Response to readers: More about stevia, a non-approved sweetener

Response to readers

More about stevia, a non-approved sweetener

Stevia, an herbal sugar substitute, is a naturally sweet, noncaloric substance made from the leaves of the South American shrub Stevia rebaudiana. Extracts are said to be 200–300 times sweeter than table sugar. By way of comparison, the artificial sweetener aspartame (Nutrasweet) is about 200 times sweeter than sugar; sucralose (Splenda), about 600 times sweeter.

For many years, stevia has been incorporated in food and beverages in several countries, including Paraguay, Brazil, South Korea, China, and Japan. But in the United States, stevia is sold only as a dietary supplement, because the FDA hasn't approved its use as a sweetener or food additive. Laboratory studies have also found that stevia causes "reproductive problems in animals and may be mutagenic." Those who use stevia may be alarmed at this information, and others may question the data.

Stevia and its components (mainly stevioside) have been studied for decades, which has produced an enormous amount of data. Judging from the few investigations conducted in humans, stevia appears to be safe in small doses. Some studies suggest that one of its components helps lower post-meal blood sugar levels and reduces blood pressure. But research conducted in animals and test tubes has raised questions that haven't been answered to the satisfaction of the FDA.

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