How Does This Ayurvedic Food Improve Wellness?
CLINICAL AYURVEDIC REVIEW
The extraordinary powerful taste of stevia is difficult to ignore. The intensity makes your mouth water for a few minutes. Then, tingling sensations arise around the mouth. Your lip quivers.
It's simply unusual and unnatural to find a zero calorie sweetener. But leaves from the stevia plant are both. They are natural and zero calorie.
Stevia is very sweet, up to 150 times the sweetness of sugar. So a little goes a long way. When the sweet taste passes, it leaves a mild, licorice-like aftertaste that's slightly bitter and astringent.
It is light, cold, and sharp because of its intensity. Normally, sweet taste calms and sedates. But stevia is so intense that it has the opposite effect - adding to the quirky character of this unusual herb.
Some people love it. To others, it tastes terrible, almost like a chemical. That's because most stevia powders in the grocery store aren't whole stevia. They are a highly purified extract of stevia known as Reb-A. One student notes, "It lingers, a little like plastic or a foreign substance."
Footnote: The information for this article was in part gathered from a 2019 study and survey of 16 students of Ayurveda who experimented with stevia. During the study, students ate stevia for 3 days and journaled the pharmacological effects. This study was sponsored by the Joyful Belly School of Ayurveda, and specifically the Mastering Ayurvedic Digestion & Nutrition certification course.
What is It?Stevia is a sweetener and sugar substitute derived from a remarkably sweet plant species called Stevia rebaudiana. It is an aster family plant native to Brazil and Paraguay. There, it has been used for more than 1,500 years by the Guaran? people of South America.
The secret to this zero calorie sweetener is the glucose residues bound to other non-sugar molecules. The glucose residues stimulate taste buds. However the sugary glucosides aren't digestible because they are firmly attached to the non-sugar molecules.
The stevia you buy in the grocery store does not contain the whole leaf, but a purified extract called rebaudioside A (Reb-A). This is because whole stevia hasn't been tested by the FDA. The FDA has tested the extract only. The FDA has approved whole stevia for use as an herbal supplement only. In Japan and Europe the raw stevia leaf has GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status.
Lowers Blood Sugar & Pressure
If you have diabetes, stevia may help keep your blood sugar levels in check. A 2010 study of 19 healthy, lean individuals, and 12 obese ones found that stevia significantly lowered insulin and glucose levels.
Most importantly, these study participants felt satisfied and full after eating, despite the lower calorie intake. So they didn't reach for cakes and cookies after the study.
The secret to stevia's magic is a protein that stimulates the ion channels of cells which influence your sensory input. This protein puts sweet taste receptors in hyperdrive and also stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. Studies also show that stevia reduces your daily, normal, liver based, blood sugar level spike in the morning. One study even suggests Stevia leaves for treatment of central diabetic neuropathy. To boot, it helps regulate blood pressure levels as well.
Nevertheless, we're always suspicious when it comes to zero calorie sweetener. Will it trick the body, like fake news? Will the sweet taste reinforce a sugar addiction? When the body figures out it had a bunch of sugar but no calories, will it crave more sugar as a result? It's comforting to know that studies suggest otherwise. So far, stevia can be trusted, and seems to have some amazing qualities. While we're still cautious of refined products, stevia appears far superior to other sweeteners.
Vata individuals beware: The drop in blood sugar levels was so pronounced for our Vata students that several experienced hypoglycemia symptoms after drinking stevia. "My mind was loopy. I couldn't think while trying to do some accounting. I was shaking so I checked my blood sugar and it was 40. Normally it is much higher for me. It made me want to eat so my blood sugar would go up again."
Students reported that stevia lightened their mind and lifted their mood. Stevia's stimulating effects made it easier to concentrate and think. One student even said, "Stevia makes me feel enlightened." Here's what others had to say:
Some students noted stevia was too stimulating, "I noticed that my mind was more restless, very agile and I woke up early twice during the experiment because my mind was so busy." Yet another remarked, "My mind was racing a little. It aggravated my Pitta and induced a hot flash." Another said, "My mind was irritated because it was simply too sweet." We believe this is due to dosha. Kapha individuals felt their spirits lifted, but Vatas and Pittas found it too intense.
Several students drank it with coffee and complained stevia made the coffee more buzzy. "My mind was racing and it irritated my stomach," said one student. We therefore suggest caution in combining stevia with other stimulants.
To get the mental benefits of stevia, students recommended cooking with it instead of making a strong tea. Diluting the stevia in the meal seemed to reduce the intensity.
