Stevia is an extremely sweet, non calorific herb that has been used as a sweetener and flavor enhancer for centuries. Unfortunately its use within the USA has been virtually impossible in recent years due to the fact that it has been handled as if it were an illegal drug. However more recently it has been decided that it can now be sold legally in the USA provided it is called a dietary supplement.

With obesity reaching epidemic proportions, alternatives to sugar have been very high profile. Artificial sweeteners have been deemed detrimental to health and have even been cited as a causal factor of weight gain. Many people who have a weight problem also have a sweet tooth and find giving up sweet foods very difficult. Stevia, unlike the artificial sweeteners on the market does not mimic sugar in the same way and so has a very beneficial part to play in the diets of many obese individuals. Stevia has actually been used in South America for centuries to treat Type 2 Diabetes.

Stevia is in fact commonly known as sweetleaf or sugarleaf. Its extracts are 300 times the sweetness of sugar and amazingly has a zero calorific value. It will come as no surprise therefore to know that cooking with stevia can take a little getting used to. The most important thing to remember is not to use too much as this can result in excessive sweetness and an after taste. One suggestion is to start using stevia with other natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup.

Recipes for beverages sweetened with stevia will often be measured as a liquid concentrate. Stevia is sold as a white powder or as dried or powdered leaves. In order to make the stevia liquid concentrate you must purchase the white stevia powder.

Stevia is sold in 4 different varieties:-

• fresh leaves – the most natural unrefined state
• dried, crushed leaves – this variety released more sweetness and flavour
• stevia extracts – this is the white powdered extract that is approximately 200-300 times sweeter than sugar(by weight)
• liquid concentrates – this can be made from the white powder and preserved with grapefruit seed extract or may be a syrupy black liquid made by boiling the leaves in water

Super Fruits

The term “super fruits” is basically commercial terminology for a range of the more rare fruits deemed to have a particularly high nutritional value, especially their antioxidant value. Their perceived health benefits would seem to be the main reason for their popularity.

Some of the more popular superfruits include: acai, blueberry, cranberry, gogi, red grape, guarana, mango, mangosteen, noni and pomegranate. Fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are not included here even though they have many of the qualities of superfruits, mainly due to the fact that they are commonly known and have not attracted that novelty value of the other fruits.

One of the main features of the super fruits is the presence of antioxidant phytochemicals. These phytochemicals are thought to have potent antioxidant qualities that are thought to be particularly helpful in many serious diseases such as leukemia, cancer and neurological diseases, as well as conditions such as mental fatigue and inflammation.

The antioxidants that are provided by these superfruits play an important part as free radical scavengers. Free radical damage can occur at cellular level due to pollution, toxins and the stresses of daily life. Free radicals become unstable and attack healthy molecules, this is where the antioxidants provided by the superfruits really come into their own. The more powerful the antioxidant the more protection they offer.

Very often these superfruit antioxidants are taken as a nutritional supplement. It is not unusual to find that they are a combination of superfruits to enable them to offer the best antioxidant activity. These supplements are also often a more concentrated form of the superfruits, to ensure that the highest possible dose is made available.

The capacity of the superfruit supplement is measured in ORACs – Oxygen Radical Absorbence Capacity. This enables the consumer to have an understanding of the potency of the product they are purchasing to ensure that it is offering good value for money. As an example, mangosteen juice has an ORAC value of 15 – 17 thousand whereas cranberry juice has a value of 8 – 10 thousand.

Although it is generally agreed that all fruits are good for our health superfruits do seem to contain more complex substances that help to maintain good health and keep certain diseases and illnesses at bay

Probiotic Supplements

The term “probiotic” comes from the Greek word meaning “for life”. Antibiotic therefore means the opposite and although as a drug they can literally save lives by killing of bacteria that is making the body unwell, they can also devastate the good bacteria living happily inside our guts.

Good intestinal health is one of the critical factors determining optimal health. 80% of your immune system lives in your gastrointestinal tract. Approximately one hundred trillion bacteria live inside us, weighing approximately 2 – 3 pounds. Some of these bacteria are referred to as “good” bacteria the others offer no benefit and live undisturbed inside us being kept in check by the large number of good bacteria present.However, this is the crucial point. If the ratio of good to other bacteria is about 80% to 20% then all is well. Once this starts to deteriorate then the body starts to have problems and ill health is likely to ensue. The immune system will become impaired and it will become increasingly difficult to improve the numbers of good bacteria. This is where probiotic supplements can be invaluable.

In the case of antibiotic treatment, as I said earlier, the good bacteria are killed off with the invading bacteria, it is therefore vital that the body is replenished with good bacteria either in the form of probiotic supplements or probiotic foods such as live unsweetened yoghurt. The main benefit if the probiotic supplement is that the live bacteria are present in their millions. It is a much more concentrated form of live bacteria than the yoghurt and will repopulate the gut far more effectively.

Probiotic supplements come in many shapes and sizes and as with all nutritional supplements it is wise to purchase from a reputable company. Probiotics are only as effective as the method used for making them and storing them. So make sure you know as much as possible about the way they are manufactured before you purchase them.

If you decide to stick with the yoghurt, then make sure again that the yoghurt is live and if possible made with organic milk.

Probiotic supplements can also be useful for anybody suffering from the symptoms of Candida Albicans. This is a condition where the gut has been over populated with this particular fungus and therefore is very lacking in good bacteria. This condition is also known as dysbiosis, which means that the 80 % to 20% I mentioned earlier has not been maintained and the position may even be a complete reversal of 20% good to 80% other/candida albicans. In this scenario the probiotics will help to replenish the good bacteria in the gut.