The Problem with Stevia (and all alternative sweeteners)

Stevioside plant

Stevioside plant

Up to one hundred times sweeter than sugar, less the calories. Where do I sign up right? If you see the amount of foods in a grocery store listing this ingredient, you are aware it’s become a big trend. Shakes, bars, snacks, baking, and even a pop named “Zevia” are demanding your attention and making the sugar fans think this might be our match made in heaven! And now a purified form called Truvia is hitting the market (purified = refined). Let me brief you on my list of concerns and then follow it up with some hard evidence.

A) The stevioside plant is green. The liquid is clear and, well, not a leaf at all so how processed is it and what else is used during the processing to get it that way? Not to mention how the crops are being treated and grown with increasing demand.
B) It tastes horrible. I enjoy being in tune with my body’s responses to food and not once has Stevia ever sat well with my body, even when I wanted it to. I have a bag of the organic green powder in my cupboard right now, collecting dust.
C) It’s very new. People thought cigarettes were safe at first. People thought microwaves were wonderful. People thought corn syrup “wasn’t that bad” and here we are processing yet another unknown substance into our everyday food system. It’s been proven safe in small amounts in Japan, but this is North America – we use sugar in everything. Chances are, you’ve tried it yourself or know someone who could be classified a “Stevia loyalist.”
D) It can be perceived as healthier, so a person trying to lose weight might use more of it or drink Stevia-sweetened soda everyday when in reality – LESS sugar is the true healthy option. No matter what kind that is.
E) The lack of benefit. Is no calories really a benefit? Pure organic cane sugar and coconut sugar leave some minerals intact, and the more whole the food it, the more ideal for our bodies. We want to follow the natural ratios found in any food for maximum absorption and digestion benefits.
F) The cost. And because companies want to maximize profit and take larger market shares,  I wonder what they will do to it next. Truvia is already testing this concern by claiming it to be a purified form of the extract.

Although the stevia.com website boasts it’s “all natural” marketing focus, even their evidence based research says this:

“Based on the availability of scientific data, two indications are discussed in this review: hypertension and hyperglycemia. Evaluation of two long-term studies (1 and 2 years in length, respectively) indicates that stevia may be effective in lowering blood pressure in hypertensive patients, although data from shorter studies (1-3 months) did not support these findings. A pair of small studies also report positive results with respect to glucose tolerance and response, although the relatively low methodological rigor of these experiments limits the strength of these findings. Further investigation is warranted in both indications.” (1)

Other countries were also concerned and the US and Canada previously banned it numerous times:

The Scientific Committee on Food for the European Commission concluded that “there are no satisfactory data to support the safe use of these products [stevia plants and leaves],” in a five-page opinion dated June 17, 1999″

But the real concern is from the testing on rats that has been emerging recently:

REPRODUCTIVE: Stevioside “seems to affect the male reproductive organ system,” European scientists concluded last year. When male rats were fed high doses of stevioside for 22 months, sperm production was reduced, the weight of seminal vesicles (which produce seminal fluid) declined, and there was an increase in cell proliferation in their testicles, which could cause infertility or other problems.1 And when female hamsters were fed large amounts of a derivative of stevioside called steviol, they had fewer and smaller offspring (2)

CANCER: In the laboratory, steviol can be converted into a mutagenic compound, which may promote cancer by causing mutations in the cells’ genetic material (DNA) (3)

ENERGY METABOLISM: Very large amounts of stevioside can interfere with the absorption of carbohydrates in animals and disrupt the conversion of food into energy within cells. “This may be of particular concern for children” says toxicologist Ryan Huxtable of the University of Arizona in Tucson. 

HORMONALThe majority of in vitro studies showed that non-nutritive sweeteners can elicit secretion of gut hormones such as glucagon-like peptide 1 and glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide in enteroendocrine or islet cell. In humans, few studies have examined the hormonal effects of non-nutritive sweeteners, and inconsistent results have been reported, with the majority not recapitulating in vitro data. Further research is needed to determine whether non-nutritive sweeteners have physiologically significant biological activity in humans. (3)

So all I can say is proceed with caution. Or just plain avoid it if you share any of these concerns. Your absolute best bet is to stick with the most wholesome, time tested products. If only we could live without sugar.

(1)An Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Stevia by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration
C. Ulbricht, R. Isaac, T. Milkin, E.A. Poole, E. Rusie, J.M.G. Serrano, W. Weissner, R.C. Windsor and J. Woods
Cardiovasc Hematol Agents Med Chem. 2010 Apr;8(2):113-27
(2)  J. Food Hyg. Soc. Japan 26: 169, 1985. Drug Chem. Toxicol. 21: 207, 1998.
(3) http://www.cspinet.org/nah/4_00/stevia.html
(4) Non-nutritive sweeteners and their role in the gastrointestinal tract. Brown RJ, Rother KI.

7 thoughts on “The Problem with Stevia (and all alternative sweeteners)

  1. llori998

    Thank you for this!!! I am so not sold on stevia, AT ALL, no matter how many people say it’s amazing. I agree, just like cigarettes, sweet and low, etc… everything is “good for you” until it’s in our food supply long enough to find out about the negative impacts (like GMO’s right). As I fight for the perfect body, I choose whole sugar sources instead… which might mean less sweets, which I’d rather deal with then being a test case for a “no calorie” sweetner. My perspective, if it’s too good to be true, that’s because it is!

    Reply
  2. Vinny Grette

    You’re right to be concerned, and I concur with the point that although stevia is a natural product, there is some processing required to retrieve the component we value. But even cooking is a form of processing and not too many of us eat all our food raw…I also agree with you that we should try to develop a palate for less sweetness in our food. But let’s not be overly hasty to pan stevia outright. I love it for making birthday cakes and christmas cookies – when the occasion begs for a little sweetness. It was the aspartame guys who engineered the ban on its natural competitor stevia in the developed world. And stevia’s been used for centuries as a sweetener in South America and for decades in Japan. There doesn’t seem to be a fertility problem in those areas… I say give it a chance, in moderation, as in all things :), Here’s my own Stevia story – http://cookupastory.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/stevias-a-real-sweetheart/

    Reply
    1. organicmegan Post author

      Absolutely, in small amounts it has proven to be safe. The long term effects are unclear and I wanted to bring to light the “other side” of the issue since it has been so loved and welcomed on our supermarket shelves recently, almost without question. I’m also curious exactly what form the Japanese use. (ie. probably not the processed kind). What I do know, is that raw organic cane sugar is safe long term and the fact that it has minerals and calories for my body to use is exactly what I would suggest to the average healthy person from a nutritional standpoint. THANK YOU for sharing your link and references!

      Reply
    2. llori998

      But when I’m cooking the food, I am controlling how it is processed! That’s why I don’t eat out… I have a hard time trusting those processing my food!

      Reply

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