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Food Trends: A note about Stevia (zero calorie sugar substitute)

We’re all on the lookout for that sugar substitute that withholds calories, tastes good, and is natural and safe.  Recently I was asked what my thoughts were on Stevia?  Well to tell you the truth I didn’t have many thoughts on the product because basically I didn’t know much about it, except that in my mind it was a zero calorie product that could be substituted for table sugar.  I put this thought in my attic with the hopes of getting more acquainted at a later time.

As I get myself more familiar lets start with the derivation.  Stevia is an herb that comes from South America and has been used by the Guarani Indians of Paraguay for over 100 years.  This is advertised on the Stevia website along with a statement that it provides zero calories because the body doesn’t metabolize glycosides from the leaf or processed forms.  Essentially Stevia is absorbed by the gut and broken down into Stevol which is excreted from the body as a waste.  There is no accumulation of the product along with no absorption, therefore providing the zero calories.

Stevia was cleared by the FDA in 2008 and almost immediately used by Coca Cola and Pepsi.  Coca Cola named its form Truvia and Pepsi named its form PureVia.  You can find forms of Stevia in Sprite Green, some SoBe Lifewater products, and Trop50.  It’s interesting to me that Stevia has not been approved by the EU to date, although it is used widely in many countries.

There are some skeptics to Stevia as there are reports of bloating, nausea, dizziness, muscle pain, or numbness after consumption.  There is little long term research, however it is labeled as generally recommended as safe (GRAS) up to 1500 milligrams per day for two years.

In animals, research has shown that Stevia can convert to a mutagenic compound causing genetic mutation of cells and possibly leading to Cancer.  In addition, large amounts of Stevia were thought to interfere with carbohydrate metabolism in animals.  How large is large?  Well we’re not too sure, but some say a large consumption equals half an individual’s body weight per day.  In my opinion more safety and efficacy tests need to be administered on humans.

If you have an allergic reaction to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, or daisies you could have an allergic reaction to Stevia.  It is also thought that Stevia can be contraindicated when used with lithium, antihypertensive medications, and anti Diabetic medications. If you are on any of the above medications, talk to your MD or pharmacist about possible contraindications. 

As we wait for further testing on this product, my advice is to assess how much sugar substitutes you eat in a day. If you are looking for a more natural alternative to the genetically modified or chemically altered sweeteners this product may interest you.  Do you currently use Stevia?  What are your thoughts?  I’d love to hear from you.  


Kathi said…
Thanks for your post! I had never heard of the ragweed allergy/stevia connection before - interesting. I usually add a few drops of liquid stevia extract (not Reb A) to my smoothie in the morning. The vast majority of studies show both forms of stevia to be safe, however -- as you mentioned -- a few studies done on rats with large quantities of stevia or Reb A raise concerns. Some studies also show positive effects on diabetes and metabolic syndrome, but until we more research I may reconsider using it. A teaspoon of sugar may be the best alternative after all.
Anonymous said…
How do you feel about Agave Syrup as a sweetner? I understand it is lower glycemic. What are your thought?
Agave Syrup has about 16-20 calories per teaspoon so it isn't calorie free but it is sweeter so the thought is you can get more flavor with less. Glycemic index is lower (about 30) compared to sugar (about 60) secondary to the product derviving from mainly fructose sugar. Read the labels on this one. Although it is marketed as vegan and natural there are some forms on the market that are more refined and compared to high fructose corn syrup. Good question!
sharon said…
Excellent post, Amy. I use stevia in my home made gluten-free sourdough bread. I like it b/c it doesn't cause blood sugar spikes nor does it re-ignite the sugar-addiction cycle. As good as agave seems to be, I had the spikes and addiction cycle revved right up.
Michele Lyons said…
Thanks for the info! We use stevia a lot lately whiile followig 'the Belly Fat Cure' diet. I have had a more difficult time with allergies this year thinking it was the crazy weather. I think it's time to get allergy tested so that we know what we are dealing with. We'll definitely cut down on the Stevia regardless, thanks! Also, what is your opinion on the sweetener xylitol?? :)

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