What the Heck Is Stevia?
Confession: I’m easily addicted to the sweet stuff.
Sugar, artificial sweeteners, stevia. Your other Living Well Daily editor, Nate Rifkin, can attest that I can chew through half a pack of Extra a day.
It’s really bad.
In my search for a healthier sweetener that isn’t as caloric as sugar and isn’t artificial like aspartame or sucralose (Splenda), I came across stevia. You too have probably seen it lately popping up as the new best “natural sweetener”.
In fact, it seems many of you share my sweet tooth, because you wrote in asking about stevia.
So what is stevia, exactly?
Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni is a plant that commonly grows in tropical regions in South America and Asia. It was discovered over 1,500 years ago in Paraguay, where the natives chewed on stevia leaves for its sweet taste and to help freshen their breath. They also added it to their teas and used it as a tonic to settle an upset stomach.
During the sugar shortage of WWII, the NIH began researching stevia. But once the war was over, their interest in stevia dropped. Japan picked up where the NIH left off, and by 1982, stevia made up a 40% share of the commercial sweetener market in Japan.
Today, it’s continuing to be studied for its safety and health benefits and is making its way into many products, including Pepsi’s new soda, Pepsi True. (But don’t let the green packaging fool you: It still has 60 calories of pure sugar that you’re better off without.)
The two main components of stevia that give it the sweet taste are steviosides and rebaudiosides. Many of the stevia products on the market are rebaudioside extracts, since the steviosides can give a bitter aftertaste.
Since stevia is marketed as being “natural,” that must mean it’s safe, and certainly better than artificial sweeteners, right? Well, the truth is that some of the stevia packets you find in your grocery store aren’t exactly natural stevia.
There are actually four different types of stevia:
- The whole plant.
- The whole plant leaf dried and powdered (about 30-40 times sweeter than sugar).
- Liquid or powdered stevia rebaudioside extract (up to 200 times sweeter than sugar).
- And products like Coca-Cola’s Truvia, which are refined stevia mixed with erythritol (or sometimes maltodextrin) and “natural flavors.” (About 400 times sweeter than sugar.)
At a glance, Truvia doesn’t sounds so bad. It’s just three ingredients.
Well… I found Coca-Cola’s patent for refining the rebaudioside from stevia, and it looks to be anything but natural (U.S. Patent # 20070292582 A1). Creating Truvia involves an extensive refining process that even includes mixing it with methanol (which the CDC calls a “toxic alcohol”).
In addition, erythritol is the byproduct of yeast fermentation of corn. As for “natural flavors”, well, they can be derived from bugs and the anal scent glands of beavers.
And while that’s technically natural, it’s not exactly appetizing, is it?
Other commercial stevia products you may find in the grocery store are mixed with maltodextrin to help make it a powder form. Maltodextrin can be made from GMO corn.
Though it’s probably a better option than toxic aspartame, if you want to give stevia a shot, steer clear of Truvia and other brands that use ingredients like rebaudioside A, erythritol and maltodextrin.
But what about safety of the not-so-refined stuff? Well, research is indicating that true stevia might actually have a bunch of health benefits. Stay tuned, because in the next issue of Living Well Daily, I’m going to cover the health benefits of stevia and point you to the best brands to buy.
To living well,
View More Free Articles
Dear Living Well Daily Reader, About 6.2 million adults in the United States have heart failure. When you visit your mainstream doc’s office, he’ll tell you that heart failure is the result of clogged arteries, high blood pressure, diabetes, being overweight, lung problems, and heart valve problems. It can make you feel like your health...
I have arthritis in my spine. What would you suggest to help manage it? –George from Cedar Rapids, IA George, Believe it or not, many people learn that they have spinal arthritis as they age. It’s very common. There’s a lot you can do to help keep it from advancing or even reverse some of...
Dear Living Well Daily Reader, There is a plague of anxiety sweeping the nation. And who could blame us? Anyone with half a brain SHOULD feel anxious about the state of the world. But like any other epidemic, just because something is going around doesn’t mean you should accept it. More importantly, having anxiety does...
Dear Living Well Daily Reader, If you or someone you love suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS), you already know how the disease can turn your life upside down. The stiffness and mobility problems slowly strip away your independence… and leave you in pain. Talk to your mainstream doc and he’ll just shrug their shoulders –...
Dear Living Well Daily Reader, If you’re a woman, chances are you have heard about the BRCA gene (BReast CAncer gene). Scientists have known for a long time that a mutation in one of two breast cancer genes, BRCA1 or BRCA2, increases the risk of getting breast cancer. But, men, listen up – just because...
Dear Living Well Daily Reader, Some people might shrug when you tell them you have knee pain… but that’s only if they haven’t experienced firsthand. Chronic pain from osteoarthritis is no joke— it can destroy your life. Joint pain makes moving incredibly difficult and can keep you from doing the things you love. Before you know it,...
Dear Living Well Daily Reader, Inflammation is supposed to be a normal response for your body. It’s one of the key defenses protecting you. Inflammation can sometimes be our friend… when it helps fight off infections and clears away debris, that is. The problems start when inflammation blazes out of control or lasts longer than...
I have psoriasis, and I was wondering what supplements or natural treatments there are out there. –Bill from Riverside, CA Bill, As you probably know, psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease where the body attacks the skin as if it were a foreign invader. Psoriasis affects about two percent of the U.S. population. Normal, healthy...
Dear Living Well Daily Reader, I’m on a personal mission to rescue coffee from the hands of the nutritional puritans who think that anything fun is not good for you. Despite what the mainstream would have you believe, the news on coffee has improved in recent years. Researchers have pinpointed many powerful plant nutrients, like...
Dear Living Well Daily Reader, Some suggest pretty complicated ways to keep your brain healthy as you age. Going back to college… doing complicated puzzles… taking what feels like 30 bottles of pills a day… It can make you feel like giving up before you’ve even started! But what if there was something MUCH easier...