In many ways, nutrition mirrors fashion. There are recycled trends (before hitting it big in 2003, low-carb was all the rage in the ’70s), media hype (Master Cleanse, anyone?), and up-and-comers with potential to become movers and shakers (as recently evidenced by the massive interest in all things coconut). The world of sweeteners – both natural and artificial – is particularly buzzing with activity; today’s post focuses on one of their more controversial figures – Stevia.
Stevia is a perennial shrub with sweet-tasting leaves that has been consumed by native populations in Paraguay for centuries (the plant’s leaves are dried and ground up into a powder which is then added to beverages). In that sense, true Stevia has a lot in common with honey or maple syrup – it is a minimally processed sweetener.
Stevia has been used commercially in Japan for decades, but was banned in the USA in 1991 following a complaint by an industry group that, to this day, remains anonymous (some suspect that the makers of aspartame were behind the complaint in an attempt to dominate the alternative sweetener market). Four years later, as a result of the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act (DHSEA), Stevia was allowed to be sold in the United States as a supplement (rather than a food additive). It’s worth pointing out that between 1991 and 1995, manufacturers submitted various requests to overturn the ban, all of which the FDA struck down citing concerns over Stevia’s safety in some rat studies, which have since been called into question. More recent studies have shown beneficial effects.
Fast forward to 2008. By that time, aspartame had been around for a while and concerns about its safety and sketchy approval process had started to make the rounds. Splenda (sucralose) had been out for a few years, but it too had been hit by some negative press. Case in point – the market was ready for another sweetener. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, inspired by Stevia, petitioned the FDA to approve rebaudioside-A (Reb-A), an isolated extract from the plant, as a “Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS)” food additive. The FDA quickly granted approval.
And, so here we are. Consumers can now choose between pure Stevia, products like Stevia in the Raw (corn-based carbohydrate dextrose + Reb-A), Coca-Cola/Cargill’s Truvia (Reb-A + erythritol), and PepsiCo’s PureVia (Reb-A + erythritol + isomaltulose + cellulose powder + natural flavors). Why the added elements in Stevia In The Raw, Truvia and PureVia? Well, true Stevia – which, in powder form, looks a lot like catnip — does not taste or look like sugar, and we all know Americans want their sugar substitutes to resemble the real thing as much as possible (at least that’s what market research says).
It is important to point out that the only true natural sweetener is pure Stevia. All other forms consist of a Stevia extract with added ingredients.
As a nutrition professional, one of my goals is to get people accustomed to lower levels of sugar in their daily life. Although it has no impact on blood sugar levels, Stevia is 30 to 40 times sweeter than sugar, whereas Reb-A registers as approximately 300 times sweeter. In that sense, simply replacing a high intake of sugar with an equal amount of Stevia misses the point. I would much rather people train their tastebuds to get used to less sweetness, so they can appreciate the depth of flavors in whole foods. It takes our tastebuds three to four weeks to get used to lower levels of sweetness (and saltiness); certainly not an overnight change, but one worth making.
Additionally, it is one thing to add some true Stevia to coffee or tea, but processed foods sweetened with it (or its inspired trademarked products) are nevertheless processed foods that offer minimal nutrition. I find it more beneficial to approach nutrition from a big picture standpoint (ie: a plant-centric, whole-food approach) rather than zoning in on specific sweeteners.
Addendum, October 22, 2011: Here’s Coca-Cola’s patent for manufacturing Reb-A, in a 40+ step chemical process. Hat tip to Bruce Bradley for finding this one!
About the Author
Andy Bellatti, MS, RD is a Las Vegas-based nutritionist with a plant-centric and whole-food focus who takes an interest in food politics, deceptive food marketing, sustainability, and social justice. His work has been published in Grist, The Huffington Post, Today’s Dietitian, Food Safety News, and Civil Eats, among others. He is also the co-founder and the strategic director of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, a group that advocates for ethical and socially responsible partnerships within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You can read more of his work on his Small Bites blog and can also follow him Twitter and Facebook.
Lipton brand has come out with a K-cup version of their tea that contains sugar and Reb A [stevia]. Not Asparatame.
While getting used to using less sugar and sweeteners, especially for iced tea, because I love it, I have been using Organic Red Seedless Grapes. I pour a tall glass of unsweetened tea and eat a couple of grapes at the same time. It taste good and I am glad I am not using any sweeteners.
I have been using Stevia for about 4 years now. I used to get from Bolivia with the small teeny weeny spoon but could no longer get it. Then I found a palatable and similar one at M.O.Ms or My Organic Market. It is Asian based I believe from Japan (I have to look again.) I use mainly for tea or coffee but for baked goods like the other writer from a year ago wrote I use unprocessed sugar for baking and usually 1/2 of what the recipe calls for. Most foods I find are way, way, way too sweet to me now and I cannot tolerate them anymore.
