Facebook Logo Twitter Logo Pinterest Logo

Nut Gourmet Blog Logo

only search Vegetarians in Paradise
VIP Bird
VIP Banner
Fill out your e-mail address to receive our newsletter!
*E-mail address:
*First Name:
Last Name:
Please let us know your location for special events:
Los Angeles:
(Outside USA):
Subscribe Unsubscribe


Vegan for the Holidays

Vegan for the Holidays has sold out its first printing.
New copies and the Kindle Edition are still available for purchase at Amazon.


Translate This Page

sphere Homepage

sphere News from the Nest

sphere Vegan for the Holidays Blog

sphere Vegan for the Holidays Videos

sphere Zel Allen's NutGourmet Blog

About Us


Weight Loss

Food History/Nutrition/Recipes


Nutrition Information

Los Angeles Resources

Cooking Tips/Recipes

Guest Contributors

Books/Media Reviews


sphere Archive Index

sphere Contact Us

*Privacy Policy: When you subscribe to Vegetarians in Paradise (vegetarian e-zine) your email address will not be sold or rented, and will only be used to let you know in an email what's new in our monthy web magazine.

All the world is nuts about

    What's in The Nut Gourmet

The Nutty Gourmet

Vegetarians in Paradise

Vegetarianism in the News

June 1, 2008 -- Vegparadise News Bureau

Stevia--Sweet or Bitter Choice

For years researchers have sought the holy grail of sweeteners, a sugar replacement that won't add girth to the hips or pounds to the torso. This quest has been motivated more than ever now that America has 60 million obese adults and 20 million diabetics, and there are 75 million Americans with a higher than normal blood glucose level.

stevia The goal of sweetness nirvana seemed within reach when stevia was introduced in this country in the 1970's, but a tug of war has ensued since then. On one side is the FDA insisting there are health problems revolving around this food additive; on the opposing side are its disciples who deny the negative health claims and extol its benefits.

It's 150 to 300 times sweeter than sugar and contains zero carbs and zero calories and has a glycemic index of, you guessed it, zero. And it's not formulated in a laboratory as a chemical creation. An herb that grows naturally wild in Paraguay and Brazil, Stevia Rebaudiana has been used by native peoples as a beverage sweetener for centuries.

Stevia classed as food supplement
Extremely popular in Japan, China, and Korea as well as South America, stevia has achieved limited success in the United States mainly because it has not been approved as a sweetener in this country. Instead, stevia is classified as a food supplement. Because of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, stevia is beyond the scope of the FDA and cannot be regulated by that body if it is classed as a supplement.

In 1995 The Food and Drug Administration issued an alert that said, "If stevia is to be used in a dietary supplement for a technical effect, such as use as a sweetener or flavoring agent, and is labeled as such, it is considered an unsafe food additive. However, in the absence of labeling specifying that stevia is being or will be used for technical effect, use of stevia as a dietary ingredient in a dietary supplement is not subject to the food additive provisions of the Food Drug and Cosmetics Act."

stevia FDA zings Zingers
Hain Celestial Group learned the difference when they received a warning letter dated August 17, 2007 from the FDA telling the company it was unsafe to use stevia as a sweetener in its Zingers herbal teas. The FDA letter acknowledged that the agency had received requests to use stevia in food products, but "data and information necessary to support the safe use have been lacking." The letter also stated, "Literature reports have raised safety concerns about control of blood sugar and the effects on the reproductive, cardiovascular and renal systems."

In a statement Hain Celestial Group said the FDA agreed that the company could change the products' labels to reflect that they are supplements and not food. The first question a consumer should ask is, " Does changing the label make the product less dangerous to the reproductive, cardiovascular and renal systems?" As Congressman Dan Burton pointed out in his letter to the FDA, "I find the agency's treatment of stevia baffling. It is safe as a dietary supplement but unsafe as a food additive."

