March 31, 2012

Is stevia a safe sugar substitute?

Stevia is a natural herb sweetener that has zero calories. I use the sugar replacement in many baked goods and desserts, and I find it an excellent sugar replacement with a pleasant taste. Some consumers have reported a bitter aftertaste, which I have not picked up from Stevia (I use the Natvia brand) but I have tasted this bitterness with Splenda, another sugar replacement.

Since I use Stevia at least once a week in my baking, I wanted to find out more on its safety record. I was pleased to find that Stevia has a solid track record in safety for consumption, unlike many other sugar replacements which have been linked to cancer and digestive disorders. Stevia has no reports of any adverse reactions.

As for sugar itself, while it is a natural product too, after reading "Sweet Poison" I felt even more compelled to cut sugar from my diet. The author of Sweet Poison explains that sugar is not detected by the body and deposits straight to fat.

Sometimes it can be difficult to judge the safety of these sugar replacements, especially with conflicting reports, some which seem to be biased (sugar companies obviously won't want these products to be successful).  After doing research, I will keep using Stevia happily and I would encourage others to use it, especially in baking.

Read the information below and make your own mind up.

In The Stevia Cookbook, by Ray Sahelian, MD, we read:

"Stevia has been used as a sweetening ingredient in foods and drinks by South American natives for many centuries, and there is no report of any plant toxicity to the consumers (Suttajit, 1993). Stevia has been added to a number of food products in Japan since the mid 1970s. No indications of any significant side effects have yet been reported after more than 20 years of use. Similarly, no reports of any adverse reactions to stevia have been reported in the United States."

In the same book you can read about one of the latest studies of the possible carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effect of stevia in rats. In a 1997 study conducted at the National Institute of Health Sciences in Tokyo, Japan, it was concluded that stevia had no adverse effects on the experimental rats.

Following extensive research, Dr. Daniel Mowrey MD, Herbalist and renowned scientist, reported:

"More elaborate safety tests were performed by the Japanese during their evaluation of Stevia as a possible sweetening agent. Few substances have ever yielded such consistently negative results in toxicity trials as have Stevia. Almost every toxicity test imaginable has been performed on Stevia extract [concentrate] or stevioside at one time or another. The results are always negative. No abnormalities in weight change, food intake, cell or membrane characteristics, enzyme and substrate utilization, or chromosome characteristics. No cancer, no birth defects, no acute and no chronic untoward effects. Nothing."

In the United States, Rob McCaleb, President of the Herb Research Foundation sees the irony in the ongoing FDA stevia (which he calls 'this embattled herb')saga. In a report on the Foundation's website he tells us that stevia has been under FDA import alert since 1991, but "actually, according to the HRF, numerous scientists, and tens of millions of consumers throughout the world, especially in Japan, the herb is safe." 

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