Stevia has become the go-to sweetener for dieters looking for a sugar substitute without the negative reputation associated with those pink packets. A new study shows that the substitute can actually be good for you as it stimulates a protein that regulates insulin.

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According to researchers, two components of stevia actually are behind the action.

“Our experiments have shown that the active components of stevia extract, stevioside and steviol, stimulate the ion channel TRPM5,” Dr. Koenraad Philippaert, study co-author and researcher at KU Leuven university in Belgium explains in a statement. “The proteins known as ion channels are a kind of microscopic pathway through which minuscule charged particles enter and leave the cell.” These channels are behind many processes in the body.”

The protein TRPM5 also helps us detect bitter, sweet and umami tastes.

As Philippaert says, “The taste sensation is made even stronger by the stevia component steviol, which stimulates TRPM5. This explains the extremely sweet flavour of stevia as well as its bitter aftertaste.”

Even more than making food taste good, TRPM5 makes sure that the pancreas gives off enough insulin after eating.

Insulin is vital as it keeps the glucose in our body within a healthy range, according to Mayo Clinic. It also uses excess glucose for energy. It’s vital in preventing high blood sugar and the development of type 2 diabetes.

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There is still a lot of research to be done, but scientists are hopeful that this development could help with the creation of new diabetes treatments using stevia. And as the study was done on lab mice, the findings would need to be replicated in humans.

Nearly 1.4 million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed each year, reports the American Diabetes Association.

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