In The News: European Union Declares Stevia Safe for Food Use

| 7/11/2011 11:43:51 AM

S.McCabeAfter a long battle, the artificial sweetener stevia has finally been approved by the European Union (EU). At a meeting on July 4, the EU Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health backed the sweetener’s safety to be used in food ingredients throughout the 27 countries of the European Union. The proposal will now go to the European Parliament and, if authorized, could have stevia on European shelves early next year

Stevia has gotten a lot of attention in the last few years. With rising levels of obesity and diabetes, many people have begun using artificial sweeteners as a noncaloric way to sweeten their favorite foods. Still, with concern over the safety of artificial sweeteners, stevia has had to travel a long road to be available for general consumer use. 

Stevia, however, is different from other artificial sweeteners. This sweetener is not synthetically made. In fact, it comes from the plant Stevia rebaudiana native to Paraguay that has been used as a natural sweetener for centuries. The extract from the stevia plant has no calories, no glycemic index, and is 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar.   

7-10-11 stevia
Stevia extract can be used to naturally sweeten food without adding calories.
Photo by Hebam3000/Courtesy Flickr

If the European Parliament gives final approval for stevia, the food consultancy Zenith International predicts the global market for stevia-based products to reach as much as $825 million by 2014.  The Food and Drug Administration has labeled stevia as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe), and several companies in America already market their own derivative of the stevia plant, such as Coca-Cola’s Truvia and PepsiCo’s Pure Via.

Still, it must be noted that neither of these products are not pure stevia extract. They also contain erythritol, which is marketed as a natural sugar alcohol but has digestive side effects such as bloating and gas. Despite this, stevia sweeteners are commonly considered safer than chemical compounds such as Splenda and aspartame, which have been shown to have damaging, even carcinogenic, effects. However, if processed stevia products still raise red flags in your eyes, all-natural pure stevia extract can be bought in liquid or powder form for consumption at many health stores.

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