The new zero-calorie sweetener--is it safe?
By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., August 31, 2009 - 12:56pm
I’m always trying to cut back on my added-sugar intake. And apparently I’m not alone: according to a recent survey I read, seven out of 10 adults say they want to reduce or avoid added sugars. And to do so, they’re turning to sweeteners that deliver zero (or minimal) calories. But not me; I’ve never developed a taste for sugar substitutes. Too bad, because on the few occasions that I do indulge in soda it’d be nice to save the 200 or so calories and order diet.
As a dietitian, however, I’m often asked about sugar substitutes. (Check out our Buyer’s Guide to Sugar Substitutes here.) These days people are asking about the new noncaloric sweeteners made from a purified extract of the stevia plant—known as Rebaudioside A, and also called Rebiana or Reb A. Sold under brand names like Truvia and PureVia, it’s 200 times sweeter than sugar and does not raise blood sugar.
Here’s the scoop: Until December 2008, stevia and its derivatives could be sold in the U.S. only as dietary supplements, due to safety concerns. (Get more details here.) But last year, the makers of Truvia and PureVia submitted research to the Food and Drug Administration regarding Reb A’s safety and petitioned for it to become a generally regarded as safe (GRAS) ingredient. The FDA affirmed the GRAS status, but did not change the previous ruling on stevia. In other words, whole-leaf stevia or other stevia extracts still can only be sold as dietary supplements. But the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer advocacy group, believes that the Reb A’s GRAS status was granted prematurely. (Read what David Schardt, nutrition expert with CSPI, had to say here.)
Here’s the bottom line: If you want to use stevia, we suggest sticking with Reb A (look for it on the ingredient label). Get more information about stevia—and see how it fared in our baking test—here.
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