A sweetener called Stevia
Originally Published: March 31, 2000 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 2, 2009
What do you know about a sweetener called STEVIA PLUS? It claims to be from a South American shrub called STEVIA REBAUDINNA. It has 5 percent stevia leaf extract, and 95 percent Fructooligosaccharide FOS. I have never heard of any of this. I am skeptical of "all natural" products.
Your skepticism is not unwarranted, as "natural" doesn't always mean risk-free.
Stevia is a non-caloric natural sweetener product derived in part from Stevia Rebaudiana, a South American shrub that has been used there for centuries to sweeten beverages. The main ingredient that makes the product stevia taste so sweet is a glycoside that's extracted from this plant called stevioside, which is about 300 times sweeter than table sugar. The product stevia is also composed of fructooligosaccharide, which refers to several fructose (fruit sugar) molecules linked together as short chains.
Right now, stevia is available in the United States only as a dietary supplement, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot regulate when it's marketed this way. However, the FDA has expressed some concerns about its safety and has therefore not approved it for use as a food additive to sweeten foods. Stevia is also not allowed as a food additive in Canada and the European Union (EU). Some studies find it harmless while others have noted problems. The most significant issue is that a large intake of stevia may cause infertility. Other concerns include its cancer-causing potential and interference with the processing of carbohydrates. The U.S., Canada, EU, and a United Nations expert panel all came to the same conclusion: there isn't enough information to prove the safety of stevia. And if approved, there would be no way to limit the intake for each person. If stevia were permitted in foods and beverages, takers may over-indulge. NOTE: Japan has been using stevia in various processed foods since the 1970s, and other regions of the world have added it to foods for some time as well.
For more information, including differing views and other links to articles on this subject, take a look at the stevia page of the Center for Science in the Public Interest web site. Good work keeping yourself informed before you ingest!