Alternative Sweeteners: STEVIA
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Stevia is a product made from a shrub from
South America, Stevia rebaudiana. Other names for
the leaves of this plant are Sweet Herb and Sweetleaf. Although
all plant parts are intensely sweet, usually it is the leaves
from which a water extract is taken to produce the sweetener.
Why is Stevia a nutritional supplement and not a
“food” or food ingredient?
In order for a food ingredient to be approved for use in
the United States, the company that wants to produce it must
provide the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) documentation
that the ingredient is safe. This includes experiments that
have proven the ingredient does not cause cancer in laboratory
animals, does not alter any aspect of reproduction, and does
not damage any organ system, such as the kidneys or heart.
When the petition to have Stevia approved as a food ingredient
was reviewed by the scientists at the FDA, they did not believe
that the company provided enough evidence that Stevia was
safe. As a food supplement, Stevia is not supposed to be marketed
as a sweetener, just as a supplement.
If Stevia is not “safe” why is it sold
as a nutritional supplement?
Nutritional supplement manufacturers do not have to provide
the detailed science information about their product to the
FDA in order to get a product on the market. They do collect
information that is voluntarily supplied about adverse effects
of any supplement, but it is the responsibility of the FDA
to prove a supplement is unsafe. The opposite is true of food
ingredients because the food company must prove it is safe.
I’ve heard that Stevia can lower my blood glucose
as well as taste sweet. Is this true?
Supplements are also not supposed to make specific health
claims, and must carry the statement that any claim or suggested
health benefit has not been approved by the FDA. There have
only been a few studies in animals concerning the health effects
of Stevia - not enough to make general recommendations about
As a supplement, Stevia is sold in many forms: liquid concentrate,
white powdered extract, blended with maltodextrin, fresh Stevia
leaves, or as dried leaf, finely powdered.
Supplements are not regulated so the amount of stevioside,
the most active component, will vary. This also means the
sweetness can vary within a product, among producers, and
among the forms sold.
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