I am trying to find a very natural way to satisfy my husband’s cravings for sugar. He has Lupus and Parkinson’s Disease, is 330 pounds and MUST lose weight. He has sleep apnea and the extra weight is KILLING HIM. He is on steroid therapy, which also makes him eat like crazy. He is home alone all day, as I work, and eats day and night. I want to make things that he will go to that TASTE sweet to him, but are not super caloric for him. It’s a tough job! Any advice?
Have your husband tested for Lyme Disease, candida overgrowth and genetic defect – MTHFR. His metabolic system may be the real problem. Go to a Lyme Literate doctor for chronic lyme disease (there are not many of them). Good Luck!
I’d also throw in a suggestion of getting his Thyroid function tested if you haven’t already.
But to answer your question — my suggestion is twofold:
First, stock up on tons of foods he’ll like, including fresh fruit that’s at the height of the season. Spend some time preparing it (washing, peeling, cutting), so that it’s in a container in the fridge, ready to grab at a moment’s notice.
Second, start getting the other stuff out of the house. If it’s not readily accessible, it won’t be an easy option!
Of course, if you do a huge purge, he’ll probably rebel. So you’ll need to be smart (and perhaps a little stealthy) about it. It also takes at least a month for someone’s palate to adjust. Change takes time.
Hope that helps!
This may be more then just a food issue. Part of the issue may be if he’s home all day by himself & dealing with serious health issues – he’s probably depressed & using sugar for his drug to numb out the feelings. And sugar is so addicting! About 15 years ago I was in a bad situation & my diet was crap. I tried different things but what finally got me on a healthy diet & the weight literally falling off – was a very good therapist & journaling – to deal with my issues and not literally stuff them down. Having activities to channel his attention might be of help & you might look into OA too. I hope the two of you can find a solution!
I don’t use Stevia or sugar. I’ve gotten accustomed to black coffee or unsweetened cappuccino and I sweeten when baking with dried dates or applesauce. You can use pure maple syrup in your coffee as well. I try to only have sugar that comes from fruit or food in its most natural state and in the end, feel better for it. Getting off sugar is totally doable. Give it a try. I think Stevia looks heavily processed and unappealing, anyway 🙂
My family LOVES Nu Naturals Pure Stevia powder. Best tasting one I’ve tried, and no bitter aftertaste. Just ordered the pure drops, hoping these work just as well (more convenient to throw in a pocket or handbag). The powder has no other ingredients and is super-concentrated.
I was on th GNC store website and i found an item made by Wholesome Foods. It has Organic Agave Inulin, Organic Stevia Extract (Stevia rebaudiana), Silica
No dextrose no maltodextrin no erythritol. So i will give it a shot. the link for the nutrition label is as follows:
Using the Wholesome Foods brand of “organic stevia” . It comes in packets and i bought a box of 1000 on Amazon.com the right is much lower than in the 75ct boxes. http://www.amazon.com/Wholesome-Sweeteners-Organic-Packets-1000-Counts/dp/B00511MJLQ/ref=sr_1_fkmr2_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1370216344&sr=8-2-fkmr2&keywords=wholesome+foods+organic+stevia+1000ct
I have discovered a great product: Trader Joe’s Organic 100% Pure Stevia Extract. It is a powder with a tiny spoon (comes in a small one oz. jar like a spice jar). NO OTHER ingredients and it has no bitter aftertaste. It is a little more expensive but is worth it.
I have been using Truvia as a sugar replacement for quite a while, and i was watching Dr OZ one day and saw a report on erythritol and its effect on the urinary bladder, than it causes the bladder to spasm and work overtime. His report suggests against using sweetners with erythritol. I want to replace Truvia with a sweetner that just has Stevia, is there a product on the market that just has Stevia, and not dextrose, maltodextrins, cellulose and other fillers?
Instead of going to the sweetener and sugar aisle in your market go to the drug section where the supplements are. you won’t find the dried and ground green leaves but you will find pure stevia leaf extract without the sugar alcohol additives or cellulose bulk. They seem expensive but a tiny sprinkle (less than a dash of salt) is enough to lightly sweeten a big glass of iced tea. Even Walmart has real stevia if you go to the supplements section. The brand they sell is NOW and the powdered product’s name is Better Stevia. It has only one ingredient certified organic(Stevia rebaudiana) (leaf). I think it was 11 bucks for an ounce. I have IBS-C and diverticulitis and have not had any problems with GI upset using this, the KAL brand (at Sprouts), or a similar product through our local herbs & apothecary shop (Two Hawks emporium) However… Read more »
Got Cancer Stevia is a great way to go I use it and eat plenty of Brocoli as it kills cancer cells and leaves the good cells alone due to the phyto chemical it contains called sulforaphane. It is also debatably the most powerful super food on the planet. Too much Sugar feeds cancer and causes it so does fat and Dairy. Bottom line, limit the above and refined foods for everyone. Another great way to help prevent Cancer is with a powerful omega 3 supplement Triple strength, Puritans pride is one company that sells it.
I love an educated person who does thier homework! Yes Brocoli! Also did you know processed sugar is responsible for most Americans having CANDIDA? It’s true. Processed sugar is killing us.
Take care, Mark