© 2009 Nancy Appleton PhD and G.N. Jacobs
We are always asked about sweeteners since we really don’t like sugar. Our answer is always we give limited support to Stevia and nothing else. We tell people who are healthy and still can walk away from the hot fudge sundae that Stevia is much better for you than sugar, fructose, high fructose corn syrup and the whole list of sugar alcohols and products of “Better Living Through Chemistry” that appear as multicolored packets on the restaurant table. We tell sick or addicted people to break the active phase of their sugar addiction and heal awhile before switching to Stevia.
Stevia, a plant-extract originally from Central and South America has been used as a sweetener for several centuries. It has been described alternately as either 30 or 300 times as sweet as sugar. Stevia has slowly gained popularity as an alternative to sugar, even though it wasn’t marketed, until recently, in the U.S. as a sweetener, but a dietary supplement. We can thank the FDA for this bit of Orwellian Newspeak. A food or drug is either safe or it is not.
As of September 2009, the Food and Drug Administration has given support to two Stevia products, Truvia and Purevia, for use as a sweetener in sodas and other drinks. Approval of Stevia as a food sweetener is still pending, but once the camel’s nose is in the tent things will happen automatically. What changed for a government organization that used a 1985 study that described Stevia as a mutagenic agent in the liver (possibly carcinogenic)?
Apparently, Coca-Cola and other large manufacturers of drinks and sodas have twisted some arms of the regulators, because as more people grasp Sugar Bad, Stevia Good Big Soda needs to give the people soda that appears healthy to keep up sales. Trust a corporation to turn something potentially helpful in moderation into something you still shouldn’t consume.
We will point to the “Hard Facts About Soft Drinks” chapter in our latest book, Suicide by Sugar to inform the reader that no soda is safe to drink. The primary culprit after sugar: phosphoric acid. Putting that much phosphorus into your body does as much damage to the Calcium-Phosphorus ratio as we have always said from the beginning of Dr. Appleton’s career. We also described phosphoric acid as an industrial solvent possibly able to clean toilets and kill insects.
Once the soda and juice manufacturers get their products into the marketplace, eventually Truvia will also be stuffed into the rainbow of packets on the table at our favorite eateries. Presently, that rainbow includes White (sugar or sucrose), Blue (aspartame), Pink (saccharin) and Yellow (sucralose). For purely, aesthetic reasons may we suggest Green for Truvia?
However, we will caution readers against these packs because we suspect that the Stevia in the Truvia packs will be mixed with dextrose or maltodextrin as the first ingredient (largest amount) in each pack as is the case with the other colors in the bin. These are sugar derivatives that will adulterate whatever is good and useful about Stevia. Mixing good things with bad things only ruins the food value of the beneficial as we have said many times explaining why many people are allergic to wheat due to a lifetime association with sugar.
So what is so good about Stevia that we actually are cautiously optimistic about the eventual release of small bags of pure Stevia powder in the supermarket for use in baking, coffee, grapefruit and lemonade? Well, despite the ignominious beginning to Stevia as a sweetener, a study that had been described as being “able to classify distilled water as a mutagen” enough people have used the product that there are health studies that show benefits for many diseases.
A study published in 2000 gave stevioside (Stevia’s active ingredient) to 60 hypertension patients with a placebo group of 49. Results described as significant for reducing blood pressure supplemented similar animal studies.[i]
Stevia’s reputed limited effect on blood glucose naturally led to diabetes studies. A Denmark study took blood glucose readings from 12 type-2 diabetes patients before eating Stevia or cornstarch with their meals and a couple hours later. The Stevia group showed blood glucose levels at least 18-percent less than the starch group, leading to the possibility that diabetes patients have finally found the sweetener that will allow them to have their sweet cake and eat it too.[ii]
But, after the FDA has spent many years trying to keep Stevia out of the U.S. marketplace, we should ask if there are any side effects. A study conducted by the Burdock Group generally supports the safety of Stevia, finding no adverse effects in rats at the massive doses such studies use to determine carcinogenic or mutagen properties of foods.[iii]
And so we give Stevia qualified support because while almost no information has surfaced to say that this sweetener hurts people, we realize that the weak link in any health plan is the patient him or herself. Many of us are unlikely to moderate our consumption of Stevia because so far we just have to have ice cream, chocolate cake or soda. Too much of a good thing isn’t good. But, on the range of things that are sweet but not named sugar, Stevia is a great start.
[i] Chan, P, et al “A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Study of the Effectiveness and Tolerability of Oral Stevioside in Human Hypertension” Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2000 September; 50(3): 215–220. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2125.2000.00260.x
[ii] Gregersen S, et al. “Antihyperglycemic Effects of Stevioside in Type-2 Diabetic Subjects.” Metabolism 2004 Jan;53(1):73-76
[iii] Williams LD, Burdock GA “Genotoxicity Studies on a High-Purity Rebauside A Preparation.” Food Chem Toxicol. 2009 Aug;47(8):1831-1836