The Scoop on Stevia

My last post about agave generated lots of discussion and even more questions about another popular sweetener, Stevia. So, as requested, here’s the scoop:

What is Stevia?
Stevia comes from the sweet-tasting leaves of a shrub called Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni which is native to Central and South America. Components within the leaf (stevioside and rebaudioside A (reb A)) provide most of its sweetness. Stevia’s virtually calorie free and is between 200-400 times sweeter than sugar. It’s commercially sold under the names Truvia, PureVia, and Sun Crystals. In the United States, Stevia’s most commonly used as a tabletop sweetener but is also found in diet beverages and other foods.

 

Is It Natural?
The leaf of the Stevia plant is, of course, natural. Use of it can be traced back to the indigenous folks of Paraguay who chewed the tasty leaves and sweetened tea and other beverages with them. In the 1970s the Japanese developed a system for extracting and refining the sweet compounds within the leaf and began selling it commercially. In 2010 refined Stevia- based sweeteners were approved for use in the U.S. and around the world.

 

While today’s Stevia sweeteners are marketed as “natural” a lot of processing goes into isolating the sweet tasting compounds from the leaf and getting them into those little packets in crystal form. In order to comply with FDA requirements and minimize the slight licorice flavor of the leaf, commercially available Stevia is really a refined form of the compound reb A. It’s also often combined with bulking agents so the end product mimics sugar. Because of this significant chemical processing, many, including myself, consider Stevia to be an artificial sweetener despite its natural origins.

 

Is it Safe?
The FDA has put Stevia products composed of 95% of reb A (like Truvia and PureVia) on the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list, but the Center for Science in the Public Interest contends that it isn’t adequately tested. They note that early research linked reb-A-type substances with DNA damage, a potential cancer risk.

 

My Recommendation
Commercially available Stevia sweeteners are derived from a natural source but are, in reality, highly processed concentrated sweeteners. While they’re likely safe in small amounts, I don’t recommend using them liberally because there are many unanswered questions.

11 comments (Add your own)

1. Gloria wrote:
Thanks for the information! I'm disappointed to learn that it's not as "natural" as I thought it was, but appreciate knowing the truth about the product. I had no idea!

Thu, February 16, 2012 @ 8:06 AM

2. Bonnie wrote:
Thanks so much for your insight. I stopped using Sweet n' Low in my coffee, and drinking diet pop and chewing sugar free gums (which I do A LOT because I rep gum for my work). I bought Truvia for my coffee, as I tried regular sugar but I couldn't use enough to get it sweet and felt I was just moving from one bad habit to another. THe Truvia works great. I don't bake with it, and use it only on fruit a little and in my coffee. I just don't know what else to use. I can't put honey or agave syrup in my coffee, and no, I can't do black coffee. BLACH!

Thu, February 16, 2012 @ 8:18 AM

3. Mary Heggen wrote:
Most comercial stevia products also contained "natural flavors" which is essentially msg. Anyone looking to avoid msg (like my husband must) needs to take a pass on stevia.

Thu, February 16, 2012 @ 8:22 AM

4. Jamie @ Don't Forget the Cinnamon wrote:
Thanks for a great post! I think stevia has been glorified a bit too much recently. Yes, it is likely a better choice than aspartame, but it is still an artificial sweetener. My take is that it still will trick your palate into desiring sweeter than they need be foods! Also, if sweets are consumed in moderation, there's no need to fear real sugar (except in the case of diabetes I suppose...)

Thu, February 16, 2012 @ 9:03 AM

5. Lori Baird wrote:
Thank you for this great info.
I got off stevia after using it for about 4 years because of an article I read in Dr. Weil's magazine. The article said sometging like it could be linked to infertility. I had been cleaning up my diet, getting healthy, and reducing my stress levels to better our chances of concieving without fertility intervention. After 11 years of trying to get pregnant we finally were blessed with a healthy baby boy at the age of 41!
Thanks,
Lori

Thu, February 16, 2012 @ 9:38 AM

6. sheila wrote:
You didn't mention the stevia found in health food stores. I have this liquid version for quite a while, and I love it. Carry it in my purse to sweeten my tea when I'm out. Please say its not the same as the stevia in truvia and others.

Thu, February 16, 2012 @ 10:24 AM

7. Joni wrote:
I have seen stevia seeds online. Perhaps we could grow our own stevia plant and use the leaves in our coffee (or whatever)? I would have an issue if the licorice flavor is noticable, though. I don't care for licorice.

Thu, February 16, 2012 @ 10:48 AM

8. wrote:
I would love to see you address the pluses/minuses of using coconut oil to replace butter in baking. Would really appreciate your insight!

Thu, February 16, 2012 @ 11:23 AM

9. Jo Ann Donnelly wrote:
My personal experience w/ Stevia/Truvia was an after taste that I didn't like. If I occasionally use an artificial sweetner I prefer Splenda.

Thu, February 16, 2012 @ 11:36 AM

10. Michelle wrote:
Thank you for your comments on Stevia Ellie. I had been wondering about this and have avoided it for the very unknown factors you mentioned!

Wed, February 22, 2012 @ 4:08 PM

11. leah mcgrath wrote:
Great explanation Ellie!

Tue, July 10, 2012 @ 9:04 PM

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