Stimulates Your Stomach
Joyful Belly founder John Immel notes, "The intensity of stevia's sweetness irritated our Vata students." He concluded that, "Stevia is so intensely sweet it is stimulating. If you have a thin mucus barrier and highly sensitive nervous system it can overstimulate, causing nausea, sourness, and acid reflux."
Joyful Belly students are constantly researching the application of Ayurveda to their bodies, food, herbs and nutrition. You too can participate in Joyful Belly's Ayurvedic Digestion and Nutrition research by registering for one of our certification courses. In our programs you'll gain the knowledge and skills necessary to impart the time tested wisdom of Ayurveda to your clients.
Buying & Preparation
Stevia is sold in many packages, as a purified extract or whole leaf. It can be in a glycerin base or tinctured in an alcohol base. You can even grow it in your garden. Sold as a powder, it is typically mixed with other substances like dextrose, maltitol, and erythritol to dilute the intensity. Others are blended with inulin and anti-caking agents.
These additives also have effects on your body. For example, dextrose is especially cooling. When one of our students transitioned from whole leaf stevia to stevia extract with erythritol, she got a "massive headache". So, make sure you look on the label.
Herb suppliers will typically sell the whole, unadulterated, dried leaf. Remember, a little goes a long way when using the leaf. The fresh leaf was found to be less bitter as compared to the dried leaf. The purified extract was most bitter. The powdered leaf can become sticky in humid conditions so be sure to seal and keep it dry.
When using the raw leaf, 4 leaves are enough for a gallon of water. For mixed powders sold in grocery stores, 1/8 tsp is enough for a cup of tea.
Stevia is versatile as a sweetener because it is heat-stable, pH-stable, and not fermentable. That means you can cook with it or squirt a lemon on it, and it won't be gassy in your stomach.
When cooking, sometimes you want to accentuate one effect of an herb, and diminish another. Here are the main effects you may want to balance in stevia.
Stimulating effectUse with mint to increase the mentally stimulating effect of stevia. If stevia is too intense for your stomach pair it with something grounding. Use almond or coconut milk instead of water as a base for stevia. The dull, heavy qualities will alleviate feelings of nausea or sourness in the stomach, and prevent hypoglycemia. Almond or coconut milk will provide some substance to this etheric herb in a Vata body.
Cold effectIf the coldness of stevia aggravates your system, warm it up with turmeric. Turmeric is unique because it is hot without being spicy, so it won't make Stevia even more stimulating. To accentuate the cold or bitter effect, pair with cilantro or cucumber.
Diluting SteviaIf having trouble getting the dose right, try placing 1/8tsp of the powder in a cup of hot water, then using a tbsp of that for your drink.
Is Stevia Good for My Ayurvedic Diet?Find out by taking this free, easy quiz. You'll learn your body type, and whether 'Stevia' is a good fit. Complete the basic quiz in 1 minute, or go deeper with additional quizzes at your own leisure to learn more about your body.
AYURVEDA'S GUIDE TO VITALITY & WHOLESOME NOURISHMENTYour Ayurvedic diet is tailored to your individual body and your specific imbalances. With an Ayurvedic diet you feel joy and satisfaction because what you are eating truly nourishes and balances you. Disease results from diets and lifestyles that are incompatible with your nature. By eating a personalized diet matched to your body, you experience optimal health. See How it Works.
