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.
Stevia (Pure stevia not the branded products produced by big ag) is a wonderful substitute for cooking and beverages. We have been using it for years (since around 2001 when we were looking for an alternative to sweetener that wasn't chemical). We use it even more now with one of us on a Paleo diet. As to the reference to Super Size me I strongly recommend watching the movie FatHead and doing some related research. eat at home if you want to eat healthy but eat smart not corn syrups etc (unnatural cornsyrup causes so many problems!) Stevia is economical and while it can't be directly substituted in some recipes it can be used with great success in many. Thanksgiving saw my first effort in sugar and gluten free pumpkin pie with just a wee bit of stevia powder (3/4 tsp of pure) and well.... they want more!!
12/26/2012 - 11:05am
Oddly enough, Stevia plants grow very well on the Central Coast of CA. Dried and ground up leaves seem to be a very good sugar substitute. Prof. D. Williamson
12/17/2012 - 4:02pm
I've been growing it my garden for years. It really does satisfy a sugar craving on a hot summer day, even my 4 year old daughter likes it. I also just found a new soda called "Zevia" which contains Reb A, and its pretty good.
12/10/2012 - 1:33pm
The main ingredient in powdered Truvia and Purevia is some kind of sugar (erythritol [a sugar alcohol]and dextrose, respectively). The second ingredient is a patented form of stevia. If you want legitimate, natural Stevia, WHICH IS OBVIOUSLY SAFE, get a brand that has inulin, a soluble vegetable fiber, as the main ingredient (Stevia is too sweet to be used alone, because the usable quantity would be too small to be practical). "Sweet Life" is a good choice. You can also use the liquid form in a one or two ounce bottle with a pipette (my preference). It should contain nothing but stevia, water, and either alcohol or glycerine. It's safe, convenient, and goes a very long way. Just avoid the big name brands, which are using sugar and a patented type of stevia.
12/09/2012 - 12:37am
The FDA can't approve anything unless it's proven! Proven what? In some cases proven to be dangerous, like saccharin, aspertame, and sucralose. They're on the market having now been proven dangerous. Stevia, the only natural one in the bunch, and it can't be approved, because no one will research it, and prove it to be...what? dangerous? safe? What a racquet!
12/09/2012 - 12:18am
Processed sugar that we buy in stores are bad because they calcify the Pineal gland in our brain. As does the flouride that is in our toothpaste, drinking water and tapwater. The calcification of our pineal gland causes excessive damage to our bodies. Do your research on what you put into your body and how it affects not only your health but your brain as well. Nourish your mind and body & spirit will follow! The homework really does pay off by living healthier and longer.
12/01/2012 - 5:40am
I wouldn't put all my trust into the FDA. They approved aspartame, after all.
10/15/2012 - 2:58pm
STEVIA IS GOOD, EVEN BETTER EATEN FRESH, ITS SWEET AND ITS LIKE EATING SEMI SWEET ROMANIAN LETTUCE.
10/13/2012 - 1:37am
THEY do not mention that in lab settings they feed the poor animals such bodacious amounts its no wonder they get sick and die. We'd have to consume the entire container of sweetener at one sitting to equal what they do with the lab animals! Unless you're diabetic, most doctors will tell you that in small amounts, REAL sugar, whether from corn or cane (body can't tell) is quite alright. It's when people over do it then there's a problem. My grandparents (who lived to their 90s) always said "eat what you want, but in MODERATION." My mother always said to stay away from the fast food (over processed) because it has no food value, and this was in the 60s. Turns out she is right. Anyone see SUPER-SIZE ME? Why, back in the 1920s and 30s they didn't have these many problems with diabetes and other types of health issues? Think about it.