Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Stevia is a safe alternate for sugar. Market will grow further

It’s common these days to stumble upon one or the other study outlining the ill effects of sugar. A November 2017 report in The New York Times, in fact, reveals how the sugar industry in the 1960s buried research findings suggesting that sugar could be harmful. That sugar promotes obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc, is common knowledge now—till 2015, there were around 415 million diabetics in the world, with India reporting around 69.1 million cases, as per the International Diabetes Federation. The harmful health effects of sugar were the reasons that led scientists to scout for substitutes, or artificial sweeteners. Saccharin—the first artificial sweetener to be synthesised by chemists Ira Remsen and Constantin Fahlberg—was, in fact, discovered by accident in 1879. Since then, many new substitutes have been discovered—and then dissed owing to their side effects. After all, most popular artificial sweeteners available in the market today—be it aspartame, sucralose or saccharin—are basically chemicals produced in a factory. Some studies have even found them to be possibly carcinogenic.

It’s no surprise then that Lucknow-based nutritionist Aakanksha Khanna refrains from recommending any artificial sweetener to patients looking to go on a diet. “Saccharin is just another form of sugar. The only difference being that it doesn’t give an instant rush of energy,” the 33-year-old says, adding that saccharin, too, eventually gets converted into glucose in the body, negating the effects of avoiding sugar.

So does that mean there’s no escaping the harmful effects of sugar? Thankfully, no. Enter stevia, a sweetener and sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the plant species, Stevia rebaudiana, which is slowly but surely occupying centrestage in the battle against sugar. What evidently seals the deal in stevia’s case as an artificial sweetener is the fact that it is zero-calorie, zero-fat and 100% natural. Native to South America, the plant is said to have been in use by the Guarani people in the region for centuries.

Journey so far

Coincidentally, Italian scientist Moises Santiago Bertoni came across a stevia plantation while conducting research in eastern Paraguay in South America. He first described the plant and its sweet taste in a botanical journal in the late 19th century and named it after the chemist Rebaudi who identified the plant’s sweet component. Since its discovery, the pros and cons of stevia have been the subject of several scientific studies, not all of which held out.

Interestingly, early testing, which aimed to validate the potential benefits of stevia, was unsuccessful, raising questions about its safety. It wasn’t until glycosides—which account for its sweet taste—such as stevioside and rebaudioside A/B were isolated from the plant, purified and made available for modern scientific testing by the 1930s that the world at large took any note of it.

Once the highly purified stevia leaf extract became available, several tests and clinical studies were completed, testing every aspect or side effect of the plant extract, from its impact on blood sugar level to whether it’s carcinogenic or not. Satisfied by the results, various food safety agencies around the world approved the use of stevia as a sugar substitute.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) categorised stevia leaf extract as ‘Generally Regarded As Safe’ (GRAS) in 2008, following which other governments around the world, too, gave it their approval, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), World Health Organisation, Health Canada, etc. “No study has been able to accurately claim that stevia is harmful to users whether diabetic or non-diabetic,” says physician Abhinav Agarwal, who considers stevia to be a better alternative than other artificial sweeteners in the market. “It may not help in reducing blood sugar levels, but in no way does it aggravate them either,” the Ghaziabad-based 38-year-old doctor says, adding that he does, however, suggest a moderate daily intake when it comes to using sugar substitutes.

Lucknow-based endocrinologist Debnondon Choudhary agrees with Agarwal. “A little amount of sugar is far superior to any artificial sweetener… stevia, however, comes as a close second alternative,” says the 56-year-old.

Adoption in F&B

Not just doctors and health professionals, the global food and beverage industry, too, is slowly waking up to the commercial possibilities of stevia. Many artificial sweeteners currently being used may soon be substituted by stevia, as per Ajay Chandran, senior director, global key accounts, PureCircle, a Malaysia-headquartered company that produces stevia sweeteners for the global food and beverage industry.

Chandran might be right. In 2015, global fizzy drinks giants Coca-Cola and PepsiCo started offering stevia-based alternatives—Coca-Cola Life and PepsiCo True, respectively—in the US. These products are marketed as low-calorie alternatives with natural sweeteners and the same ‘great’ taste. On being asked if they plan to bring these products to India, both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo refrained from commenting.

But how was stevia, also known for its bitter aftertaste, incorporated into these products? PureCircle, which was enlisted by PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, had a big role to play in that. “Our research and development team grew multiple batches of stevia to narrow down on the plants with a sweeter-tasting leaf to bring down the bitterness in the next batch of plants,” explains Chandran.

PureCircle is now eyeing the Indian food and beverage industry and is in talks with a number of key players in the market, as per Chandran. It, in fact, collaborated this year with popular artificial sweetener brand, Sugar Free Natura (which uses sucralose and is available in almost every retail and online store in India), and launched a stevia variant called Sugar Free Green, which is available in the market now. But there already is a lot of competition in the Indian market, with many local pharmaceutical companies, such as Herboveda India, Herbo Nutra, Green Haven, Navchetana Kendra, etc, also in the playing field with their stevia products.

