Health professionals, especially doctors, have long suspected that artificial sugar is not simply a source of excess calories, but a fundamental cause of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, prompting public health experts to advocate little or no consumption of sugar.
A study in 2013 also established that for every 150 calories of sugar available in a person per day, diabetes levels rose one per cent.
The alarming rate of obesity and diabetes worldwide has also called for concerted efforts from research, as well as health groups, to incessantly sensitise people to the intake of artificial sugar.
The sugar problem
From liver disease, certain cancers, hormone changes, high cholesterol and weight gain to chronic illnesses and immune dysfunction, the debilitating effects of sugar are just too many and obvious to attempt listing all.
A myriad of consumables, especially drinks containing high amounts of sugar, have flooded markets worldwide.
What is worst in Ghana’s case is that it is becoming a dumping ground for some of these abnormally high sugar content drinks.
Curiously, the incidence of diabetes and obesity, with its associated health complications among the youth in Ghana, is high and this is partly due to the shift in lifestyle and sugar intake could account for a significant percentage of the incidence rate.
Sugar tax in fighting obesity
The question is “why would countries fight obesity and diabetes and its associated health problems by developing policies to target a reduction in the intake of sugar?
It is said that you better destroy your enemy before your enemy destroys you.
Researchers in England found out that “at the start of primary school, one in ten children in England is obese and by the end of primary school, it is one in five children”.
Realising the debilitating impact of the situation on public health and budget, the UK government introduced what it called “sugar tax” in 2016 as a further action to cut down on the sugar content in, especially, soft drinks and subsequently reduce the intake of sugar.
More specifically, the sugar tax was a child obesity strategy aimed at reducing the incidence of obesity in children.
Countries such as Hungary, Mexico, France and some Scandinavian countries have also introduced the sugar tax for the same purpose.
Stevia; the healthier sweetener
It is an undeniable fact that what humans eat is highly influenced by culture and as economists say, a habit once formed is difficult to change, all things being equal. But how do people change when they have no better and healthier alternatives.
Native to the people of Paraguay is the raw Stevia leaf which has been used for over 1,500 years and about 20 years in Japan as a sweetener.
Pure stevia can be 30 times sweeter than sugar and processed forms of Stevia can be 70-400 times sweeter than sugar.
The exciting news is that Stevia does not produce calories for the body when consumed because the human body does not metabolise the sweet glycosides, but rather they pass through the normal elimination channels.
In their pure natural form, Stevia does not adversely affect blood glucose levels and so diabetics and hypoglycemics can freely use it.
You are healthier and better off with stevia in your coffee, juices, smoothies, soakings, mashed kenkey, aka ‘mashkey,’ or just mix with water and drink.
It may be green or processed into white crystals or liquid drops.
Safety of stevia
Safety studies conducted at the Centre for Plant Medicine Research on the plant affirms the numerous studies that have been conducted elsewhere that the plant is safe for human consumption.
No study has ever attributed any harmful side effects to the consumption of Stevia in any of its consumable forms.
Dr Daniel Mowrey, Director at the Mountainwest Institute of Herbal Medicine, Utah, reported: “More elaborate safety tests were performed by the Japanese during their evaluation of stevia as a possible sweetening agent.
Few substances have ever yielded such consistently negative (non-harmful) results in toxicity trials as have stevia.
Almost every toxicity test imaginable has been performed on stevia extract or stevioside (active ingredient) at one time or another.
The results are always negative (meaning there are no harmful side effects). No cancer, no birth defects, no acute and no chronic untoward effects. Nothing”.
Public private partnership
The mantra that the private sector is the engine of growth and that public private partnership is the surest way to realising the much-needed growth and sustainability of public institutions cannot be overemphasised.
The Centre for Plant Medicine Research, in this regard, has since the year 2005, embarked on a commercialisation drive by identifying and partnering with key business entities to deliver value, especially in the health sector, which has yielded very good results.
This is the latest and groundbreaking result of such relentless efforts between the West Africa Stevia Company Limited, an agricultural and marketing company registered in Ghana, and the Centre for Plant Medicine Research at Mampong Akwapim, a government agency under the Ministry of Health, mandated to conduct research in the area of plant medicine, develop and promote same.
It is also the first time of cultivating and processing the plant in Ghana on a commercial scale. The goal is to help provide a healthier alternative to help Ghanaians reduce the intake of sugar due to its health risks.
Finished and packaged raw stevia powder.
The writer is the Commercial Manager of the Centre for Plant Medicine Research,