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Stevia

 

Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from a plant called stevia rebaudiana. The active ingredients are called steviol glycosides which are 150 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar. The glycosides in stevia are not metabolized in the human body and are a zero calorie sweetener.  

 

Stevia extracts have been approved for use as a sweetener by FSANZ and food authorities such as the US FDA. However stevia leafs and crude stevia extracts are generally not approved for use as a sweetener due to the lack of safety information.  

Stevia products can sometimes present a bitter aftertaste and different people have varying sensitivity to this bitter aftertaste. It has been suggested the bitterness also varies between the brand and source, which will be influenced by the stevia source. 

ADI

FSANZ has set an ADI of 4mg/kg body weight/day for stevia. This was established by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). 

The ADI represents the average daily intake over a lifetime which is expected to be safe for human consumption, based on significant research.

Based on a 2018 scientific review it was found studies conducted since 2008 (the year most countries approved use of stevia as a food additive) raised no concerns for exceeding the ADI of the major sugar free sweeteners, in the global general population. 

 
How is it safe for consumption?

 

Stevia is derived and purified from the stevia plant, as taken from FSANZ's website:

"The Food Standards Code allows steviol glycosides to be added to certain foods as a food additive. There are three approved ways to produce steviol glycosides in Australia and New Zealand:

  1.           Extraction directly from the leaves of the stevia plant, followed by concentration and purification.

  2.           Use of enzymes to convert stevia leaf extract into different types of steviol glycosides. The enzymes used in            this process are sourced from genetically modified microorganisms.

  3.           Fermentation from sugar (not from the stevia plant) to produce the steviol glycosides using genetically                      modified yeast."

Due this regulation there is tight control on what methods can be used to produce the stevia found in food products.

Common Myths

There are many myths circulated about stevia. There is no available scientific evidence that can conclude any of these myths to be true.

  • Stevia has been incorrectly associated with causing cancer. Any studies that suggested this have been refuted.

  • Stevia has been incorrectly associated with kidney and liver issues. Recent studies suggest it could even be beneficial by preventing liver and kidney issues.

  • Stevia has been incorrectly concluded to cause damage to our gut bacteria and cause gut bacteria imbalance. To date there is no evidence to make this conclusion. 

  • Stevia does not cause digestive issues, stomach cramps, bloating, gas and diarrhea. The likely cause for this is bulking agents commonly mixed with stevia to make the mixed product a 1:1 sugar substitute. Common bulking agents include sugar alcohols and allulose.

  • Stevia does not cause insulin spikes or increase blood glucose levels. The likely cause could be bulking agents commonly mixed with stevia to make the mixed product a 1:1 sugar substitute

  • Stevia has been incorrectly concluded to lead to increased risk of heart disease. The studies monitored a group's diet and any cardiovascular diseases. So there is a correlation in the foods and heart disease, but not causation between sweeteners and heart disease. The likely cause is these diets consisted of more processed foods.

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