Stevia is an herb that has been used as a sweetener in South America for hundreds of years. Native to Paraguay, the leaves of this small, green plant have a delicious and refreshing taste that can be 30 times sweeter than sugar.
Unlike artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose which contain acetic acid, formaldehyde, chloride, and other un-pronouncables, SweetLeaf is all-natural, much sweeter, and you don't have to be a chemist just to decipher the label. Our lab is nature and a kitchen. Use SweetLeaf Stevia and ban the chemicals found in artificial sweeteners and calories found in sugar.
To many people these days, simply sweetening a cup of coffee is practically akin to picking a poison. Sugar or honey? Too many calories. Equal or Nutrasweet? Too many health risks, especially given recent reports detailing diet soda’s dangerously high levels of the cancer-causing compound benzene.
So to the sweet-toothed consumer, the increasingly popular, all natural, calorie-free substance called stevia sounds too good to be true.
And to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it is.
For the past 11 years, while artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Equal and Nutrasweet have dominated the diet-conscious market, the stevia industry and the FDA have been at odds over whether the additive poses health risks.
But with sales of the plant-based substance, indigenous to South America, growing rapidly in the past few years, stevia’s sticky situation is creating an increasingly complex marketplace for consumers, manufacturers and retailers.
FDA hard to convince
Though the stevia industry promotes it as the only natural, no-calorie way to sweeten foods and drinks and denies any health risks, citing the heavy use of the substance in Japan since the 1970s without any major reported safety concerns, the FDA isn’t convinced. Since 1995, the FDA has banned the use of stevia as a sweetener, approving it only for use as a dietary supplement because “available toxicological information on stevia is inadequate to demonstrate its safety as a food additive or to affirm its status as GRAS [generally recognized as safe].”
But consumers looking for alternatives to sugar and to chemical sweeteners keep snapping it up.
In recent years, the consumption of stevia, which is sold in powder, tablet and liquid form and has a slightly bitter taste, has ballooned. Sales of stevia in the United States reached about $45 million in 2005, up nearly 25 percent from the previous year’s sales, according to the Nutrition Business Journal, an industry guide to market research. Once limited to obscure health food stores, stevia can now be found at Trader Joe’s stores, Whole Foods and King Kullen stores across Long Island.
A well-kept secret
But despite its growing consumer base, stevia’s long-term prospects are severely limited under FDA regulations. For one thing, most consumers know little to nothing about the plant derivative because government regulations prevent even retail outlets from explaining much about the substance. Even diabetics, sweetener-savvy consumers and potentially some of stevia’s most devoted fans, aren’t sure what to make of the product. While nutritionists, including those who have worked in conjunction with the American Diabetes Association like Virginia-based consultant Robyn Webb, recommend stevia to diabetics as a safe way to sweeten foods and drinks, the ADA refuses to endorse it because it looks to the FDA for dietary guidelines.
And while stevia distributors are pleased with the recent growth of their industry, some worry about the future of their marketplace.
“The true growth is in food processors putting it in food products, and that will only come when the FDA approves it,” says Warren Sablosky, 52, president of NuNaturals, an Arizona-based stevia distributor that sells pure extract to Wild Oats and Whole Foods Markets. “A lot of big food producers don’t want to sit on the legal line.”
But some have taken the plunge. In January 2004, Steaz, a Pennsylvania-based natural soda manufacturer, introduced a diet line made with stevia rather than aspartame or Nutrasweet. To comply with the legal guidelines, the company can’t market it as a soda or even as a beverage (it calls the product a dietary supplement) and must list “supplement facts” rather than “nutrition facts” on its back label.
Sales on the rise
But for Steaz, the marketing maneuvering was worth the trouble. The company’s diet black cherry flavor is now its top-selling item at national grocery chain Wild Oats, and sales of the diet line have increased 200 percent over each of the past two years, according to Eric Schnell, 35, co-founder of Steaz. “The natural community has embraced the brand,” Schnell says.
Still, the general public, even consumers wary of artificial sweeteners, may not be quite as quick to make the switch.
“It’s not as good as sugar,” said Sigal Elias, 41, of Great Neck, as she tried a tiny taste of pure stevia alongside her two children, Edan, 13, and Romi, 11, at a recent Earth Day celebration outside Grand Central Terminal. “Usually, we drink diet soda, but now we’re trying to eliminate it. Because of the side effects, we’re kind of concerned,” she admitted, “but we love the flavor of Splenda.”
