allowed to be sold unless labeled as a dietary supplement, but it became permissible again in 2008. Some believe that the ban was a result of an anonymous complaint to the FDA from a sweetener company, and that the organization merely caved into industry pressure instead of as a result of scientific evidence. Studies on the herb have gone in many directions but have overall been inconclusive, and it is currently not considered harmful to consume, especially when in it's whole form and had in small amounts.
Stevia is easily found in most grocery stores, especially natural markets - powdered, dried or liquid drop form. It's even available flavored. Make sure to buy it organic, and if possible opt for the green powder or leaves instead of the liquid extracts or white powder (the latter is processed and refined). Enjoy it in moderation as a replacement for sugar and other sweeteners like honey or agave nectar, and experiment with the amount to find the right balance for your palate. Since the weather is getting warmer, try out stevia in this iced tea recipe.
Image credit: Noah Scalin