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Is Stevia Safe?

A. Stevia has been touted as a "natural" sweetener and an alternative to sugar, but is it safe for us? Though it seems this non-caloric sweetener just made its name recently, the stevia plant has a long history of use as a sweetener in South America. These newer stevia sweeteners—sold under brand names like Truvia, Stevia in the Raw or OnlySweet, and in blends with sugar, such as PureVia or Born Sweet Zing (at 8 to 10 calories per teaspoon)—include a highly purified extract of stevia called Rebaudioside A (a.k.a. Rebiana or Reb A). Reb A is 200 times sweeter than sugar and does not raise blood sugar.

Until December 2008, stevia and its derivatives could be sold in the U.S. only as dietary supplements, due to safety concerns. In the 1980s, animal studies linked stevia with adverse effects on fertility and reproductive development and possible genetic mutations. But in 2008, 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 Recognized as Safe (GRAS) ingredient.

The FDA affirmed, and still maintains, the GRAS status only for highly purified stevia extracts (Rebaudioside A, or Reb A). Whole stevia leafs, including products containing "crude stevia extract" or "whole leaf stevia," are not classified as GRAS because data is lacking on their effects on the cardiovascular, urinary and reproductive systems.

However, some consumer advocacy groups, like The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), criticize the quality of the studies (which are often done by the manufacturers themselves) and think the Reb A's GRAS status was granted prematurely. "In the past, FDA protocol required repeated testing in two separate animal species prior to approval, but in this case it didn't," says David Schardt, nutrition expert with CSPI. "We are not warning people to avoid Reb A, but the public should be aware that the FDA did not follow all the usual safeguards."

Despite being "natural," sugar substitutes like Stevia that earn the GRAS status usually don't have as much safety data as approved additives, meaning it's worth using Stevia sparingly—the daily acceptable dietary intake, or ADI, for Stevia is 9 packets.

Bottom Line: The FDA considers Reb A a safe sugar substitute, but has not approved other forms of stevia. If you want to use stevia, we suggest sticking with Reb A (look for it on the ingredient label), and using it sparingly.

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COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

Stevia should not be consumed by people that are allergic to certain plants, Dandelions for example.

Anonymous

12/24/2014 - 12:30am

I'm not sure what people consider "pure." I was first introduced to Stevia in the early 80's. It was a very dark brown thick liquid. I thought it was pretty nasty. It left a major after taste. I am guessing that earlier Stevia was a more pure form? Now it is highly refined. I can't think that any product that has been altered should be consumed.

Anonymous

12/23/2014 - 5:35pm

For one thing Soy milk and all soy products unless organic,are probably GMO.. The FDA only tests GMO's for 90- days.. If you don't get sick after eating GMO 's in 90 days they are said to be safe. Do you know of anyone who got cancer after smoking only 90 days?? Rats in tests of GMO's have elevated rates of cancer in two year tests done outside the US. If no one has done tests on stevia products, proceed at your own risk.. Also sugar is cancer fuel. Restrict your usage as much as possible...

Anonymous

12/18/2014 - 6:58pm

It is true that there were many studies linking steviol a Reb A and other steviol glycoside building block and potential metabolite, to toxicity and cancer. It was found that steviol is not a major breakdown product during metabolism, which alleviated a lot of the FDA's concerns.

To be clear, the FDA GRAS process does not result in "approval". The sole burden of safety is placed squarely on the companies selling the ingredient. The FDA just simply has no questions at this time.

Is it safer because it is natural? I suppose the same argument could be made for cocaine or snake venom, but natural and safe are not synonymous, despite the growing popular belief to the contrary.

Anonymous

12/17/2014 - 3:32pm

Stevia in silk soy milk. I have been drinking and using silk soy for years and all of a sudden I was having sever stomach pain. They had started using that sweetener recently in their product. Thought I had another ulcer. After drinking it for a few weeks I knew something was wrong with what I was ingesting. Checked all labels on everything I had been eating. Looked at soy milk and saw that it was sweetened with rebA stevia. Needless to say, I stopped using it and dumped it down sink! After a few days, stomach pain gone!! Now I buy unsweetened everything just to be safe. I don't need anymore health problems. Just use sugar, honey or anything that you have used before without side effects. Use less and exercise more. AND read labels before you buy. Very annoying but worth it.

Anonymous

12/17/2014 - 2:04pm

Are you speaking seriously? It is new to me that stevia is not totally approved by FDA . How do you know , for example , that figs or pears or sugar from cane do not have harmful effects to our health?.- In spite of there are probably hundreds of studies pointing good things and bad (at least in case of sugar of cane) things, that they cause to our health , as far as I know , there is no study from the FDA , that has spent public money to approve or not those foods for human consumption. For only one reason . They do not need. They have been eaten by hundreds of years . They do not need to prove that they are bad to health. It only need a formal study ( with public money), if it should appear any indication that their consumption have some bad effects to our health.
That is the stevia case . In South America it have been consumed for millenniums. Its consumption is allowed in Japan , China , and I do not know if exist any other country than the States ( please tell me if exists) , where the stevia is regulated. I am from Paraguay and can say you , with the most absolute security , it will be good to your health . It was consumed by my grand grand father , my grand father , my father , me and my children .

MIGUEL ANGEL BERTONI

Anonymous

12/12/2014 - 8:13am

Forget the artificial sweeteners and forget sugar. Use HONEY, which is one of the most natural and good-for-you sweeteners on earth! Read Labels and stay away from HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), which is in everything! Even canned vegetables! READ LABELS, use honey and you'll be alright!!

Anonymous

12/06/2014 - 10:53am

Off topic Regarding our dumbed-down society using "bad English:" Thank goodness that English evolves with the impact of all aspects of our society and immigration. Otherwise, thee and thou would still be using what I would called "stilted" English.

George Pilgrim ;)
Plymouth, Ma

The Stevia plant is natural; it wouldn't surprise me that some people might react to it even though it might be safe (and desirable) for 95 % of the population. OTOH, the processing of the plant could cause people to be affected negatively, especially if other products were produced at the same plant, such as peanuts or seafood, or any of the many products that we normally hear cause reactions.

Anonymous

11/12/2014 - 3:39pm

Sugar is nothing but harmful and dangerous, sugar is the leading cause of diabetes and obesity, so to say it is low risk is ludacris

Anonymous

11/08/2014 - 5:52pm

Just curious. Would the stevia leaf extract have any affect on the consumption is the blood thinner- Coumadin.

Anonymous

11/07/2014 - 5:26pm

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