Nutrition Articles

The Science Behind Stevia

How Safe is This Trendy Sweetener?

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Not all food and nutrition experts are content with this research or with the FDA's ruling to add stevia to the GRAS list. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is encouraging more testing. While Jacobson doesn't say that stevia is harmful, he doesn't think it should be marketed until new studies establish that it is safe. (To see CSPI's stance, along with Jacobson's letter to the FDA, click here.)

Marketing
Despite lingering controversy, food manufacturers didn't waste any time bringing this zero-calorie sweetener to the public. As we are publishing this article (Feb. 2009), three companies sell stevia on your grocery shelf:

  • Truvia (from Coca-Cola and Cargill) is marketed as a tabletop sweetener. The Coca-Cola company will also sweeten Sprite Green and Odwalla juice drinks with Truvia.
     
  • PureVia (from PepsiCo and Whole Earth Sweetener Co.) is marketed as a tabletop sweetener, and Pepsi will use it as a sweetener in three flavors of SoBe Lifewater.
     
  • Sweetleaf by Wisdom Natural Brands started selling in the summer of 2008.
     
This Dietitian’s View
Adults should consume no more than four artificially sweetened products daily, and that includes products sweetened with stevia. This guideline gives you the freedom to enjoy sweet foods without added calories or carbohydrates, but in amounts that won't take the place of other more nutritious foods that should make up the bulk of your diet.

Examples of a single serving include:
  • 8-oz diet soda (or other beverage)
  • 1/2 cup sugar-free pudding or gelatin dessert
  • 8 ounce container of sugar-free yogurt
  • One packet of artificial sweetener (added to any food or beverage)
It is one thing to sweeten your cup of tea in the morning with a little stevia. But in the United States, we live in a world of excess. We don't have one cup of tea; we have two or three, plus sweetened coffee, oatmeal, soda, smoothies and snacks, for example. Now that beverage companies have started using stevia, I can only assume that millions of people of all ages will consume large amounts of this sweetener throughout their lifetime. Just as I do with real sugar, natural sweeteners, sugar alcohols and sugar substitutes, I still preach moderation. It may sound boring, but it is the safest route to take.

Further Reading
The Truth about Stevia, the So-Called "Healthy" Alternative Sweetener by Natalie Digate Muth, M.D., M.P.H., R.D. for the American Council on Exercise (acefitness.org).
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

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