In her article "A Tale of Two Sweeteners Aspartame & Stevia," nutritionist Gail Davis extols the virtues of stevia:

  • Stevia actually balances blood sugar levels, and is safe for use by both diabetics and hypoglycemics.
  • Unlike aspartame, there are no reports of adverse effects from stevia's use and scientific studies throughout the world prove out its safety. Stevia has never been shown to cause brain tumors, seizures, blindness, or any of the other 92 adverse reactions associated with aspartame.
  • Unlike aspartame, stevia reduces the craving for sweets, making it the ideal sweetener for a society desperate to lose weight.
  • Unlike sugar, stevia reduces cavities by retarding the growth of plaque.
  • Stevia is used as a digestive aid in Brazil.
  • Stevia contains antiseptic properties, which have proven beneficial in speeding the healing process of skin wounds.
  • Tests show that stevia's antimicrobial properties inhibit the growth of streptococcus and other bacteria. This is especially noteworthy since some forms of streptococcus have become antibiotic resistant.

CSPI reports animal studies
The Center for Science in the Public Interest sides with the FDA in a cautionary approach to stevia. Its April 2000 issue of Nutrition Action Health Letter presents some troubling information from toxicologists. European scientists reported in 1999 that stevioside (from the stevia leaf) affects the male reproductive system.

stevia When male rats were fed high doses of stevioside, sperm production dropped, the weight of seminal vessels for seminal fluid production fell, and cell proliferation increased. Cell proliferation can cause infertility. Female hamsters fed large amounts of steviol, a derivative of stevioside, had fewer and smaller babies.

Steviol can be converted into a mutagenic compound in animal testing in the laboratory. This compound can promote cancer by causing mutations in the cells' DNA. Researchers admit that they don't know if humans convert stevioside to steviol. Large amounts of stevioside can interfere with carbohydrate absorption in animals and can hamper the conversion of food into energy within the cells. "This may be of particular concern for children," says toxicologist Ryan Huxtable of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

In response to reports that there have been no adverse reactions to stevia in Japan the last 30 years, Douglas Kinghorn says, "The Japanese don't consume large amounts of stevia." Kinghorn is a professor of pharmacognosy (study of drugs from plants) at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Huxtable notes, "In the U.S. we like to go to extremes. So a significant number of people here might consume much greater amounts."

Stevia goes bigtime in Asia
Stevia now claims 40% of the sweetener market in Japan. Japan has been producing stevia since 1977 as an alternative to artificial sweeteners. Although stevia has not gained FDA sanction, that agency has approved these artificial sweeteners: Sucralose (Splenda), Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low and Sugar Twin), Aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal), and Acesulfame Potassium (Sunette and Sweet One). At one time Saccharin was banned because it triggered bladder cancer in mice. Aspartame has been the subject of thousands of complaints registered with the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control. stevia

Although stevia was originally found growing in Paraguay, almost 80% of world's crop today comes from China. Because of great demand in Asia, China has embraced this crop and began allocating large acreage to its production. Ironically, China can grow only one crop each year, while Paraguay is able to harvest stevia three or four times each year.

Quite disturbing are charges that the anti-stevia campaign is being promoted by sugar and chemical companies that stand to lose market share if stevia gains approval as a food additive. In "The Bittersweet Story of the Stevia Herb'' in the February/March 2003 issue of NEXUS Magazine, Jenny Hawke tells of a trade complaint registered with the FDA in the late 1980's about a tea containing stevioside being sold by Celestial Seasonings. Through the Freedom of Information Act, Stevia.net obtained a copy of the memorandum, but the complainant names were deleted by the FDA to protect the informant's identity.

FDA overzealous in enforcement
More alarming is the overzealous FDA action to suppress and even destroy books that promote stevia as a food additive. Books that caused concern in the FDA were Cooking with Stevia by James Kirkland and The Natural Choice by Kay Randall. Kirkland and Randall were officers in the Stevita Company. FDA officials told the company's lawyers in 1998, "Literature or publications that promote Stevita stevia products for use as a conventional food and that are marketed with or displayed with those products cause the products to be adulterated as an unapproved food additive." An FDA official dated and signed six copies of Cooking with Stevia so they could not be sold.

Looming on the horizon is Rebiana, the trade name of a calorie-free food and beverage sweetener derived from stevia. Rebiana is a joint effort of Coca-Cola and Cargill. This joint venture will try to obtain approval of Rebiana as a food additive in the United States by 2009. They plan to market stevia-sweetened products in 12 countries that allow stevia as a food additive. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola and Cargill are conducting their own studies to facilitate regulatory approval in the United States and the European Union.

