Stevia FAQ: Questions and Answers About Stevia Sweeteners.

By Denise Mann
WebMD Feature

What is stevia?
Stevia rebaudiana is a shrub native to South America. Its leaves have been used there for centuries to sweeten beverages. It is also an approved food additive in other countries, including Japan, Brazil, and China.

In the U.S., stevia products were long sold as dietary supplements — but not as a food additives or ingredients — because of safety concerns. In 2008, the FDA stated that the use of a refined stevia preparation called Rebiana is “generally recognized as safe,” and can be used as a food ingredient. Products include, Good & Sweet, PureVia, Reb A, SweetLeaf Stevia Sweetener, Sun Crystals (which combines stevia and sugar), and Truvia.

Fresh stevia leaves can be found at many farmers markets. The FDA now also allows certain refined stevia preparations to be used in food and drinks.

What does it taste like?
Stevia-based sweeteners have zero calories, yet are as much as 200 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). Some products may have a bitter taste.

Are stevia sweeteners artificial?
“I think that the FDA didn’t require good-enough testing,” Michael F. Jacobson, PhD, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), says in an email to WebMD. “That said, [Rebiana] is probably safe.”

In April 2010, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announced that studies showed no risk of toxicity from highly purified stevia sweeteners. The CSPI still argues that more testing of these products is warranted.

Can stevia sweeteners be used in baking?
Yes, they can. Many product web sites have conversion charts to help.

How does stevia compare with other sugar substitutes?
Here is an overview of various sugar substitutes, including stevia.

Aspartame
What is it: Two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine; and methanol. Brand names are Equal and NutraSweet.
How it’s used: Equal tabletop sweetener, diet soft drinks such as Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, some sugar-free desserts, including gelatin desserts, yogurt, and puddings.
Advantages: Tastes similar to sugar. Enhances sweet flavors, especially fruit flavors.
Drawbacks: Should not be consumed by people with phenylketonuria (PKU). Controversy continues about whether aspartame is linked to increased cancer rates. Government agencies say it is safe. A recent study from an Italian cancer institute found more lymphomas and leukemia in rats fed very large amounts of aspartame. The CSPI recommends avoiding it.

Saccharin
What is it: Benzoic sulfinide.
How it’s used: Sweet’N Low tabletop sweetener, Tab diet cola, salad dressings, baked goods, canned fruit.
Advantages: Less expensive than other artificial sweeteners. Stable at high temperatures, so can be used for baking. Passes through the body unaltered.
Drawbacks: After studies in the early 1970s linked saccharin consumption to bladder cancer in rats, all food containing saccharin was required to carry a warning label. But studies in humans showed no consistent evidence that saccharin causes bladder cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. The warning label is no longer required. The CSPI advises avoiding saccharin because of studies that link it to cancer in rodents.

Acesulfame-K, or Ace-K
What is it: Acetoacetic acid and the mineral potassium.
How it’s used: Usually in gums, confections, cough drops, and carbonated and alcoholic beverages, often in combination with another sweetener. Also sold as Sunett or Sweet One.
Advantages: Extends shelf life of diet drinks. Can be used for cooking and baking. Not metabolized or absorbed by the body.
Drawbacks: Government health agencies say it is safe. The CSPI advises avoiding it and has asked the FDA to require more tests. Can taste bitter on its own; better tasting when blended with other sweeteners.

Sucralose
What is it: A sugar molecule chemically altered by replacing three hydroxyl groups with three atoms of chlorine.
How it’s used: Splenda tabletop sweetener and baking products. Also in yogurt, fruit juices, ice cream, dairy products, some diet beverages, and flavored waters, sometimes combined with Ace-K.
Advantages: Consumer groups have not raised the safety concerns with sucralose that they have with other sweeteners. Can be used in baked goods more readily than other artificial sweeteners. No effect on blood sugar levels.
Drawbacks: Although better suited for baking than other artificial sweeteners, it’s still not a perfect substitute for sugar.

Neotame
What is it: A derivative of a combination of two amino acids: aspartic acid and phenylalanine.
How it’s used: Sweetener and flavor enhancer for other ingredients, such as mint. In some store-brand juices and gums.
Advantages: More stable than aspartame, meaning a better fit for baked goods. Although it shares some ingredients with aspartame, neotame has not prompted the same safety concerns with consumer groups. It does not carry a warning label for people with PKU.
Drawbacks: Rarely used.

Stevia
What is it: Extract from the stevia plant.
How it’s used: Dietary supplement and tabletop sweetener.
Advantages: Less is more. Stevia is much sweeter than sugar, so less is needed. It is an option for people with diabetes as it does not affect blood sugar levels.
Drawbacks: Some extracts have a bitter taste. It is billed as “natural,” but technically is processed.

Nothing in this document is intended as a substitute for your doctor’s diagnosis and/or treatment. This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA.

