Well, maybe not a donut, but Stevia is a calorie-free sweetener, derived from a plant; what could be better? “Stevia is a win-win,” says Kristi Crow, PhD, RD of University of Alabama and Institute of Food Technologists. “It gives food companies a natural sugar substitute and meets the low-calorie need of consumers.“ Seniors are often carefully watching their diets or are caregivers for spouses with diabetes and other conditions, which require low sugar diets. In many cases, Stevia is a good option as a sugar substitute. Of course, nay-sayers exist for Stevia derivatives, such as consumer brand, Truvia, with it’s green-leaf logo and 300 times-sugar sweetness. They are worried it is too processed and so much sweeter than sugar, that consumers will alter their food preferences.
Stevia has been available in the US for only a short time, but it is not new. Paraguayan Indians have used Stevia to sweeten tea and medicine for over 500 years. In the late 20th century, the FDA found the crude Stevia version then available to be toxic when consistently consumed in high doses. (Sugar is, too, in a way, since we get fat and pre-diabetic when we eat too much of it.) Big food and drink companies continued their research and development of Stevia derivatives and created reb A. A.K.A. rebaudioside A, which in its purified state, won FDA approval as GRAS—or generally accepted as safe—for addition to food in 2008. This was a huge win for global food companies serving the US market, as they are always seeking ways to appeal to consumers trying to reduce sugar intake but still wanting the taste of sweet.
That desire to eat sweet without the effects is one of the hot buttons of the detractors. They claim Stevia in the reb A from isn’t natural, because it has been chemically altered to remove a bitterness component. They are worried taking out the bitterness, which is what makes Stevia 300 times more sweet than sugar, might be removing the safety valve. Dr. Paul Breslin, PhD, a researcher at the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers, is concerned about humans eating something which is so many times sweeter than food found in nature. He says our bodies react with hormones to sugars, and not just in our mouths, but in our intestines, liver, pancreas and brain. He believes this reaction occurs whether we eat real sugar or a substitute, like Stevia. The bad news for people watching sugar intake is this: your body may react to “sweetness,” not to the actual calories or glucose consumed. Dr. Breslin says we probably will not know the true effects for 40-50 years. Most nutritionists figure reasonable amounts of Stevia are okay, per the FDA.
So, as usual, our watchword is “Moderation.”
(Based on an article by Catherine Guthrie in Experience Life Magazine.)
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