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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 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.

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COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

I don't trust any artificial sweeteners. Sooner or later, they find out they are bad for you, long after they have been on the market. For the most part, I have just learned to eat most things that I used to sweeten with sugar totally unsweetened. This includes things like coffee and breakfast cereal. I even eat my oatmeal without sweeteners these days, and it really is not that bad.

Anonymous

03/25/2013 - 9:52am

Grow and eat your own food. Your life depends on it.

Anonymous

04/02/2013 - 8:35am

The FDA is useless. It's recommendations for or against are likewise useless. They are a bought and paid for puppet organization and should never be trusted. Articles which use FDA recommendations as a basis for safe are therefor based on fallacy.

Anonymous

04/02/2013 - 6:05pm

I actually bought stevia seeds to grow. Im a lactating mother and my babys skin rash raises up if I have processed sugar in my diet, especially white sugar. My child skin actually clears up without the artificial or processed sugars. Remember, our body is designed to to process plant foods for better nutrient absorpion with less stress to our system. Grow your own!

Anonymous

04/04/2013 - 8:37am

I'm confused...shouldn't the brain react to the sweetness of stevia the same way it does other sweeteners? If it's the sweetness that causes the neurological response doesn't that mean any sweetener will cause it?

Anonymous

04/06/2013 - 7:58pm

Attacks on FDA and USDA are totally legit. They approve poisons everyday. Consider GMOs in this discussion? Definitely time to boycott.

Anonymous

04/09/2013 - 7:51pm

Sounds to me like Anonymous has an axe to grind with the FDA but contibutes very little to the actual subject matter.

Anonymous

04/10/2013 - 1:07pm

Whenever I want to make a choice on a product, and I feel good about the ingredients, I make sure it hasn't been approved by the FDA. Then I buy it! I do not trust an administration that for years has been disregarding the public health, in the name of profit.

Anonymous

04/15/2013 - 6:32am

Whether it's Stevia, Truvia, Splenda, Aspartame Sucralose or any other artificial sweetner, they all mess up my digestive tract. I get gas, bloating, gas, diarrhea, gas, pain, and did I mention gas. I also get burning itchy eyes. All that artificial stuff is realy nasty!

I've had it in drinks, gum, snacks, you name it. And I'm also starting to hear Doctors talking about the FDA and not just about food, they're saying that they, the Doctors, and the general public have been spoofed by the chemical and drug companies and their use of marketing to the public to force the FDA to approve these things. GRAS Does Not Mean it's Safe - rather it means it just won't kill you immediately.

Anonymous

04/20/2013 - 6:13pm

Trader joes sells 100% organic stevia drops

Anonymous

04/25/2013 - 1:54pm

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