I did this research back in 2007 and wrote it up then. Interestingly, no magazine would publish this article, because their sponsors were companies like Coca-Cola. It’s called industrial espionage and it goes on all the time!
The Mysterious Natural Sweetener Stevia
With its extracts having up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar, but no caloric value, the South American herb stevia would seem to be the perfect solution as we all search for low-carbohydrate and low sugar food alternatives. Stevia is now showing promise in medical research into the treatment of obesity and diabetes because it tastes so sweet and yet has a negligible effect on blood glucose levels, in some cases enhances glucose tolerance.
So why aren’t we all using stevia instead of food additives like aspartame? Political controversy have limited stevia’s availability in the United States since 1991, when the USDA labeled stevia as an “unsafe food additive” and restricted its import. Even though this herb has been used as a natural sweetener for centuries by the Guarani Indians of Paraquay and now claims over 40% of the Japanese sweetener market, the FDA contradicted its own guidelines under which “any natural substance used prior to 1958 with no reported adverse effects should be recognized as safe.”
Stevia occurs naturally, requiring no patent to produce it. As a consequence, since the import ban in 1991, consumers of stevia continue to believe that the FDA acted in response to industry pressure. Stevia remained banned until after the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act forced the FDA to revise its stance to permit stevia be used as a dietary supplement, but not as a food additive.
In an interesting coincidence, Coca-Cola Company and Cargill have now developed a stevia derived patent-pending calorie-free food and beverage sweetener called Rebiana, which they plan to obtain approval for as a food additive within the United States by 2009. It seems stevia may only be safe when Coca-Cola decides to patent it and starts adding it to their own products.
Suddenly, when big business can make big money on it, it becomes magically safe for the rest of us.
I would only add, be sure what you buy is real stevia and not something with all sorts of additives!