Learn something new every day
More Info... by email
The South American herb stevia is a natural sweetener. Many people accustomed to cooking with herbs feel that eating it must be safe because it's natural. Some studies have shown that it may cause liver problems in rats, but the interpretation of these results has been criticized. Further studies have not indicated that it is dangerous, although many experts advise continued testing.
Stevia is approved for use as a sweetener in parts of Asia and South America, but is banned in most of Europe. Although it was originally banned for use as a sweetener in the United States in 1991, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a purified form called rebaudioside A (Reb A) in 2008. In addition, it can be packaged and sold in the US as a nutritional supplement.
Since the FDA approved the purified form, sweetener made from stevia has become available in many grocery stores in the US. It has also been incorporated into some soft drinks and foods, as more corporations develop their own brand versions of the sweetener. As a nutritional supplement, it may also be found in health food stores. It should be noted that only the Reb A form has been approved for use as a food additive in the US; the plant itself and other extracts from it are not permitted.
Countries such as China, Japan, and Brazil have also approved stevia as a sweetener. Japan is especially known for its intensive testing of he herb; researchers there concluded that it has no harmful health effects. These Japanese studies are believed to have helped influenced the FDA enough to approve it as a food supplement.
Stevia is derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant native to Paraguay. It is 300 times sweeter than sugar, yet free of calories. In American health food stores, it is often packaged and sold in jars with eye droppers. It can also be bought as a sweetener to replace sugar in recipes. Japan uses about 40% of the world's stevia. It is approved there for use in diet soft drinks and is used in Japan rather than sweeteners such as aspartame.
I'm sure the only reason stevia was banned in the us is because the shareholders of products like aspartame and sweet-&-low would take a hit. Think of how many "diet" products use those ingredients! Stevia is natural if you buy it natural.
I'm not sure the brands that are trying to mainstream it are keeping it natural. It doesn't measure cup-for-cup to sugar because it's sweeter (if it does it's full of "fillers"). And it's not naturally white and crystal-like. Check out your local health food store to get the pure extract.
One of our editors will review your suggestion and make changes if warranted. Note that depending on the number of suggestions we receive, this can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Thank you for helping to improve wiseGEEK!