Is Stevia Good or Bad for Us?
Recently, Coca-Cola announced their plans to sell a cola sweetened with stevia. This new beverage, named Coca-Cola Life, will launch in Argentina so don’t run off to the grocery store just yet as there was no mention as to when this product will come to the U.S. This isn’t the soda giant’s first beverage to contain this natural sweetener; Sprite Select and Vitamin Water Zero are among some 45 beverages that contain stevia. If you visit Coca-Cola’s website, they actually praise stevia and list all of the benefits of using this sweetener. But as Coca-Cola, and other food and beverage companies, slowly start to embrace stevia, the question remains: is stevia really a good thing or too good to be true?
The History Behind Stevia
People have been using stevia for a long time, I mean, a really long time. Stevia comes from a plant native to South America and parts of North America. The Guarani (people indigenous to South America) used the plant for over 1500 years, mostly for medicinal purposes but also as a sweetener and a yummy treat (source). In the early 1970’s, Japan started using stevia as an alternative to artificial sweeteners and now they are the largest consumer of this particular sugar substitute (source). Other countries, including the United States, started using stevia in recent years.
The FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration) has not been a huge fan and proponent of stevia. In fact, they did not initially approve stevia as a sweetener or a food additive and actually labeled it as “unsafe”. In recent years, the FDA has approved rebaudioside A (Reb A), the highly refined and sweetest part of the stevia plant, but not whole-leaf or crude extracts as they deemed these forms hazardous to our health.
Is Stevia Good or Bad?
Some claim that stevia helps with weight loss, diabetes and high blood pressure while others allege that stevia is no better than table sugar or artificial sweeteners. So which is true? My research has lead me to believe the answer depends on how stevia is actually produced and consumed.
Not all brands that produce and sell stevia are “pure” meaning that there are additives, and not all of them are good. According to Food Babe, Truvia, a stevia-based sugar substitute, is a sweetener you may want to avoid. Citing manufactured erythritol and natural flavors as the culprit, Food Babe warns that brands such as Truvia, market stevia as all natural when it’s really not.
The Mayo Clinic also warns against putting too much stock into thinking stevia, or any natural sweetener, is good for us:
Natural sweeteners are sugar substitutes that are often promoted as healthier options than processed table sugar or other sugar substitutes. But even these so-called natural sweeteners often undergo processing and refining, including agave nectar. – Mayo Clinic
Research does, however, suggest that the Guarani people may have been on to something. Why else would they have used it for centuries? According to clinical studies (on lab rats, of course), stevia extract can control insulin levels in the pancreas (source). As for weight loss and helping with other medical conditions, I think the jury is still out.
Despite the praise and the criticisms, mostly everyone seems to agree that moderation is the key. Too much of anything is not a good thing. As long as stevia is consumed in moderation, the consensus seems to believe that there is no legitimate harm in using this sweetener.
What do you think? Do you use stevia products or prefer another type of sweetener? Tell us your thoughts.