March 5, 2011

020 Stevia – the Safe Herbal Sweetener [13 July 2009]

Stevia is an extract from a South American shrub found to be 400X sweeter than sugar but with negligible calories. It has a 1500 year history of human use in South America. There has been growing interest in stevia as a sugar substitute over the past decade.

In Canada and the United States stevia is approved for sale as a health supplement but not as a food additive (which has stricter guidelines). At present, both regulatory bodies deem stevia inadequately tested to be allowed as a food additive. Health Canada’s Natural Health Product Directorate (NHPD) reviewed the available information in 2006 and concluded that stevia “…may be beneficial in the maintenance of healthy blood sugar and blood pressure levels…” but also “…may present a risk to pregnant women, children and those who have low blood pressure...”

Dr. Joseph Mercola, author of the book “Sweet Deception” which exposes the risks of synthetic sugar substitutes, believes stevia to be the safest and healthiest alternative to sugar. He argues that the approval of artificial sweeteners with known toxicities, and the banning of the herb stevia, has more to do with industry lobbying than science. Many other countries have approved stevia as a food additive, including Japan where stevia extract makes up 41% of the sweetener market.

The FDA ban is based partially on two small scientifically questionable animal studies. The author of one of these studies, when informed that his study was used by the FDA as evidence that stevia is unsafe, responded “…the only possible way to report that the results showed detrimental effects is by taking information out of context…”  Many other studies found the stevia-fed animals to be as healthy or healthier than the controls. See www.stevia.net/safety.htm

Interestingly Cargill and Coca-Cola have been working on a sweetener derived from stevia and are applying for FDA approval to market it in soft drinks and food. In 2007 they applied for 24 patents for their products use in everything from vitamins to cereals. If approval is granted, will they hold a monopoly on stevia?

Dr. Mercola recommends that people with insulin issues (diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol) should avoid all sweeteners, including stevia, as they can decrease sensitivity to insulin. However if you insist on sweetening your foods and beverages, then he strongly recommends stevia as the sweetener of choice.

This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

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