Stevia sweeteners received increased media attention over the
last year, from general interest articles featured in the mainstream
media, to food and health-oriented blog postings. They have been touted
for their ability to provide a natural, no-calorie source of sweetness,
allowing consumers to enjoy sweet treats without concerns about added
calories contributing to weight gain. Until recently, stevia sweeteners
were only available as dietary supplements in the U.S. and were not
permitted in foods and beverages. However, in December 2008, the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a "letter of no questions"
that stated it does not question the conclusion that highly purified
stevia sweeteners (also known as steviol glycoside extracts) are
generally recognized as safe (GRAS) as general purpose sweeteners. As a
result, new food and beverage products containing these sweeteners have
been introduced into the U.S. marketplace. Given these developments,
many consumers may be wondering about the origin of stevia sweeteners,
as well as their history of use, current availability, and the role they
can play in a healthful diet.
Stevia sweeteners are a natural, zero-calorie source of sweetness.
They are composed of highly purified steviol glycosides, which are
extracted from the sweetest part of the stevia plant. Like other
low-calorie sweeteners, they are "intense" sweeteners, meaning a very
small amount is required to achieve the desired sweetness. Stevia
sweeteners are 200-300 times sweeter than sugar.
Stevia and stevia sweeteners have a long history of safe use in foods
and beverages around the world. Stevia sweeteners represent more than
40 percent of the low-calorie sweetener market in Japan. The stevia
plant is native to South America, and today, it can be found growing in
many countries including China, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, India and
South Korea. Hundreds of foods and beverages throughout the world
are sweetened with stevia sweeteners. In the U.S. stevia sweeteners can
be found in many foods and beverages, including some juice and tea
beverages, as well as some tabletop sweeteners.
The safety of stevia sweeteners for human consumption has been
established through rigorous peer-reviewed research, including metabolic
and pharmacokinetic studies, general and multi-generational safety
studies, including carcinogenicity studies; intake studies; and human
studies. Additionally, in June 2008, the Joint Expert Committee on Food
Additives (JECFA), a global panel of food ingredient safety experts,
completed a multi-year review of the available scientific data on high
purity steviol glycosides and concluded that they are safe for use as
general purpose sweeteners. Stevia sweeteners are approved for use in
many countries including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China, Russia, Australia,
Mexico, Argentina, New Zealand, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay,
Brazil and Malaysia. And now, manufacturers can offer foods and
beverages containing stevia sweeteners in the U.S.
Stevia sweeteners offer a number of potential benefits to consumers.
They are a suitable option for people with diabetes, since studies show
that consumption does not increase blood glucose levels. In addition,
studies indicate that stevia sweeteners may be non-cariogenic (i.e.
don’t cause tooth decay and/or cavities). Stevia sweeteners also can be
an effective aid in calorie reduction efforts without compromising the
sweet taste consumers enjoy. When used in place of
calorie-containing sweeteners in the diet, stevia sweeteners, as well as
other low- or no-calorie sweeteners, can be a useful tool in weight
management and weight loss plans that include a healthful diet and
regular exercise program. It is also important to note that foods and
beverages containing stevia sweeteners may contain additional calories
and/or carbohydrates from other ingredients and/or food components, and
consumers should read the product label when adding new foods or
beverages to their diet.
The table below provides information about all FDA-approved or GRAS
low-calorie sweeteners, including their name, sweetness intensity, and
common tabletop brand names. Some tabletop sweeteners may contain a
minimal number of calories, which come primarily from ingredients added
to the product to impart volume. The sweetener itself, however, contains
no calories. Ingredient information can be found in the ingredient list
on the product label.
||Sweeter Than Sugar
||Sunett, Sweet One
||NutraSweet, Equal, others
||Prior to 1958
||Sweet 'N Low, Sweet Twin,
Sugar Twin, others
||Truvia, PureVia, Sun Crystals
Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, IFT, 2006
Food and Chemical
For additional information on stevia sweeteners and other low-calorie
sweeteners, see the IFIC Foundation Fact Sheet: Facts about Low-Calorie