The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally, around one in ten young people aged 5-17 years are overweight or obese, with levels increasing rapidly in many countries and regions in recent years. Sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet patterns are key factors driving the growth of non-communicable diseases in the country. Unfortunately, India bears the infamous tag of being the Diabetic Capital of the world. With the rise of these diseases, our health resolution needs to immediately address empty calories and sugar consumption.
Empty calories refer to foods that are high in calories with no nutritional value and are loaded with added sugar. In the midst of today's hectic lifestyle, let's spare a thought for one of the biggest threats to our health and general well-being: excess of processed sugar.
WHO guideline recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10 per cent of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5 per cent or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits. Children should not consume more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day, according to new recommendations from the American Heart Association (AHA).
Whether packaged or professional/home-made food and beverages with sugar, the idea to stop consuming such food and drinks is not practical. So what if someone can maintain the sweetness in life without adding any calories? And this, from a natural source with the same sweet flavour that your taste buds love, with no harmful side-effects? Sounds too good to be true, as nature has gifted us "stevia", a plant which has sweetness in its leaves that surpasses that of sugar with no calories.
"Owing to its natural origin in addition to zero-calorie and zero-fat is fast appealing people across the world as the best natural sweetener. Along with all its amazing properties, stevia is one sweetener which can be used in synergy with sugar to reduce its quantity in beverages, bakery, chocolates and even traditional Indian sweets," says Anand Rawat, Head Chef, Noor Mahal-Karnal.
Navneet Singh, Vice President-Asia Pacific at PureCircle (World's largest innovator and producer of great tasting Stevia) says: "Perfecting the art and science of stevia can unleash its potential as a magic ingredient for the benefit and wellbeing of people. National Medicinal Plant Board (NMPB) under National AYUSH Mission (NAM) has listed Stevia as a priority medicinal plant for cultivation. Multiple major global regulatory organisations, including WHO's Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have determined high-purity stevia leaf extract to be safe for consumption by children, adults and special populations."
Studies worldwide have shown that there is no accumulation of stevia (or any by-product of stevia) in the body during metabolism. It is a result of this essentially poor absorption in the digestive tract which ultimately contributes to the fact that stevia has zero calories and does not raise blood glucose or insulin levels when digested. It also helps to explain why stevia leaf extract (high purity steviol glycosides) is safe for everyone to use, including pregnant women and children.
According to researchers from the University of Bristol, replacing sugar with non-nutritive sweeteners can have a positive impact on reducing overall calorie intake and body weight.
As per Iram Zaidi, an eminent Delhi-based nutritionist and fitness trainer: "Nature has blessed us with natural sweeteners such as Stevia which can best fit into our healthy resolution. Given Stevia can replace some unwanted sweetener calories, it can be one tool in the toolbox for cutting calories from your daily diet without affecting blood sugar or insulin levels."
In Ayurveda, refined white sugar is extremely kapha-provoking and can create heaviness, congestion and toxins in the system. Herbs possess an infinite amount of healing benefits, and it is no surprise that they can help us overcome our addictions and sugar damages, explains Ram Kumar, Ayurveda expert and founder of NirogStreet.
Use of Stevia in conventional food and beverages is gaining popularity as Indians are making efforts to change their diet patterns in their quest to embrace healthy lifestyles. If given proper attention, the natural, great tasting and zero calorie Stevia sweetener can become a powerful tool in the hands of sweet loving Indians to stay away from empty calories and sugar.