If I walk into any restaurant, deli, coffee shop in the United State there will be a sugar packet caddy. My choices are pink, sunny yellow, pale blue, (saccharin, sucralose and aspartame). Sometimes one has to ask to get the classic white packet. New to the caddy is happy green. I was startled to find out the Americans consume 16 pounds per person of zero-calorie sweeteners . The choice to use them is an attempt to quench the insatiable American sweet tooth without the calories. Unfortunately there is no evidence that people who consume non-calorie sweeteners lose weight. In some instances, they gain it.
The new kid in the caddy comes with an interesting history and another load of false promises. Truvia or Purevia are trade names for the new zero calorie sweetener. Once again we are being led to believe that THIS ONE is somehow different, more natural.
Stevia is an herb native to Paraguay. The annual plant grows 1-2 feet tall with pale green leaves. The leaves can be gathered and dried then ground to a fine powder or steeped in water to make a liquid. The chemical substance in the stevia plant responsible for the sweetness is rebiana. It is said to be 300X sweeter than sugar – one teaspoon of stevia equals the sweetness of one cup sugar. Plus stevia is low in calories – 1/10 of a calorie per leaf. Our own Center for Science in the Public Interest seemed nonplussed about the sweetener. They cited the Scientific Committee on Food for the European Commission which concluded that “there are no satisfactory data to support the safe use of these products [stevia plants and leaves].” CSPI’s round-up on stevia also cited pro-stevia articles to be fair. That’s good because other experts felt stevia’s use was perfectly safe, a suitable sweetener for diabetics.
Because the FDA would not give stevia the rubber stamp as a food, it stayed out of mainstream food products and was only sold as a “supplement”. The plant came to the forefront in 2008 when Cargill and the Coca Cola company teamed up to patent a new no-calorie sweetener using rebiana. The problem is that this new “natural” sweetener is it not a made by a simple grind or steep of stevia leaves. Though trade secrets are highly guarded, we do know that Truvia combines rebiana with erythritol, a sugar alcohol. Though there may be a lack of long-term studies supporting human consumption of rebiana, there are plenty condemning ingestion of erythritol. In studies (true, done with rats) there is an increased elimination of protein in the urine and in some cases kidney calcification. Read more here from the Quality Systems, GMP, Regulatory site.
The caddies full of pastel packets seem so friendly, so normal, so reliable. Just some innocent granules to sweeten the coffee or tea. Every few years a new color is added as evidence mounts up against the pink, blue or yellow. I say stick with the sweeteners where we have lots of history and research about the detrimental affects. I shake and tear the classic white, light brown or add dab of honey. Calories be damned. What do you stir into your ice tea?