This member of the Aster family has a long history of native use in Paraguay as a sweetener for teas and foods. It contains a substance known as stevioside that is 100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, but provides no calories.1

In the early 1970s, a consortium of Japanese food manufacturers developed stevia extracts for use as a zero-calorie sugar substitute. Subsequently, stevia extracts became a common ingredient in Asian soft drinks, desserts, chewing gum, and many other food products. Extensive Japanese research has found stevia to be extremely safe. However, there have not been enough US studies for the FDA to approve stevia as a sugar substitute. Without identifying it as such, stevia is nonetheless widely used by savvy manufacturers to sweeten commercial beverage teas and other products.

Although stevia is best known as a sweetener, when stevia extracts are taken in very high doses they may reduce blood pressure, according to two large Chinese studies.

Stevia is primarily useful as a sweetening agent. In addition, two double-blind studies suggest that it may also offer potential benefits for hypertension.3,10

Very weak evidence hints at potential benefits in diabetes.5