SERVING SIZE: 1/2 leaves
SPECIES: Stevia rebaudiana
Biocharacteristics of Stevia
Foods with a Similar Nature to Stevia
Coffee has these Actions in CommonMakes-jittery, Stimulates-front-of-brain, Nerve-stimulant, Wakes-you-up, Antioxidant, Stimulates-energy
Green Tea has these Actions in CommonNerve-stimulant, Antioxidant, Stimulates-energy, Cardiac-stimulant, Stimulates-front-of-brain
Ginger (Fresh) has these Actions in CommonCardiac-stimulant, Stimulates-energy, Hypolipidemic, Brain-tonic, Hypotensive
Mustard Seed has these Actions in CommonCardiac-stimulant, Stimulates-front-of-brain, Nauseating, Wakes-you-up, Stimulates-energy
Grapefruit has these Actions in CommonHypolipidemic, Stimulates-energy, Antioxidant, Wakes-you-up
Red Leaf Lettuce
Red Leaf Lettuce has these Actions in CommonHypolipidemic, Stimulates-energy, Antioxidant, Wakes-you-up
Fennel Seeds has these Actions in CommonStimulates-energy, Brain-tonic, Vulnerary, Cardiac-stimulant
Dandelion Leaves has these Actions in CommonAntioxidant, Stimulates-energy, Hypolipidemic, Lowers-blood-sugar
Fenugreek has these Actions in CommonStimulates-energy, Hypolipidemic, Vulnerary, Lowers-blood-sugar
Cinnamon has these Actions in CommonLowers-blood-sugar, Cardiac-stimulant, Stimulates-energy, Hypotensive
Herb Supplements with a Similar Nature to Stevia
Punarnava has these Actions in CommonHypotensive, Lowers-blood-sugar, Nauseating, Stimulates-energy, Stimulates-front-of-brain, Antioxidant, Cardiac-stimulant, Hypolipidemic
Breath of Fire / Shining Skull (Kapalbhati Pranayama)
Breath of Fire / Shining Skull (Kapalbhati Pranayama) has these Actions in CommonLowers-blood-sugar, Nerve-stimulant, Stimulates-energy, Stimulates-front-of-brain, Wakes-you-up, Adaptogen, Cardiac-stimulant
Eleuthero Ginseng has these Actions in CommonAdaptogen, Hypolipidemic, Hypotensive, Lowers-blood-sugar, Nerve-stimulant, Stimulates-energy, Wakes-you-up
Bellows Breath (Bhastrika Pranayama)
Bellows Breath (Bhastrika Pranayama) has these Actions in CommonStimulates-energy, Stimulates-front-of-brain, Wakes-you-up, Adaptogen, Cardiac-stimulant, Lowers-blood-sugar
Amalaki has these Actions in CommonAdaptogen, Antioxidant, Brain-tonic, Lowers-blood-sugar, Stimulates-energy, Wakes-you-up
Arjuna has these Actions in CommonHypolipidemic, Hypotensive, Nauseating, Vulnerary, Antioxidant
Dong Quai has these Actions in CommonAdaptogen, Antioxidant, Hypolipidemic, Hypotensive, Stimulates-energy
Holy Basil Leaf (Tulsi)
Holy Basil Leaf (Tulsi) has these Actions in CommonAdaptogen, Cardiac-stimulant, Hypolipidemic, Stimulates-energy, Stimulates-front-of-brain
Vacha (Calamus, Sweet Flag)
Vacha (Calamus, Sweet Flag) has these Actions in CommonStimulates-energy, Stimulates-front-of-brain, Wakes-you-up, Nerve-stimulant
External Breath (Bahya Pranayama)
External Breath (Bahya Pranayama) has these Actions in CommonAdaptogen, Stimulates-energy, Stimulates-front-of-brain, Wakes-you-up
Breathing Exercises has these Actions in CommonStimulates-energy, Adaptogen, Cardiac-stimulant, Lowers-blood-sugar
Joyful Belly is a recognized school of biocharacteristics medicine.
TRADITIONALLY INDICATED FOR THESE SYMPTOMSStevia may be beneficial for these symptoms. The suitability of any food for a condition is highly dependent on the individual. Please see your doctor before using this food to treat a medical condition.
View Other Ingredients for Autumn-WinterStevia is recommended for Autumn-Winter. Check out these other Autumn-Winter foods here.
HOW DOES EATING AYURVEDICALLY MAKE YOU FEEL?Eating Ayurvedically makes you feel nourished and energized. Food digests with ease when right for your body type (dosha). Healthy digestion is seen as the cornerstone of well-being in Ayurveda. Healthy digestion generally prevents illness. If you do get sick, a strong digestive fire reduces the severity of illness and increases your resilience. It also improves your mood. Once you begin eating Ayurvedically, you will feel refreshed, vital and strong.
Clinical Tools & Resources
About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda biocharacteristics. His approach to Ayurveda is clinical, yet exudes an ease which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda, offering professional clinical training in Ayurveda for over 15 years.
John's interest in Ayurveda and specialization in digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, as well as public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well. Outside of work, John enjoys spending time with his wife and 6 kids, and pursuing his love of theology, philosophy, and language.
Comments & Impressions of 'Stevia'Do you like 'stevia'? Why or why not? What makes it unique? Is there something you'd like to know about 'stevia'?
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I bought a plant and tried to crumple a fresh leaf in hot water but I didn't get much flavor from it.
The "natural" version of Stevia...the leaf....is very very concentrated and very very sweet. If you don't care for the powdered versions of Stevia, you might try the liquid.
How did you come to the conclusion that stevia is vata pacifying? The sweet taste, perhaps? In reading this article, the effects led me to believe that stevia would be considered vata aggravating.
The sweet taste is generally Vata pacifying.