A major reason behind this sudden boom is growing awareness among people. “People weren’t cautious enough to use preventive products before, such as flaxseed oil, olive oil, etc, but there is definitely a change in that attitude,” says Dolly Kumar, director, Gaia, a company that manufactures health and fitness products such as yogurt, muesli, dietary supplements, etc.

Gaia’s products, made using natural ingredients, come in three ranges—sport, organic and lite—each designed for a specific user subset. “We source stevia from a Malaysian company. But to promote local suppliers, we have a technical collaboration with Herboveda India and also source from pharmaceutical company Kanha Biogenetic,” says Kumar, adding that acquiring stevia from Indian manufacturers is difficult, as their scale of production is not as high as required.

Different form of stevia : Liquid concentrates

Several types of stevia concentrates (not to be confused with extracts above) exist, including a thick molasses-like black liquid resulting from the boiling of stevia leaves in water. A second type results from steeping of stevia in water or an alcohol/water mix. Lastly, you may find a liquid form which uses white stevia powder diluted in water and preserved

Different form of Stevia : Stevia Extract

Stevia extracts –

Most of people  favor this form of stevia which is up to three hundred times as sweet as table sugar. Not all stevia powders are created equal. You’ll find that the level of refinement, processing, area of cultivation, and brand create a wide variety of stevia tastes. Much the way vanilla and other extracts are incredibly potent, so too is stevia. Stevia extract can be diluted in water and refrigerated for more convenient use and application.

Different Forms of Stevia - Stevia Leaves

This is the natural and unprocessed variety of stevia. Chewing raw or fresh stevia will leave a strong, sweet taste that does not quickly dissipate as does sugar. There is little practical use for this variety of stevia, which is why it is typically first dried and processed.

Benefit of Stevia

1 - It has zero calories.
2 - It regulates glucose levels in the blood which is a great benefit to diabetics.
3 - It promotes reduce anxiety about food so it’s a perfect partner for weight loss. When insulin regulates the body stores less fat.
4 - Improves gastrointestinal functions.
5 - It is believed to help lower blood pressure.
6 - May have diuretic effects.
7 - Is an ally of the teeth in the fight against plaque because it is used as a mouthwash, or drops can also be added to our toothpaste, delays the appearance of the plaque.
8 - Believed to reduce the craving for nicotine and alcohol.
9 - Counter acts the effects of fatigue.
10 - It has also been used as a treatment for spots and acne.
11 - Contrary to the fact that sugar can cause inflammation, stevia reduces inflammation.

Uses of Stevia.

Stevioside is processed from the “Stevia Rebaudiana” plant. When refined into a white powder extract (stevioside), it is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia has garnered attention with the rise in demand for low-carbohydrate , low-sugar food alternatives. Stevia also has shown promise in medical research for treating such conditions as obesity and high blood pressure. In the US, it is also banned for use in foods but can legally be used in supplements. This is NOT the case in the uk where, the sale of stevia as a food product is banned and it can only be sold for pharmaceutical use. Anyone claiming otherwise really should do their homework before selling a product they don't understand.

Users of stevia have also reported lower incidence of colds and flu. The herb can aid in weight loss by reducing appetite and can be used to suppress tobacco and alcohol cravings. This is because stevia leaf contains various vitamins and minerals including vitamins A and C, zinc, rutin, magnesium and iron. Stevia can also be used for skin care as it can be applied to enhance the skin's appearance or to heal acne, blemishes and skin disorders including dermatitis, eczema and seborrhoea. It can also be used to heal cuts and scratches quickly and without scarring and it is for these reasons we are able to sell stevia legally in the UK. This product Therefore, should not be used as a sweetener and is for pharmaceutical use only

Stevia contains no carbs, calories, artificial ingredients or fillers but does contain a Minimum 95% Steviosides 60% Rebaudioside A (the active ingredients that make stevia taste so sweet)

Stevia can be found in a variety of forms including natural stevia powder, liquid stevia, granulated stevia and stevia extract powder.

Threshing in Stevia

Immediately following drying, a specially designed thresher/separator is necessary to separate dry Stevia leaves from its stem.

drying of stevia leaves.

Drying of the woody stems plus the soft green leaf material is completed immediately after harvesting, utilizing a drying wagon or a kiln. Depending on weather conditions and density of loading, it generally takes 24 to 48 hours to dry Stevia at 40°C to 50°C. An estimated 2500 kg/Acre dry green leaves are obtained from three-four cutting of every year. It is cultivated up to 5 years after a one time plantation.

Harvesting of Stevia

Time of harvesting depends on land variety and growing season. Generally, it can be scheduled when plants are 40-60 centimeters in height. Shorter days induce flowering. Optimum yield (biomass) and stevioside quality and quantity is best just prior to flowering. The plant will tolerate very low temperatures.e sweet taste of Stevia, too. Application on neem based product will manage the disease and pests.

Pest management of Stevia.

Insect pest pressures other than cutworm are minimal. Septoria disease can cause considerable damage to the Stevia crop. Animals seem to like the sweet taste of Stevia, too. Application on neem based product will manage the disease and pests.