"The Project" series of my blog is where I "deep dive" into researching a particular food or product. I really enjoy researching stuff. I have to put out this post on stevia because of the additional ingredients I have been running across in some stevia products.
My concern came about because a product may be labeled "Stevia", and we would assume it is pure stevia. However, when we look at the stevias containing additional ingredients, they can cause me great concern.
This label was taken from the back of a stevia product. I have noticed that a lot of stevia products are not pure stevia leaf. Many seem to be watered down with Maltodextrin or Dextrose.
Maltodextrin is a somewhat sweet carbohydrate usually produced from corn starch. For me it's the corn that is the real issue. It seems that maltodextrin is a product that is readily available because our GMO corn industry has run amuck. If the product does not say organic and contains Maltodextrin, then its a safe bet that it's GMO corn. I try to stay away from it, I have to take control of the sugars that go in my body. This sweetener thing is complicated enough, and I don't need them throwing something else new at me.
Dextrose is Glucose by another name, and is a simple sugar. It is produced from the starches of corn, wheat, cassava, and some others. Once again the GMO corn is the issue for me because most dextrose in the USA is produced from corn starch (sigh……)
Stevia is a natural product and a whole food in it's traditional form, but beware of the "other ingredients". I noticed that in some stevia products, the stevia is not even the main ingredient, but the box is labeled "Stevia" (…….shaking my head).
Stevia has been used in the pre-Columbus Americas for more than 1,500 years, and the plant has a long history of medicinal use in Paraguay and Brazil. The leaves have been traditionally used for hundreds of years in Paraguay and Brazil to sweeten local teas, as medicines, and as a sweet treat. Such longevity dictates if we want to use the whole food as they have been used historically, we would not want that product to be mixed with questionable modern additives.
Some stevias also contain inulin which "could" be and issue with people with Candida, which is a problem associated with excessive yeast. Inulin supposedly feeds bacteria that cause candida. I ran across a blogger who wrote a good article on other ingredients in stevia as they relate to Candida.
I have a big concern about the products Truvia and PureVia, creations of Cargill (Truvia), and a Monsanto spinoff company called Merisant (PureVia). I consider their "made from stevia" claims to be VERY misleading advertising. These products are basically made with a chemical derivative of stevia called Rebiana, created from stevia leaves by steeping them in water. They also contain "Erythritol", a sugar alcohol. Thus, they say "contains stevia" or "made with stevia" but Rebiana + Erythritol is not Stevia in it's traditional sense.
There is confusion between the names "Rebiana" and "rebaudiana Bertoni". The latter is the botanical name for the stevia plant, whereas Rebiana is a patended process for a chemically extracted product. Our good friends at Cargill have made a play on the botanical name to try to fool the unawares. You know how they do.
There have been concerns about Rebiana being a "mutagen", defined as any substance that may alter genes. These products are a million miles away from the traditional whole food that is the stevia leaf that has been used for centuries. Anyone consuming Truvia should read this article. It is MUST READ, before you put this stuff in your body.
Another product that I gave a thumbs down was "Stevia In the Raw", from the makers of "Sugar in the Raw" and "Sweet N Low". Being affiliated with the makers of Sweet and Low was the first warning sign. Basically "Stevia in the Raw" is promoted as being different from Truvia and Pure Via because although it uses the Rebiana mentioned above, it does not use the other ingredient in Truvia and PureVia, a sugar alcohol called erythritol. Either way, the Rebiana is NOT real stevia, but a chemically altered extract of the stevia plant. And therefore, "Stevia in the Raw" is not real stevia or raw stevia. I don't know if the source of all the side effects listed in the link above has been isolated to either Rebiana or erythritol, but my common sense logic is to stay away from Stevia in the Raw, considering all the reported health issues with Truvia .
UPDATE 3/12/2014 – I wanted to mention a GREAT product I just ran across in 2014, a Stevia by a company called NaturAmericas. Their Stevia is 100% Stevia, no additives, no preservatives. They might be worth taking a look at. The link to NaturAmericas Stevia is here.
UPDATE 3/18/2014 - after two days of use NaturAmericas Stevia is now my preferred sweetener. The reason I will be using it over the Ultimate Sweetener Birch Tree Xylitol mentioned below is that Xylitol is not a historical food, Xylitol having been invented in the late 1800's. (Although I will Keep Some Ultimate Sweetener Xylitol around for occasional baking because of its near sugar look and feel). Would have been a different story if the Native Americans were making Xylitol from birch trees for hundreds of years. NaturAmericas doesn't have the bad aftertaste as all the other stevias (a slight aftertaste kicks in when I use too much, but I only need a little), and when you open the container, you don't see that stark white powder, but a light colored lime green, some assurance that this is acturally derived from a leaf. It is organic and no other added ingredients except the stevia plant. I have no affilation with them, just trying to help others out in their Sweetener Quest. Check them out!!!
I used to use a brand of Stevia called Sweet Leaf Stevia. I noticed that the single serving packets contain inulin fiber, but the concentrated version in the small jar does not, and the liquid extract does not. I noticed the same think about the brand called "Now" as well as many others. Very confusing stuff. And to be honest with you, I don't know if inulin fiber is good, bad, or not relevant, but I continue to keep the packets of "Sweet Leaf" Stevia in my wallet. I didn't get the impression that inulin fiber was something for me to be concerned about. Besides, it's for the occasional coffee shop visit, since I'm not an everyday coffee drinker. When at home or work, I keep a jar of quality raw organic honey. From what I understand, vegans don't eat honey, so for them, it must be an even harder dilema to deal with all this sweetener madness out here. In the end I wasn't super crazy about its taste, but as mentioned above, I eventually came back around to NaturAmericas Stevia.
I also used a product called The Ultimate Sweetener Xylitol, which is made from birch trees. Xylitol is not actually a sugar, but a so called "sugar alcohol". It has a very pleasant taste, like a not too sweet sugar. I'm confortable with it now, but I am gonna keep researching it because it is not an ancient food tested through time, it was invented in the late 1800's. Plus, most xylitol is made from corn and vulnerable to being GMO. So, I can't use anybody's brand of xylitol because I stay away from corn. If Birch Tree xylitol turns out to be safe and healthy, then that will be a very practical solution for most people, as it relates to taste, convience, etc. But, as soon as it gets popular, the GMO corn xylitol producers are gonna swoop in and start fooling people. You know how they do. The quest never ends I guess.
In conclusion, once again, as with the term "antioxidants", "stevia" has become the latest "catch phrase", when big business observe that consumers are trying to do better by purchasing a healthy whole food, and these same corporations swoop in create to their own versions of the product. These corporate versions often stray away from the natural whole food that the product once was, and it becomes a product that possibly should be left alone. So in the end, READ AND UNDERSTAND YOUR LABELS!
also, see my article on the Top 10 Sweeteners to AVOID: the devil is in the details