Stevia comes from a species of sunflowers in Central and Southern Central America, and it is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. With the numerous diabetics that need to drastically cut their sugar intake, stevia has become an attractive sugar substitute for diabetics and anyone watching their weight. Diabetics are especially excited about stevia because there is no noticeable effect on blood glucose from consuming food and beverages that contain stevia. However, there have been a few roadblocks to stevia’s path to the American market.
As of 2007 (according to the National Diabetes Fact Sheet) there are more than 23 million diabetics in America. That means that nearly 8% of the American population needs to limit their sugar intake. Sugar substitutes are one of the best friends a diabetic can have and everyone from doctors to diabetics are excited about stevia.
At one point the main focus of stevia research was about whether or not it was safe to consume. That issue has been settled and now the focus of stevia research is its affect on blood glucose. There is little to no effect on blood glucose and there is some evidence that stevia can even help people improve their glucose tolerance.
In 1991 the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) caused an uproar when it said stevia was an unsafe food additive. Stevia was then banned in the US. The import ban was lifted in 1994 when the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act forced the FDA to allow stevia to be used as a dietary supplement, but not as a food additive. In December 2008, stevia was given the green light by the FDA . Brands like Truevia and PureVia then went on the market.
An Arizona congressman made the objection that the original ban on the importation of stevia stemmed from pressure from the artificial sweetener industry instead of any actual danger from stevia itself. Now that stevia products have been cleared, diabetics and anyone else who is watching their weight have a new sugar substitute to choose to use.
At the end of December 2008 the Coca-Cola Company entered the stevia market with Truevia, which is made from a sweetener called rebiana that comes from stevia. Shortly thereafter PepsiCo announced their stevia product PureVia, which also comes from rebiana. However, they delayed the release of their drinks with the additive until the FDA confirmed their allowance of Reb-A extract products. The FDA has made a point to say that they are allowing only an extract from the stevia plant and not the plant itself as a food additive.
Stevia appears to be the sweetener of the future since the health concerns, whether real or exaggerated, seem to have been sufficiently addressed. Stevia has a bright future since it has finally been approved as a sweetener in the United States. Another artificial sweetener on the market benefits everyone by giving people more choices. Further research is needed to determine if stevia can really help glucose tolerance, but if it can then the future will be better for millions of diabetics as well.