FDA Approval of Stevia Sweeteners Stirs Debate

The approval given by the FDA to the zero-calorie, all-natural sweetener stevia has steered strong debate over the safety of such sugar substitutes.

In December of 2008, two new brands containing sweet extracts of the shrub, Stevia Rebaudiana passed an FDA review. The two brands – Cargill’s Truvia which is owned by The Coca Cola Company and PepsiCo’s PureVia developed in collaboration with Merisant – are expected to arrive on department store shelves soon. The excitement in the industry is palpable, especially because these are the first all-natural stevia-based sweeteners that have been approved for use by the FDA for use as sweeteners.

Stevia Powder (closeup)

Both Cargill and Merisant claim that they have managed to eliminate the natural licorice taste of the stevia leaves. The two soft drink giants will initially introduce stevia sweetened drinks and beverages in the market. Coca Cola is coming out with Sprite Green and Truvia. Pepsi is introducing several fruit flavors of SoBe Lifewaters sweetened with PureVia.

Amidst all the excitement, concerns are rising that the FDA has been hasty in granting approval to the stevia based sweeteners. According to Michel Jacobson, Head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, studies have found a link between stevia and damage to genetic material. Tests also suggest that Rebaudioside A increases the risk of cancer. Jacobson is calling for more testing to be done before stevia is allowed to be added to foods and drinks.

Coca Cola and PepsiCo have obviously disputed the veracity of this data saying that FDA approval has come through more than 25 years of extensive research into stevia’s safety. Besides, the two companies have commissioned their own studies into stevia safety, and all research has concluded that these sweeteners are generally regarded as safe for use as general purpose sweeteners.

Jacobson believes that these sweeteners will be an instant success, but he is calling for in-depth testing before they are made available to the general public.

The concerns of stevia are linked to past controversies over health effects related to other sugar substitutes. Cyclamate and saccharine have been linked to cancer and other health scares. Aspartame has been associated by some Italian researchers to leukemia. The concerns over stevia look less likely to be dissipated just because the product is derived from a plant source. Expect much more debate over stevia as the demand for these herbal sweeteners increases.


8 Responses to “FDA Approval of Stevia Sweeteners Stirs Debate”

  1. Robert on February 4th, 2009 11:13 am

    Ditch the poisonous chemical sweetner today. Opt for Stevia. Stevia sweetners are available without after taste as well.

  2. Mina on March 19th, 2009 6:38 pm

    Cyanide is as natural as stevia. Perhaps we should eat small amounts of peach pits.

  3. Tom on March 21st, 2010 12:44 pm

    @Mina: LOL! Exactly right. I was going to post something similar.

    So where is the Sprite Green?

  4. Zachari on October 17th, 2010 5:59 pm

    Stevia, in its natural form, has been used in Asia for hundreds of years, and they have a longer health expectancy rate and lower obesity rate than Americans. If anything, the plant itself should be made legal, and steeped into otherwise calorie-laden beverages to reduce calories and keep the same sweet taste. Win/Win!

  5. Ruby on November 12th, 2010 3:37 pm

    I am so tired of hearing whats bad for us. You know what doctors or chemist are we suppose to believe. We the humans race has been told by so many doctors ect that this is bad for us and this is bad for us. who do we listen to? I dont think they know anymore than we do. Stevia has not even been tested on humans.

  6. Ruby on November 12th, 2010 3:41 pm

    I happen to like it.I enjoy no after tast.

  7. Carol on December 10th, 2010 12:39 pm

    To all who like Stevia and have experienced no side effects to date, beware if you experience anything like headaches, nausea, abdominal cramps and painful diarrhea. I am just a regular gal – not a health nut, who tries to avoid excess carbs and sugar. Unfortunately for me, I discovered that my system responds very negatively to some artificial sweeteners. I discovered this when maltitol first became popular – Atkins started adding it to their products. Kept me house ridden for two days. More manufacturers started adding it to everything and my choices for low carb, no sugar foods began to dwindle. Everywhere I looked — maltitol, maltitol, maltitol. Now it’s stevia, stevia, stevia. I used to eat Power Crunch protein bars a lot. Then one day, after buying a new batch, you guessed it – back into the water closet for an entire, painful day. Called the manufacturer (BNRG)to confirm that something had changed, and yes — the addition of Stevia leaf extract. Great. Now that’s popping up everywhere. How can this stuff be harmless when it has such a negative effect on some of us? So, if you’re going about your business and suddenly think you’ve come down with a case of food poisoning, it may not be the shrimp after all. Take a look at the bottle of sugar free ice tea and see what’s in it.

  8. Donald Phinney on October 22nd, 2011 10:35 pm

    how bout sugar? 16 calories a teaspoon, comes from a variety of natural sources, has been researched to death and very few side effects know (unless you feel the need to dump pounds of it into your food). Instead of over-sweetening everything try using less sugar rather than the chemical of the month…….

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