Skip to comments.Stevia may not be classified as a food, but consumers are using it as one
Posted on 04/16/2002 10:43:30 AM PDT by Brookhaven
"ISN'T THIS GREAT STUFF?" said the cashier at Puget Consumers Coop. "I'm glad we could get it in again." Then he added, sardonically, "It's OK to sell tobacco, but not this?"
"This" is stevia, an herb that - depending on who's talking - is an amazing no-calorie sweetener, a diabetic's salvation, a nutritious health enhancer or an unproved folk flavoring with uncertain effects on heart, kidneys and blood sugar, and a possible detriment to female reproduction.
In more than a dozen countries, stevia, sometimes called sweet leaf, is incorporated into manufactured foods and used as a sweetener. But in the U.S., it's categorized by the Food and Drug Administration as a dietary supplement, not a safe food or food additive, so it cannot be used in manufactured products or sold as a sweetener.
Critics charge the FDA with yielding to pressure from lobbyists in the artificial-sweetener industry. The FDA says petitions to re-classify stevia have been inadequate.
Consumers are just trying to figure out how to use it.
Stevia rebaudiana, native to Paraguay and Brazil, today is cultivated not only in South America but in China and even in Cottage Grove, Ore. Wholesale grower Log House Plants (541-942-2288) supplies many local nurseries, including Bainbridge Gardens, Magnolia Gardens and City People's, where a 4-inch pot of the tender perennial sells for $2.19. One well-established plant provides more than enough sweetener for a family of four for a year, says Log House's Alice Doyle, who hopes to sell stevia seed through the Jackson and Perkins catalog next year.
The fresh leaf, added to tea or even chewed, imparts a sweet and faint licorice flavor. Dried crushed leaves are about 30 times sweeter than table sugar.
Powdered stevia leaf, commonly sold in small packets or in bulk, also is about 30 times as sweet as sugar and often is used atop cereal, although it doesn't dissolve. A dark syrup-like extract is 70 times sweeter than sugar and usually comes in a dropper bottle, handy for coffee or tea. Both can have a slight herbal taste.
A white powder extract has a cleaner flavor, doesn't discolor foods, dissolves in water and is heat-stable to 388 degrees Fahrenheit, making it useful in light-colored or baked goods.
I dissolved a teaspoon of the white (sometimes called stevioside) in three tablespoons of filtered water to yield a clear liquid that sweetened a cup of tea with just two drops - three was too much. A quarter-teaspoon of this liquid balanced a glass of fresh lemonade. A quarter-teaspoon of the powder helped make a nice big batch of rice pudding.
Modifying recipes can be tricky. Stevia is so strong that many early attempts with old recipes resulted in over-sweet foods. Breads don't rise as much as those made with sugar. Stevia can't be caramelized. When one-quarter teaspoon substitutes for a cup of sugar, the sugar's bulk often must be replaced with something else. And potency can vary by brand, soil, climate and manufacturer.
Some manufacturers promote stevia for more than its sweet qualities. Jim May, president of Wisdom of the Ancients in Tempe, Ariz., says stevia's vitamins and minerals can help fight systemic yeast infections, aid intestinal flora, improve dental health, help diabetics regulate blood sugar, support the healing of some skin conditions and even make a dent in drug traffic from South America by giving farmers an alternative crop that will be lucrative once U.S. manufacturers are allowed to include stevia in food products.
For stevia to be re-classified as a food additive, FDA spokesman Alan Bennett says, manufacturers must prove that it is safe. (To be prohibited as a dietary supplement, the FDA would have to prove that it was unsafe.) He believes that many manufacturers are unaware that the once-complicated process to have a food accepted as "generally regarded as safe" has been simplified recently.
Perhaps a well-organized industry petition will change stevia's standing and lead to more products, more recipes, more access, and more research on its effects.
In the meantime, I think I'll have a little more dietary supplement in my tea.
The case for stevia is well summarized in "The Stevia Story" by Linda Bonvie, Bill Bonvie and Donna Gates ($6.95, Body Ecology). Cookbooks include two volumes of "Baking With Stevia" by Rita Depuydt ($12.95 each, Sun Coast) and "The Stevia Cookbook" by Ray Sahelian, M.D., and Donna Gates ($12.95, Avery).
I also read that it holds 40% of the sweetener market in Japan.
I know we have a problem with nutrasweet (causes my wife headaches, and it causes my essential tremor to get worse). I am concerned about splenda because it is also artificial, so I was looking for a natrual alternative.
I would be interested in anyone on FR who has used this product, and what they think of it --- good and bad.
Also, what is that throw-away line at the beginning about being a problem with some internal organs. Anyone have any other info on that?
If you've ever tasted stevia, you know it's extremely sweet. In fact, this remarkable noncaloric herb, native to Paraguay, has been used as a sweetener and flavor enhancer for centuries. But this innocuous-looking plant has also been a focal point of intrigue in the United States in recent years because of actions by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The subject of searches and seizures, trade complaints and embargoes on importation, stevia has been handled at times by the FDA as if it were an illegal drug.
Since the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), stevia can be sold legally in the United States, but only as a "dietary supplement." Even so, it can be found in many forms in most health-food stores, and is also incorporated into drinks, teas and other items (all labeled as "dietary supplements"). It cannot, however, be called a "sweetener" or even referred to as "sweet." To do so would render the product "adulterated," according to the FDA, and make it again subject to seizure.
The purpose of our Web site is to provide as much information about stevia as possible, from the scientific studies regarding its safety to the petitions submitted by the Lipton Tea Company and the American Herbal Products Association. Stevia.net will be an ongoing project for us at Body Ecology, so check back often, as we will be augmenting and updating this information frequently.
I can't quite remember, but I think I used to smoke this stuff.
You can search for stevia at that link and come up with a lot, although not all of it will be useful.
Although the specific mechanism is not known, in a study conducted at the Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark, researchers found that stevioside enhances insulin secretion from mouse pancreatic islets in the presence of glucose. The researchers state, "Stevioside stimulates insulin secretion via a direct action on pancreatic beta cells. The results indicate that the compounds may have a potential role as an anti-hyperglycemic agent in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus."
In 1995, Dr. M.S. Melis, from the Department of Biology at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, administered extracts of stevia to rats for 20, 40, and 60 days. After 20 days, there were no changes in the stevia-treated rats compared to the control group (the ones that didn't receive the extracts). However, after 40 or 60 days of administering the extract, blood pressure had lowered. Melis also noted a diuretic effect along with loss of sodium. The amount of blood going to the kidneys was increased. In a 1981 Brazilian study, when researcher Boerk gave human volunteers between the ages of 20 and 40 a tea prepared with stevia leaves, a lowering of blood pressure occurred.
Hmmmmm....You are the first person I have seen complain about something I noticed years ago with nutra sweet. I was using it with iced tea and discovered that I was experiencing uncontrolled hand and arm movements and also vocal problems. The stuff was definately affecting my nervous system, ie: brain functions regarding more than one system.
I regard the stuff as dangerous.
I use it for everything and it's good because it's a fine powder and when used in cold tea it mixes really well.
The dynamic that is at work here is very much like what was done by William Randolph Hearst back in the 30s to get marijuana made illegal.
I don't doubt for one second that efforts by those who produce artificial sweeteners have something to do with it.
But then, I'm about as cynical as they come.
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