Originally published January 31 2008
FDA Threatened Celestial Tea Company over Use of Natural Sweetener Stevia
by David Gutierrez
(NaturalNews) The FDA has sent a warning letter to the Hain Celestial Group, instructing the natural and organic food producer to relabel certain products that contain the sweetener stevia. The letter concerned the Celestial Zingers To Go tea and drink mix products, which the FDA charges are being labeled and marketed as food products, even though an ingredient they contain -- the stevia herb -- has not been approved for use in foods in the United States.
Stevia, derived from a South American plant, has become popular as a sweetener because it has 300 times the sweetness of table sugar but almost no impact on blood glucose levels. Its taste is said to have a slower onset than that of sugar and to last longer.
Stevia has been approved for use in food and beverage products in a number of countries, including Brazil, Canada, China and Japan, but to date the FDA has only approved it as an ingredient in dietary supplements.
In response to the warning letter, Hain Celestial Group removed the term "iced tea mix" from all labels of the products in question, and made the words "herbal supplement" much more prominent.
In light of the increasing popularity of stevia and the fact that companies like Hain Celestial have apparently been trying to get around regulations of its use, the FDA said that it expects to soon receive a petition to approve the sweetener for use in foods. Reportedly, both the Coca-Cola Company and Cargill are interested in producing stevia-sweetened products, with Coca-Cola having filed 24 patent applications related to the sweetener.
But the FDA said that current information is not sufficient to prove stevia safe as an ingredient for food.
"Data and information necessary to support the safe use have been lacking," the FDA's letter to Hain Celestial read. "In fact, literature reports have raised safety concerns about the use of stevia, including concerns about control of blood sugar and the effects of reproductive, cardiovascular and renal systems."
Consumer health advocate Mike Adams, a long-time supporter of stevia, disagrees. "The FDA has been stalling on stevia approval for well over a decade in order to protect the profits of aspartame," Adams said. "Stevia is safely used around the world by hundreds of millions of consumers with absolutely no problems, while aspartame is tied to seizures, blindness, headaches and other serious neurological problems. The FDA once ordered the destruction of books containing stevia recipes. That's how desperate this criminal organization is to protect the profit racket of aspartame," Adams concluded.
I read somewhere... will have to try and find it again ... that Pepsi company wants to buy the rights to all stevia and create a new drink with it.
Richters Herbs in Canada is one of the retailers where you can obtain this plant. Veseys might also carry seeds, but I will have to check my seed catalogs to be sure. Both companies sell to USA.
Supposedly all it takes is one leaf to sweeten a cup of tea.
It's on our plant/seed shopping list for Spring 2008.
Tue Feb 12, 2008 8:51 pm
Joined: 22 Feb 2006 Posts: 8599 Location: Fingerlakes - NY usa
In Japan, companies like Sunkist and Nestlé use stevia as a sweetener. Coca-Cola uses stevia in Japan for its Diet Coke, as the herb is non-caloric. A combined Australian university/government report states that "Japan is by far the most advanced country in the use and understanding of Stevia in its application in the food and pharmaceutical industries". At present, the stevia industry in Japan is endeavouring to obtain Codex Alimentarius approval of steviosides. Interestingly, there have been no unfavourable health reports regarding stevia in Japan in the past 30 years.
Joined: 08 Jan 2007 Posts: 8 Location: Denmark, Vojens
I've bought a pound of white powder stevia. I blend one teaspoon of it with water and try to drink eight glasses a day.
I heard it would transform the body into good shape. This I had to try for myself.
There is this guy on youtube who claims he lost 42 pounds in 4 months using stevia like just described. Also he claims stevia cured the cancer of his uncle.
His name is Dan Quinn. Look him up. It sounds crazy and too good to be true. A potent combo that I cannot resist!
Thu Jun 05, 2008 3:57 pm
Joined: 22 Feb 2006 Posts: 8599 Location: Fingerlakes - NY usa
This stuff is easy to grow, why let them make a product out of it?
Thu Jun 05, 2008 9:00 pm
Joined: 22 Feb 2006 Posts: 8599 Location: Fingerlakes - NY usa
Lab Tests Point to Problems with New Sweetener
Consumer group says product can increase cancer risk
September 2, 2008
In a letter to the Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says the agency should require additional tests, including a key animal study, before accepting rebiana as Generally Regarded as Safe, or GRAS.
