In The News: Is stevia a safe sugar substitute?

| 6/14/2011 10:26:03 AM

S.McCabeSugar-substitute sweeteners have gotten a lot of flack in recent years for being potentially dangerous for your health. It’s hard to know how much of these warnings are factual and how much has just been blown out of proportion. So when reports of a new sweetener called stevia came out, people were more than a little skeptical.  

6-14-11 stevia
Stevia can now be found in many derivatives on the grocery store shelves.
Photo by Oceandesetoiles/Courtesy

Stevia is a plant native to Central and South America that has been used to sweeten foods and beverages for more than 200 years. In 2008, the FDA approved stevia to be sold as an herbal supplement and a natural sweetener. Since then, companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi have used stevia to market lower calorie “health” drinks, including Odwalla juice and SoBe Lifewater.

Still, you have to wonder: Is stevia really safe? What makes it different from other artificial sweeteners? Well, Daily Health News medical editor Andrew Rubman, N.D., may have an answer to those questions.

Stevia is a natural non-caloric herb. Because it is not an artificial chemical sweetener, it is safer than sugar substitutes such as aspartame (the sweetener for most diet sodas), Rubman says in an article from Bottom Line Publishing. It is probably preferable to artificial sweeteners such as NutraSweet, Splenda and Sweet’N Low, as well. The reason for restricting any substance to the “supplement” shelves is so people know to only consume limited amounts of the product at a time, and stevia is no different.

A large component of any sweetener—including sugar—is phosphoric acid (a solvent used to kill insects and clean bathrooms). When consumed, phosphoric acid can damage your body’s calcium-phosphorous ratio. The FDA has only recently approved Truvia and PureVia (two brands of the stevia sweetener) to be marketed as an artificial sweetener. Most derivatives of stevia contain more than 90 percent rebaudioside A, an extract that the Food and Drug Administration has generally regarded as safe. However, though the FDA supports reb A as a safe substance, it has yet to approve the stevia plant itself to be sold as more than a dietary supplement.  Most research has shown stevia to be safe for consumption, but the research hasn’t been absolutely conclusive. There are possible harmful effects on the kidneys and liver.

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