I lost five pounds in five days when I switched from a Stevia sweetener to pure Stevia extract sold by a health food store.
Confused? I was too. So at the urging from a friend I researched Stevia.
When I did the research I was surprised, even angered, but I couldn’t be happier about the ultimate outcome. I have new knowledge– I now buy Stevia products without guessing about its true contents or if I’m making a healthy choice.
Stevia is the genus name for over 240 species of herbs and shrubs in the sunflower family native to North and South America. The most widely known species of Stevia is Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni. Although used for centuries by indigenous peoples the little sweet white flowered herb was first cataloged by a botanist, Bertoni, in 1887 in Paraguay.
The name Stevia is pronounced, stÄ-vÄ-É, -vyÉ. In South America it is commonly known as yerba dolce (sweet herb). For centuries the native’s called it “sweet leaf” and “honey leaf.”
Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni’s leaves are the coveted part of the herb because they contain several distinct glycosides, the intense sugary sweetness that distinguishes it from all the other Stevia species. Glycosides are just glucose (simple sugar) molecules bonded to non-glucose molecules. Stevia’s glycosides are unique and are appropriately named, steviol glycosides.
GLYCOSIDES MEDICATIONS AND STEVIA
Many medications originate in plant glycosides. Many plants bond their unique chemicals in glycosides and store them. Humans extract these glycosides, then separate the glucose and chemicals in various ways, then use the chemicals as medications. In the case of Stevia, we have extracted the glycosides to use as a sweetener. The extracted steviol glycosides from the Stevia leaf have no calories, no carbs, no effect on blood sugar levels, is PH stable, resistant to fermentation and is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar.
Modern Stevia manufacturers have begun treating Stevia like a medicine; they are making “purified” extractions from Stevia’s steviol glycosides extract.
STEVIA’S HEALTHY POTENTIAL
Medical research conducted on various pure Stevia extracts showed promise for treating obesity, hypertension, high blood pressure, inflammation, insulin efficiency, cellular immunity and nutrition, and healthy cell growth. Research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry concludes that Stevia could also be a rich source of antioxidants and may protect against DNA damage and cancer. Purdue University’s Dental Science Research Group concluded after two studies that Stevia “significantly” inhibits the development of plaque and may help to prevent cavities.
HOW STEVIA BECOMES A SUPPLEMENT / SWEETENER
Today, companies make and sell Stevia in three different forms:
(1) dried leaves finely ground into a powder,
(2) steviol glycosides extracted with water from the dried leaves, or
(3) breaking down the natural steviol glycoside structure into primary compounds. The two most desired primary compounds are Stevioside and Rebaudioside A (Reb A). These patented extraction processes vary, but generally most commercial processes use a proprietary combination of water filtration, solvent filtration (ethanol or methanol ), nano filtration, decolorizing agent, adsorption chromatography, ion-exchange resins, electrolytic techniques, microwaves, and precipitating agents. Industry literature and company websites call their patented extraction processes “purification.”
U.S. COMMERCIALIZATION OF STEVIA
The Japanese have been using Stevia instead of sugar in their homes, and commercially in food products and soft drinks since 1971. By 1988, almost half of the Japanese sweetener market was Stevia. The Japanese have also pioneered the extraction processes for breaking down the natural steviol glycosides into it’s primary compounds and have dominated the sweetener industry in producing Stevia’s most abundant compound, Stevioside.
In 1982-83, the United States FDA banned Stevia’s importation into America. In 1994, Congress passes the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) which defined dietary supplements as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs and botanical extracts and derivatives. And that of course included Stevia.
In 2008, the FDA approved one of Stevia’s primary compounds, Rebaudioside A, to be sold in the US as a food additive. The extracted compound must be 95-97% pure Rebaudioside A. It is also called Reb-A or Reb A. Rebaudioside A is Stevia’s second most abundant compound. Stevioside is the most abundant primary compound in Stevia and its production is dominated by the Japanese.
Today, trademarked versions of Reb A are sold to commercial food manufactures for use in their products. Rebiana is owned jointly by Cargill International and a retricted trademarked named international soda company. Enlitenâ is registered and sold by Corn Products International who claims that their version is better because it comes from a sweeter “patented version” of the Stevia plant.
Since the the FDA’s decision, Reb A has been included in proprietary formulated sweeteners sold under several trade marked names including: OnlySweet, Pure Via, SweetLeafâ Sweetener, and Truvia.
WHAT DO BULKING AGENTS HAVE TO DO WITH STEVIA?
Sweetener food manufacturers say bulking agents are included in their products to create a similar texture and feel as sugar. The new Stevia sweeteners are mostly bulking agents sweetened with a little Stevia extract because Stevia extracts are 300-400 times sweeter than cane sugar and weighs very little. It makes sense. Imagine trying to sell a new sweetener, maybe the size of a pack of gum, next to a 5-lb. bag of sugar. The tiny new product would be passed over by most consumers.
The first ingredient listed on any new Stevia sweetener is one of these common bulking agents: cane sugar, erythritol, dextrose, isomaltulose and maltodextrine. When you buy a Stevia supplement you will see one of these common bulking agents: cellulose powder and inulin soluble fiber.
ARE BULKING AGENTS IN SWEETENERS HEALTHY and NATURAL?
These agents actually do exist naturally in nature somewhere and that’s why food manufacturers are allowed to call their ingredients “natural.” But bulking agents used in sweeteners are not directly harvested from nature. Food manufacturers definitely create these bulking agents in industrial scale facilities.
As you will find out below, these bulking agents are generally made by combining corn with yeast, bacteria or enzymes until a corn syrup is formed. Then refining processes are used to break down the new syrup which will then require further processing before becoming a bulking agent. water soluble bag manufacturers