November 13, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Stevia

What's your take on Stevia versus other no-calorie sweeteners (Splenda, etc)?

I generally use Splenda, but started to use stevia since it is supposed to be more 'natural' and 'unprocessed."

-- Jean
(last name withheld)
New York, NY

I would rank Stevia as the most controversial no-calorie sweetener.

Although it is plant-derived (thereby less artificial than Splenda, aspartame, or saccharin) and has been used in some countries (like Japan) for almost two decades, the United States was never open to it, citing concerns over rather shoddy animal studies showing apparent mutagenic properties of some components of the sweetener.

It was banned in 1991, and when that ban was lifted three years later, the Food & Drug Administration refused to grant it GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status as a food additive, thereby only making it legal if sold as a supplement. Confused yet?

I -- and many others -- suspect this had more to do with political motives than actual health concerns.

Consider the fact that patented (hint: profitable) artificial sweeteners faced fewer legal roadblocks.

Adding to that, once two multi-national bigshot corporations like Coca Cola and Cargill jointly developed -- and patented -- a Stevia-based sweetener (Truvia), the FDA had no problem granting them a green light.

Although I don't use it myself, I don't have a problem with someone sweetening their morning coffee with a teaspoon or two of Stevia.

What I want to point out about all these zero-calorie sweeteners, though, is that people are misguided if they think using them in place of sugar is an efficient weight-loss and overall health strategy.

No one becomes overweight or obese as a result of the tablespoon of sugar they add to their morning coffee every day (two packets of sugar only contribute 32 calories.)

It is the sodas, cookies, candies, muffins, and chocolate bars that are loaded with empty calories (in the form of sugar) that are more problematic. Although sodas are available in zero-calorie varieties, such is not the case with baked goods and other sweets.

And, so, we once again come back to the concept of general eating patterns -- and total calories -- being at the core of health and weight goals.

Using a non-caloric sweetener in coffee does not offset consuming too many calories throughout the day.


Catherine said...

Great post! I use stevia sometimes when I'm at work because the only other option is white sugar or something like splenda. Normally though I just use honey bc I'm not worried about the calories, but I like to carry stevia packets for times when Im out - carrying honey can be messy!

josh said...

Did stevia for sure get approved? I heard that at last count the FDA was still reviewing the info. However, today (nov 13) was supposed to be the deadline for the FDA to provide a "no contest" letter.

Andy Bellatti said...


Stevia has not been approved, but Truvia (which is basically comprised of the sweetest parts of the stevia plant) is.

Strikes me as odd, particularly since the supposed health risks sometimes attributed to Stevia have not been well documented.

Josh said...

I know right! They are essentially the same thing! However, cargill , coca cola, and pepsi all stand to reap insane profits by patening a non patenable item! Thats big agra for you. I however, will continue to by my stevia from "the little guy". My favorite brand is Nu Naturals. They are amazing!

Andy Bellatti said...

That's food politics for you...