Nutrition and Lifestyle Suggestions: High Cholesterol

To assist us in getting the best results with your acupuncture and Chinese herbs, follow these simple instructions:

Nutrition

  • Increase the daily intake of cholesterol-lowering foods such as apples, bananas, carrots, cold water, fish, dried beans, garlic, grapefruit, olive oil, and fibers such as bran and oat.
  • Consume large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Decrease foods that will raise cholesterol levels, such as beer, wine, cheese, aged and cured meats, sugar, and greasy or fried foods.  Avoid eating red meat, processed foods fatty foods soda, pastries, pies, doughnuts, candy, etc.
  • Stop drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes.
  • Eat small frequent meals throughout the day.
  • Drink tea on a daily basis, especially after meals, to decrease the assumption of fatty foods from the diet.
  • Increase the intake if niacin, which can lower cholesterol levels by up to 18%,

Lifestyle

  • Avoid the consumption of alcohol and exposure to tobacco. They increase cholesterol buildup and hardening of arteries.
  • Exercise regularly, it will improve energy levels, normalize metabolic functions, reduce fat, and burn calories.
  • Change dietary and exercise habits, to avoid rebound weight gain.
  • Do not lose weight drastically.

Nothing in this document is intended as a substitute for your doctor’s diagnosis and/or treatment. This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA.

Nutrition and Lifestyle Suggestions: Infertility

To assist us in getting the best results with your acupuncture and Chinese herbs, follow these simple instructions:

Nutrition

  • During this stage, it is especially important to not eat foods that are cold (sushi, uncooked vegetables, salad, tomatoes, watermelon, cucumbers, winter melon. Strawberries, tofu, crabs, bananas, pear, soy milk, kiwi, ice cream, cold beverages) or sour (all citrus) in nature. They create stagnation and cause pain
  • Eat more nuts and seeds in their diet.
  • Avoid overly spicy and pungent foods as they cause excessive bleeding.
  • Decrease processed foods and increase organic foods.
  • Avoid alcohol, coffee, and cigarette smoking.
  • Use “ghee” (clarified butter) instead of normal butter.

Lifestyle

  • During menstruation, avoid sports that may expose the body to the cold environment, such as, skiing or cold water sports.
  • Wear clothing that promotes warmth in cold weather, and covers the abdomen and low back.

Nothing in this document is intended as a substitute for your doctor’s diagnosis and/or treatment. This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA.

Caution: contents hot. Our view on coffee

At the risk of infuriating millions of Americans (likely because of the fear of the headaches they will experience from withdrawal if they discontinue use), I am writing this to offer one perspective. Then, you should make the decision that is best for you.

The downsides to coffee: it is highly acidic, leading to inflammation which can cause many health problems. Also, it is a plant that is apparently very difficult grow, therefore massive quantities of herbicides and pesticides are used in its cultivation. Additionally, the “buzz” you get from coffee is not the caffeine, rather it is the caffeine stimulating the release of adrenaline, which, over time, leads to depleted kidney/adrenal function.

The solution (should you decide to kick the habit): start gently on the following steps. Watch out…at some point it may get bumpy, as withdrawal isn’t very pleasant!

Note: To minimize any withdrawal symptoms, it is important to make the following transitions:

  • Drink only organic regular coffee for a few days.
  • Drink half organic, half organic steam-distilled decaf for a few days.
  • Drink organic steam-distilled decaf only for a few days. (FYI: there is still caffeine in decaf coffee. The decaffeination process never removes all of the caffeine.)
  • Drink green tea for a few days.
  • Drink Chai tea (Indian Spice tea with little or, better yet, no black tea). We have a fantastic recipe on our website’s blog, as well as in our clinic.

Nothing in this document is intended as a substitute for your doctor’s diagnosis and/or treatment. This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA.


Nutrition & lifestyle Suggestions: Low back pain

To assist us in getting the best results with your acupuncture and Chinese herbs, follow these simple instructions:

Lifestyle

  • Bend at the knees (instead if bending from the waist or back) when lifting heavy objects.
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises for the back muscles are essential for long term recovery. Strengthening the abdominal muscles is also beneficial to reduce strain on the lower back.
  • Mild exercise such as swimming, yoga, or Tai Chi Chuan on a regular basis is recommended.
  • For those who are overweight, weight loss is strongly recommended to decrease pressure on the joints and relieve pain.
  • Proper balance of work and rest is very important, while sitting, make sure the back is straight and the elbows and knees are bent at a 90 degree angle.  Take a break at least once every hour to alleviate pressure on the vertebrae and disk.
  • Hot baths with Epsom salts helps to relax tense muscles and draw toxins from tissues. Rest and relax in the bath for about 30 minutes, but avoid becoming over-tired from the heat and soaking.

Cautions

  • If one presents with high fever and a one-side back pain, consider a possible kidney infection. Patients with acute nephritis should be referred to their medical doctor immediately.
  • Patients who have pain radiating to the extremities accompanied by a sudden loss of the bladder or bowel control may have a pinched nerve or spinal injury, and must be referred out to emergency care. This condition, known as Cauda Equina syndrome, can lead to permanent disability and must be evaluated and treated immediately.

Nothing in this document is intended as a substitute for your doctor’s diagnosis and/or treatment. This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA.