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Stevia: The 'Holy Grail' of Sweeteners?

stevia, sweetener, aspartame, sugar, sweet, FDA, truviaThe U.S. FDA may soon decide the future of what some in the food industry are calling the holy grail of sweeteners -- a low-calorie, natural substance derived from the South American Stevia plant.

Stevia has been used in Paraguay for centuries and in Japan for decades. It is currently available in the United States only as a nutritional supplement. The FDA must decide whether Stevia is safe enough to be used as an additive in processed foods, where consumers may not realize it is there. If approved, it would likely be used in massive quantities of processed foods and drinks.

There is some concern about Stevia. "Just because it's natural doesn't mean that it's safe," says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "That's why tests should be done." Stevia may be linked to genetic mutations in lab animals.

But Cargill, which makes a Stevia-based sweetener called Truvia, and Merisant, which makes another named Pure Via, both said their products are safe and are applying for FDA approval. International scientists associated with the World Health Organization agreed that these forms of Stevia sweeteners are safe.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Personally I believe Stevia is the best sweetener available today and is the one I personally use and travel with.  Some people object to a bitter metallic type of aftertaste but it has been my experience this is related to the way the Stevia plant is processed. If you were to eat the whole fresh leaf of the plant there is no metallic aftertaste.  

So if you are one of those that have objected to the taste of Stevia, considering using a different brand until you find one that tastes good.  But you won’t be able to look for this in the sweetener section in the U.S. as the FDA made Stevia illegal to use as a sweetener. You have to purchase it in the supplement section. 

So it would seem like good news that the FDA is considering changing its ludicrous and inconsistent banning the use of a harmless plant as a sweetener while it allows toxic artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose to be freely available on the market. 

But here’s a perfect example of why you have to pay attention to detail, onerous as it may be. 

FDA Approval is Not Pending for Stevia as You Know It

Stevia, like all other plants, contains a number of agents, including various stevioside compounds, rebaudiosides, glycoside, and other ingredients such as water. More often than not, it is the supporting, synergistic action of all of these ingredients that make natural products such as herbs capable of providing health benefits with very few (if any) detrimental side effects. Oftentimes it’s these other “non-active” compounds that provide “built-in protection” against potentially damaging effects from the active ingredients.

However, the pending approval for “Stevia” in this case is NOT for the whole plant; it’s only for one active ingredient: rebaudioside A.

It is this agent that provides most of the sweet taste. One of the rationalizations for this (aside from the fact that you can’t patent an entire plant), is that extracts from the whole plant may have a bitter aftertaste, courtesy of some of the “extraneous” compounds in the plant.  

But in truth, different brands of all-natural Stevia too will be more or less bitter than others. High grade products that use only grade A and B plants and separate out as much of the stems, roots, and leaf veins as possible will have a much better, sweeter taste, without the bitter aftertaste.

It’s ironic that although Stevia extract is approved as a food additive in a dozen countries including Japan, Brazil and China, it can only be sold in the U.S. as a dietary supplement. However, compounds from the Stevia plant can be legally used as a “natural” sweetener. The no-calorie sweetener Truvia is one such example. It’s not made from whole Stevia, just two of the sweetest compounds.

This raises a very important question: Is it still safe once you remove all the other compounds inherent in the original plant?

So far, no one knows. In the recent Toxicology of Rebaudioside A: A Review, researchers point out that stevioside compounds and rebaudioside A are metabolized at different rates, making it impossible to assess the risk of rebaudioside A from toxicity assessments of stevioside (which has been used as food and medicine in Japan and South America for decades or longer).

Additionally, in a human metabolism study, stevioside and rebaudioside A had different pharmacokinetic results. In plain English, that means that your body reacts differently to the two compounds; each compound is metabolized differently and remains in your body for different lengths of time.

As a classic example of life in Upside-Downsville, regular Stevia is assumed “dangerous” for use as a food additive, yet it’s considered okay if you use only the active ingredient, despite the fact that no one knows whether that one compound is safe all by itself!

So, is Stevia a Safe Sugar Alternative? 

Leave it to the food industry and the FDA to mess up an otherwise perfectly safe, all-natural product.

Extract made from the leaves of the Stevia plant is undoubtedly the safest sweetener on the market. Unlike aspartame and other artificial sweeteners that have been cited for dangerous toxicities, regular Stevia is a safe, natural alternative that's ideal if you’re watching your weight, or if you’re maintaining your health by avoiding sugar

It is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar and truly has virtually no calories -- unlike the lies and deceptions with regular artificial sweeteners, which are loaded with other sugars to make them flow better. 

Two of my favorite drinks are La Croix sparkling water, and Tulsi tea, flavored with some Stevia. But it can be used in appetizers, beverages, soups, salads, vegetables, desserts -- virtually anything! It is, hands down, the best alternative to sugar you will ever get your hands on. 

Who Should Avoid Stevia?

I want to emphasize, however, that if you have insulin issues, I suggest that you avoid sweeteners altogether, including Stevia, as they all can decrease your sensitivity to insulin.  

So if you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or extra weight, then you have insulin sensitivity issues and would benefit from avoiding ALL sweeteners.

But for everyone else, if you are going to sweeten your foods and beverages anyway, I strongly encourage you to consider using regular Stevia until the safety of each individual Stevia compound has been thoroughly assessed.

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