Stevia and the FDA
America has drummed its fingers in vain awaiting a natural and safe alternative to sugar and chemical sweeteners. People around the world have enjoyed for centuries the healthful, sweet herb that is stevia. Yet for over twenty years, the United States FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has derided stevia as an
unsafe food additive. Their vehement opposal to its importation almost suggests that stevia is some sort of narcotic. The FDA has in the past even implemented seizure campaigns to stop the import of stevia into the U.S. Under legislation passed in 1994, stevia manufacturers were eventually given the right to market stevia as a dietary supplement.
What Supporters Say About Stevia and Stevia Alternatives
Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP notes,
… we recommend the herb stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) over sorbitol as a natural sweetener to our patients. Known in South America as the “sweet herb,” stevia has been used for over 400 years without ill effect. Stevia has been enormously popular in Japan, where it has been in use for more than 20 years, now rivaling Equal and Sweet’N Low … [For those] who want to move through their cravings for sugar without artificial chemicals, stevia is a great option.
She goes on to say that although we’ve known about stevia in the United States since 1918, industry pressure from the sugar trade has blocked its use. FDA and similar hurdles aside, stevia is slowly gaining acceptance as a healthy sugar substitute. Though the FDA has approved stevia use as a food supplement, it has not deemed it appropriate as a food additive.
Sound like a confusing game of semantics?
Betty Martini thinks so too. In her article, Stevia – A Natural Choice, she writes:
The public doesn’t care what you call Stevia as long as there is finally something with a record of thousands of years of safety that they can rely on, and something that will allow diabetics to sweeten their food and add taste enjoyment to life.
According to Dr. Zoltan Rona, MD – a source who Martini quotes in her article – there has never been a reported case of any adverse reaction to stevia, yet the FDA-approved aspartame has been linked to complaints of seizures, blindness, brain tumors and even death.
What Skeptics Say About the Dangers of Stevia
Scientists studying the potential toxicology and toxicity of stevia have several main concerns:
Energy Metabolism: Large amounts of stevioside can potentially interfere with absorption of carbohydrates in animals. It can further disrupt the metabolising/conversion of food into energy.
Cancer: Steviol has successfully been converted into a mutagenic compound, which may promote cancer by causing genetic mutation of a cell’s DNA. The catch? Scientists don’t yet know if this will happen in human cells.
Reproductive problems: European scientists cite potential adverse side effects to the male reproductive system. When fed high doses of stevioside for nearly two years, sperm production in male rats was noticeably reduced and the weight of seminal vesciles declined. Likewise, when female hamsters were fed large amounts of a stevioside derivative called steviol, their offspring were found to be fewer and smaller. Again, it should be noted that this has been neither tested nor proven in humans.
Stevia and Other Sweetener Alternatives
Many modern day and holistic medicine resources post similar lists of healthy sweeteners and sweeteners to avoid. Below is a compilation which we feel is a good summary:
|Healthy Sweeteners||Sweeteners to Avoid|
|Stevia *||Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, Canderel)|
|Other Low Carb Sweeteners||Neotame|
|Evaporated Cane Juice||Sucralose (Splenda, Altern)|
|Fruit Juice||Acesulfame-K (Sunette, Sweet & Safe, Sweet One)|
|Licorice Root (small amounts)||Refined Sugar #|
|Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)||High Fructose Sweeteners #|
|Sugar Alcohols (xylitol, sorbitol) ^|
|Maple Syrup (Without Added Sugar)|
Key: * Safe for diabetics / # Can be used in small amounts during transition to healthy sweeteners / ^ Use only in very small amounts – not for those with bowel disorders.
Stevia Health Resources
- Stevia: Not Ready For Prime Time (via CSPINet.org)
- Stevia Leaf – Too Good To Be Legal? by Rob McCaleb, Herb Research Foundation
- Questions & Answers about Stevia by David Richard
- Your Health and What You Eat – A growing collection of health information on stevia and aspartame