Friday, May 16, 2008

Stevia - The Natural, Calorie-Free, Sugar-Substitute

It's not a done-deal yet but it looks like stevia may officially make it's way into the USA marketplace later this year.

What is stevia?

Stevia is a no-calorie, all-natural sweetener taken from the leaf of a Paraguayan plant called Stevia rebaudiana.

Is this something that's been newly discovered?

No. It's actually been used, for culinary and medicinal purposes, for over 200 years in South America. And, it's been commercially available since the 1970's in Japan.

It's been around for well over a decade, in the USA, but it is only permitted to be sold as a "dietary supplement". In other words, you can find it at your local health food store but you can't find it in sugar-free foods - because the FDA did not grant it an official GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) stamp of approval.

But, as is often the case, with consumer demand comes commercial interest.

That takes us to the present.

Yesterday, a press release from Cargill (and Coca Cola) announced new safety-research on their proposed (stevia-based) sweetener called Truvia.

What does this new research show?

1. This recent study presents compelling evidence that this "new" sweetener is essentially non-toxic - even when consumed at dosages much higher than what would normally be used.

2. The safety evaluation also found that Truvia has no apparent effect on reproductive health or on the growth and development of offspring (rats, in this case).

3. Of particular interest, is the fact that this stevia extract did not appear to have any significant effect on blood pressure. Some prior research had shown that certain stevia extracts may actually lower blood pressure. This may be a good thing for some but it would not be desirable for a mass-marketed sweetener.

The subjects, in this part of the study, all had low-normal blood pressure to start with. According to the data I have, it doesn't seem like they tested this extract on hypertensive subjects (those with high blood pressure).

4. Truvia also did not appear to affect blood sugar levels - not even in type 2 diabetics. Some stevia extracts may slightly lower blood sugar. This extract seems to be blood sugar neutral.

5. The dosage of Truvia, used in the human-leg of the testing, was about 29 packets worth. This is more than most people will likely use in the course of the day.

The toxicology portion of the study exposed rats to the equivalent of 1,000 to 2,000 servings of Truvia.

What's your take on all of this?

I believe that stevia extract is safe (based on it's historical use and several decades worth of scientific testing). I personally use it to sweeten my coffee and for an occasional low-carb dessert.

This product basically looks like a highly purified version of stevia. It's all about the taste. And, that is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It's good because the taste is likely to be excellent.

It's bad because all the potentially therapeutic properties of stevia are likely lost in the purification process. We can see this in the study I cited earlier - no effect on blood pressure, no effect on blood sugar, etc.

All-in-all, Truvia will likely be an empty but harmless option. I certainly think it's a better way to go than any of the artificial sweeteners on the market.

Any final comments?

If you'd like to learn more about this "new" sweetener, click on this link:


If you'd like to try the stevia product I (already) use, check out this link:

Stevia Balance

Please note that Stevia Balance also contains inulin and chromium. Inulin, which is derived from chicory root, is a prebiotic which may feed the beneficial bacteria in your digestive system. Chromium, is a trace mineral that, may help to manage blood sugar levels.

The Vitamin Tutor


Anonymous said...

I have some, my wife doesn't like it so much as it leaves a slight after taste when used in tea and coffee. Have you tried Xylitol?

The Vitamin Tutor said...

The tricky thing about stevia is that the flavor, sweetness and aftertaste vary from brand-to-brand.

That's one reason why the Cargill/Coca Cola product will become a hit - it'll be consistent and easier to use ... I suspect.

I have used xylitol. Taste-wise, I like it quite well. But, it's a sugar-alcohol and falls into another class of sweeteners than stevia.

I think it's generally safe to use, in smaller quantities. But, if you're going to bake with it or use more than (about) a teaspoon ... monitor it's effect on your blood sugar, your weight and see if your digestive system tolerates it okay.

Here's a good link about many of the natural sugar-alternatives on the market.

Thanks for your question!

Be well!

The Vitamin Tutor

Robert "AwpNation" Ralphs said...

In your opinion does it taste any better than Splenda? Because in my opinion Splenda tastes even worse than Aspartame. Also how about Stevia vs Cane sugar?

The Vitamin Tutor said...

Hello, Robert.

I mostly use stevia to sweeten drinks. I think it works well for that purpose.

I use the 100% pure stevia powder (by Now Foods) to sweeten my protein shakes. I also use this same stevia to make low-carb lemonade.

I opt for a different stevia product to sweeten my coffee. It comes in a small packet, much like a sugar packet, and it includes a few additional (and healthful) ingredients - besides the stevia extract. The name of this other product is Stevia Balance, also made by Now Foods.

Stevia Balance contains stevia, inulin (a prebiotic, that may support digestive health) and a small amount of chromium (which is mainly used to manage blood sugar levels).

I know that some people cook and bake with stevia. I generally don't but I may in the future.

I suspect that when stevia becomes more of a mass-market item, the sweetness and consistency of flavor, will improve. When that time comes, it'll be easier to fully substitute stevia for cane sugar or any of the artificial sweeteners.

At present, you need to do a little experimentation to see what you think of the different stevia products on the market. There are some differences, in taste, from product to product. Fortunately, they're not terribly expensive. So, you can experiment without risking too much.

I hope this helps.

Be well!

The Vitamin Tutor