A. Stevia has been touted as a "natural" sweetener and an alternative to sugar, but is it safe for us to consume? 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.
I think some people confused. Stevia is Not Aspartame, they are two different things.
01/05/2014 - 2:55pm
Funny. Reb A is actually the worst form of stevia- it's heavily processed with a plethora of carcinogens & most contains additives to add bulk.
Pure leaf stevia is the only form of stevia I'd ingest, and even then it's affects are questionable.
Simple rule of thumb: 0 calorie sweeteners don't exist in nature. In fact the reason we're programmed to enjoy sweet things is because traditionally sweet meant the food was rich in calories and often other nutrients.
I've more research to do but currently I would discourage the following...
-Aspartame: possibly the worst. It massacres brain cells and breaks down into formaldehyde. If that's not enough it's also associated with dozens of health problems and receives the most health complaints out of all low/no calorie sweeteners. Avoid at all costs.
-Reb A (stevia "extract"): Highly refined using acetone, ethanol, and other known carcinogens. On top of this it usually ends up with a metallic taste, so manufacturers add in "natural flavors" to mask it's artificial taste. It's also often combined with dextrose; a sweetener derived from GMO corn and sometimes silica. Avoid when possible.
-Stevia (from pure leaf): Questionable. While there is little evidence to suggest it is harmful it's structure does resemble hormone structures, a potential risk. It also comes with the associated risks of 0 calorie sweeteners on appetite, gut flora, and the immune system. Avoid if you see fit.
-Refined White Sugar; Most often from the Saccharum family of grasses or beets, heavily refined. Known to cause inflammation and obesity as well as blood sugar problems. Also mildly addictive. Avoid when possible.
-Agave "Nectar": It's just high fructose corn syrup. Don't let the name fool you.
-Sucralose: Made from chlorinated sugar. Wreaks havoc on your bodies healthy bacteria as well as drastically increases the pH of your intestines. It also interferes with some medications. It has nearly the same chemical structure as a pesticide that was actually banned for toxicity. It is linked to organ dysfunction. Avoid at all costs.
-Saccharine: Straight up carcinogen. Linked to increased risk of many cancers, most commonly bladder cancer. Avoid at all costs.
-Xylitol (Sugar Alcohols)- Indigestible hydrogenated sugars. Can cause bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. Potential carcinogen. Most often comes from GMO corn. Heavily processed. Potentially beneficial when used in dental care, but I would not recommend ingesting sugar alcohols. Avoid when possible.
-Honey: A saint compared to the others, but most commercial honey has been so heavily processed it's basically just high fructose corn syrup. All the good stuff has been cooked or filtered out to make the clear honey people expect. Avoid if you see fit.
So far it would seem the only sweetener that is actually safe is organic, raw, unfiltered honey (aside from the natural sweetness found in fruits and vegetables). I'd strongly suggest you look into these sweeteners and come to your own conclusion- look at the facts and decide for yourself.
Food is our source of energy, does it really make sense to be EATING something that is 0 calories? Water in the gas tank much? These things simply aren't natural. Our bodies weren't designed for them. Our bodies are products of nature. They're designed to ingest what was already here. It's time for the American diet to stop looking for these shiny new loopholes cooked up in a lab. Just get back to the basics.
01/05/2014 - 11:36pm
RESPONSE TO THE FIRST COMMENT
You are wrong about agave. Agave can Never be categorized as high fructose corn syrup. First, it is not derived from corn. It comes from the cactus plant. Second, agave is absorbed, received, and utilized by the cell membrane unlike the other sweeteners you've listed. Third, it does not negatively affect the bodies PH balance and does not raise insulin levels in the body.
Maple Syrup (grade b) is a healthy alternative with the same affects.
Raw Honey should be considered as a second choice. Honey does not promote alkalinity to maintain the bodies PH level.
01/10/2014 - 11:37am
Organic honey!!!! All honey is organic.
01/11/2014 - 4:32am
I would like to say thank you for the info. I just started a diet and have been using stevia. I am not using it anymore. I've got to find something else. I love coffee and tea and just need a little sweetener in it. Now what can I use? Anyone have any ideas?
01/21/2014 - 1:14pm
Use Xylitol! It is the healthiest for you and does not cause damage to your teeth. The only thing to be careful of is if you have pets; they can not digest it like humans and can die from it.
02/08/2014 - 4:17pm
I am not sure why aspartame can be harmful to you. It comprises mainly two essential amino acids; phylalanine and another one I cant remember the name of . Essential amino acids cannot be synthesised by our bodies and therefore we have to take them in our diet. The two in aspartame are fairly common in dairy foods and meat so how could they be dangerous as sweeteners.
James from Perth WA
02/12/2014 - 2:53am
The longer the shelf life, the shorter your life...
02/25/2014 - 9:58pm
What is the safest sweetener instead of sugar
03/22/2014 - 7:28am
I'm not going to use Stevia from now on, even though I've just started using it over the last few months, I hope I haven't done any damage to my system. I just bought a small liquid container, which says it's organic Stevia, with added Chromium and I've been using it, "Ouch!" I'm now asking "What is Chromium?" It's made by WonderFoods here in Australia. I just hope I'm safe, having been through Cancer once. I was told it was the safest of all false sweeteners? I must have been ill informed...
Oh well I'll just stick to my Organic Maple, and my Raw Organic Agave Syrup from now on!! I love real honey fresh from the hives, but not commercially 'processed honey,' or 'man made Maple Syrup' it's just rubbish!