Take New Zero Calorie Natural Sweetener With a Grain of Salt
Mixed reviews on the eat-all-the-sweets you-want front. A purified extract of a plant, stevia was recently given a clean bill of health by the FDA. It’s now classified as GRAS, a “generally recognized as safe” general purpose sweetener for food. With 30-45 times the sweetness of sucrose, stevia has been available for years as a dietary supplement in health food stores, but its classification as an herbal supplement limited food manufacturers from using it widely in prepared foods. Expect it to hit the market as the new ‘natural’ no-calorie sweetener.
There’s a lot of good here: Stevia has no calories, as well as a zero score on the glycemic index, which measures the blood sugar-raising effects of foods, which means that it produces only small fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels – key to protecting against diabetes and heart disease. Stevia has also been used for centuries for heartburn and in yerba mate teas, and research has shown promise in treating obesity and hypertension.
Amidst the good news though, it would be wise to note that the multitude of extraction and isolation processes the plant undergoes – including efforts to mask its distinct bitter, licorice-like aftertaste – make its classification as “natural’ a bit suspect. While it’s true that it’s certainly a cut above totally artificial sweeteners, it can hardly be said to be natural – in the same way that potatoes and french fries can hardly be considered in the same category.
Even though it is on the GRAS list, and many South American and Asian countries use it in foods and soft drinks, there are no long-term studies of the effects of large amounts of purified extracts of stevia in the diet. Now Cargill, Coca Cola, and PepsiCo are standing in line with various extracts like Rebiana, Truvia, PureVia trade names under development. Assuming a good-tasting cola can be made, there are plenty of other reasons – like high levels of calcium-depleting phosphorus in the case of colas- to eat it in prepared foods only in moderation.
The bottom line is that this reclassification only begs the question of why someone experiences intense sugar cravings in the first place. From the standpoint of a healthy whole foods diet, sugar cravings are generally considered a sign of an underlying nutrient deficiency. In addition, intensely sweet flavors destroy the ability to taste the natural sweetness of foods, creating an addiction to more sugar-laden foods and drinks.
While a low glycemic sweet is good news, it doesn’t really change the basics of a healthful diet: eat a wide variety of whole foods and flavors, in moderation.
More: Healthy food