On its own, Cargill announced on May 15, 2008 its campaign to market Truvia that is made from rebiana, a part of the stevia leaf. The company claims Truvia is a no-calorie, natural sweetener for foods and beverages.

Jim May, founder of Wisdom Natural Brands who helped introduce stevia to this country and whose company is the leading U.S. producer, feels it won't be long before stevia gains regulatory approval. "And when it's finally accepted as a sweetener, the health of Americans will substantially improve," May says.

Americans face a dilemma
As Americans we are faced with the uninviting task of wading through the blizzard of information and misinformation about stevia and artificial sweeteners. We need to know whether the FDA is looking out for the public interest and not being used by industries that want to keep stevia from the role of sweetener of choice and submerging their products in the marketplace. stevia

All of us need to admit we are addicted to sugar. It's in so many foods we eat, not just desserts but even where you least expect it, like a can of kidney beans. The quest for sweet has led us down the obesity and diabetes road. But as we are learning with artificial sweeteners, there is no magic bullet. We need to recognize that we can avoid calories by not using sugar, but when we substitute stevia or artificial sweeteners some of us may also encounter side effects or drawbacks that impact our health.

One fear we have is that a large company like Cargill will have their laboratory researchers take this simple plant leaf and manipulate it to create a sweetener that is really alien to the human body. What they call stevia may turn out to be some type of frankenfood that may be labeled natural but could be harmful.

Because stevia is an herb and not a drug, there is no giant pharmaceutical company to spend the millions for research and promotion. If this natural sweetener has all of the qualities its proponents claim, let's find out by having the National Institutes of Health fund an impartial study to determine its safety. Until that happens we all need to proceed cautiously and use stevia in moderation--if at all.


Bilger, Burkhard. "The Search for Sweet." New Yorker, May 22, 2006

Davis, Gail. "A Tale of Two Sweeteners: Aspartame & Stevia." http://www.vegsource.com/davis/sweeteners.htm

De Guzman, Doris. "Sugar Substitutes: How Sweet It Is." ICIS Chemical Business Americas, July 9, 2007

FDA U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Warning Letter [The Hain Celestial Group, Inc.]" August 17, 2007 http://www.fda.gov/foi/warning_letters/s6500c.htm

Hawke, Jenny. "The Bittersweet Story of Stevia." Nexus Magazine, February-March, 2003

Henkel, John. "Sugar Substitutes: Americans Opt for Sweetness and Lite." FDA Consumer, November-December 1999; Revised December 2004 and February 2006

Moloughney, Sean. "Natural Ingredients Sweeten the Market for Sugar Substitutes: Growing Public Concern about Overall Health Has Opened the Door for Natural Alternatives to Sucrose and Chemical Substitutes." Nutraceuticals World, April 2008

Schardt, David. "Stevia: a Bittersweet Tale." Nutrition Action Health Letter, April 2000

Click here for News from the Nest Index

Vegetarians in Paradise

Homepage sphere Los Angeles Vegan Events Calendar sphere Our Mission sphere The Nut Gourmet sphere Vegan for the Holidays sphere Vegan for the Holidays Videos sphere Vegetarians in Paradise Diet sphere Vegan Survival Kit sphere News from the Nest sphere Vegan Recipe Index sphere Los Angeles Vegan & Vegetarian Restaurants sphere Vegan Basics 101 sphere Protein Basics sphere Calcium Basics sphere Ask Aunt Nettie sphere VeggieTaster Report sphere Vegan Reading sphere VegParadise Bookshelf sphereHeirloom Gardening sphere Cooking with Zel sphere Dining in Paradise sphere Cooking Beans & Grains sphere On the Highest Perch sphere Road to Veganshire sphere Words from Other Birds sphere Using Your Bean sphere Ask the Vegan Athlete sphere Vegan Holiday Meals sphere Great Produce Hunt sphere Farmers' Markets sphere Natural Food Markets sphere Vegetarian Associations Directory sphere Links We Love sphere VegParadise Yellow Pages sphere Media Reviews sphere 24 Carrot Award sphere Vegetarian Food Companies sphere Archive Index sphere Contact Us

© 1999-2015 vegparadise.com