January 16, 2009

Why the FDA says stevia is dangerous — but still lets Coke and Pepsi use it

You may have heard of stevia. It's a plant that's native to South America. It tastes very sweet and has zero calories. Even though people in the U.S. have used it safely as a sweetener for years — with not one incident or problem — the FDA thinks it's dangerous. But now we've found out why the FDA doesn't like stevia — and it has nothing to do with its safety.

Near the end of 2007, the FDA told the natural food maker Hain that it could not use stevia in its Celestial Seasonings teas. The agency warned Hain that its stevia might pose a danger to blood sugar and reproductive, cardiovascular, and renal systems. Never mind that the FDA didn't have one study to prove this theory. So why didn't the FDA want Hain to market the safe, natural sweetener?

The answer, as usual, comes down to money. If Hain marketed the sweetener as safe and 100% natural, it would pose a major problem for the sugar industry and other sweeteners, such as aspartame. These companies pour millions of dollars into the agency to protect their place in the market.

The FDA, however, isn't as concerned about their place in the market as they are about the money in their pocket. How do we know? Because the FDA has now approved two versions of a new zero-calorie sweetener for the big soft-drink companies: Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

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Coca-Cola has developed a sweetener called Truvia. The FDA told its marketer, Cargill, that the agency considers it "generally recognized as safe" of GRAS status. Pepsi also received a similar letter regarding its PureVia.

So what's the catch? Both products use rebaudioside, an extract from the same stevia plant that the FDA considers dangerous. Rebaudioside A is what provides stevia with most of its sweet taste. With big industry now having the patent on the naturally derived sweetener, the playing field has changed. The FDA has given the soft drink giants the green light for the patented isolated molecule version, while it continues to block use of its parent whole plant.

Now, I'll admit that the studies on the safety of rebaudioside A look very good. But many studies show the whole plant is just as safe. In fact, many studies show the whole plant has other health benefits as well. That doesn't surprise me since it's an herb — and the whole is usually better than its parts.

One animal study found that stevia reduces blood levels of glucose, triglycerides, and the thyroid hormone T3. Animals given only the active compound in stevia saw only T3 reduced. And just like most edible plants, stevia also contains beneficial antioxidants.

While I don't have any evidence that the new sweeteners will cause health problems, the drinks themselves might. So I don't recommend you drink the soft drinks with this new artificial sweetener. In fact, I don't I recommend you drink any soft drinks. However, if you're going to drink one from time-to-time, the stevia sweetened ones are a much better choice than any sweetened with aspartame. For use in your home, continue using the whole plant, stevia, as a sweetener rather than an isolated molecule from the plant.

Yours for better health and medical freedom,

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