The letter cites a new 26-page report by toxicologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, several, though not all, laboratory tests show that the sweetener causes mutations and DNA damage, which raises the prospect that it causes cancer.
"A safe, natural, high-potency sweetener would be a welcome addition to the food supply," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "But the FDA needs to be as sure as possible that rebiana is safe before allowing it into foods that would be consumed by tens of millions of people. It would be tragic if the sweetener turned out to cause cancer or other problems."
One key animal study has not been conducted, according to the UCLA experts and CSPI. The FDA's guidelines advise testing prospective major new food additives on two rodent species, usually rats and mice. The new sweetener has only been tested on rats, but not mice.
The toxicologists' report said that because several studies found mutations and DNA damage, a lifetime mouse study designed to evaluate the risk of carcinogenicity and other health problems was particularly important.
The UCLA toxicologists emphasized the need for more genotoxicity tests, because of the evidence that derivatives of stevia that are closely related to rebiana damage DNA and chromosomes.
Their report noted that much of the recent research on rebiana was sponsored by Cargill and urged the FDA to obtain independently conducted tests to ensure that corporate biases don't influence the design, conduct, or results of the tests.
Rebiana is shorthand for rebaudioside A, a component of stevia. It is obtained from the leaves of a shrub native to Brazil and Paraguay. Coke, Pepsi, and other companies are excited about rebiana, because it supposedly tastes better than crude stevia, which is sold as a dietary supplement in health-food stores.
After all the controversies pertaining to saccharin, aspartame, and other artificial sweeteners, the food industry expects many calorie-conscious consumers to eagerly opt for this natural sweetener.
Two companies -- Cargill and Merisant -- have told the FDA that rebiana should be considered GRAS, a category given less scrutiny by the FDA than ordinary food additives. A third company, Wisdom Natural Brands, has declared that its stevia-based sweetener is GRAS and will market it without giving evidence to, or even notifying, the FDA. That company gave CSPI only a heavily redacted report prepared by scientists it hired to declare its stevia derivative, which is of unknown purity, is safe.
Stevia is legal in foods in Japan and several other countries, but the United States, Canada, and the European Union bar stevia in foods because of older tests that suggested it might interfere with reproduction. New tests sponsored by Cargill did not find such problems.
"I am not saying that rebiana is harmful, but it should not be marketed until new studies establish that it is safe," Jacobson said.
Cargill's version of rebiana is called Truvia and would be used by Coca-Cola. Pepsi's version is called PureVia and is produced by Merisant's Whole Earth Sweetener division. Merisant is best known for marketing the Equal brand of aspartame.
CSPI has not questioned the safety of two artificial sweeteners, sucralose (Splenda) and neotame, but says that suggestive evidence indicates that saccharin, aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), and acesulfame-K pose small risks of cancer.
"The whole issue of what gets GRAS status needs to be reviewed by Congress," Jacobson said. "It's crazy that companies can just hire a few consultants to bless their new ingredients and rush them to market without any opportunity for the FDA and the public to review all the safety evidence."
Two of the most harmful ingredients in the food supply are considered GRAS: salt, which raises blood pressure and causes thousands of unnecessary heart attacks and strokes every year, and partially hydrogenated oil, which is the source of artery-clogging artificial trans fat. CSPI has long campaigned to get partially hydrogenated oil out of the food supply and to reduce salt to safe levels.
"Stevia is legal in foods in Japan and several other countries, but the United States, Canada, and the European Union bar stevia in foods because of older tests that suggested it might interfere with reproduction. New tests sponsored by Cargill did not find such problems."
They can make tests show what they want to. Saccharin supposedly causes cancer in lab animals too, but they still have it as a food product.
I bought one of these plants from Richter's Herbs in Canada. All because it was talked about on here.
It's a neat plant. We tried 1 leaf each just to see what it tastes like. But it needs to be grown and cloned in order to have enough for daily use in sweetening hot drinks. Seems to be an easy house plant so far.
To me, it has an after taste of an artificial sweetener. But it is mega sweet. One decent sized leaf should be enough to sweeten one cup of coffee/tea.
They make a "product" out of it by drying the leaves into a powder. At least that's what I read online in the articles of how they are using test fields in Ontario to see how it will grow in Canada. They mentioned the leaf powder as one product.