Friday, August 2, 2013

Is Stevia Safer?

Overconsumption of sugar is a problem, I think we have consensus on that.  But let's face it, sweet things taste good.  Even Boyfriend of SkepticRD, who will normally turn up his nose at anything sweet (which is not a bad quality when you have Type 1 diabetes), wants to have a little sweetener in his coffee in the morning.    There are plenty of sugar substitutes out there, but sometimes, even those of us that like to believe we are critical thinkers, have a not so rational reaction to the thought of using something "artificial."  If we don't want those extra calories and carbohydrate, however, we might start turning toward some other sweeteners that occur in nature, but is that a good idea?

Dr. Harriet Hall, over at Science-Based Medicine, has already covered this topic in her usual thorough way.  I will highlight this paragraph:

"Stevia comes from a plant, and the Guaraní Indians of South America have been using it to sweeten their yerba mate for centuries. The “natural fallacy” and the “ancient wisdom fallacy” sway many consumers, but for those of us who are critical thinkers, who want to avoid logical fallacies and look at the scientific evidence, what does science tell us? Is stevia preferable to aspartame? We really don’t know. Concerns have been raised about possible adverse effects such as cancer and birth defects. Stevia is banned in most European countries and in Singapore and Hong Kong because their regulatory agencies felt that there was insufficient toxicological evidence to demonstrate its safety. The US banned its import in 1991 as a food additive, but the 1994 Diet Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) legalized its sale as a dietary supplement. Most of the safety concerns have been dismissed, but so have the concerns about aspartame. Arguably, the concerns about stevia are more valid than those about aspartame, because there is less evidence refuting them.
The plant extract is refined using ethanol, methanol, crystallization and separation technologies to separate the various glycoside molecules. The Coca-Cola Company sells it as Truvia. Pepsi sells it as PureVia. It is a product of major corporations and is prepared in a laboratory using “toxic” chemicals like methanol. For some reason that doesn’t bother those who are promoting stevia as a natural product."

So is it safer for those of us who are quite lazy like me and just want to throw something in the morning coffee and not have to count the carbs?  Maybe.   But I think I will have to repeat my favorite adage from Paracleus, "The dose makes the poison."  Water, oxygen, vitamin C, vitamin A, protein, table sugar, and so on can all be toxic when consumed excess.  Let's take vitamin C as my prime example.  You make a point of eating vitamin C rich fruit and vegetables daily you should be fine.  You take that vitamin, extract if from the fruit and vegetables that it's found in, put it in the form of a capsule or maybe a drink, market it as a cure for the common cold, and suddenly certain people are taking huge doses of it.  Suddenly those people are also having nausea and diarrhea.  Was it because the vitamin C itself was bad for you?  No, it was because you had too much of it in an easily accessible form.

So given what we do know about stevia (and other artificial sweeteners, and table sugar, etc) what might we do?  SkepticRDs suggestion is that you use the minimum of whatever it is necessary to meet your personal health goals (which includes a certain calorie intake and/or carbohydrate intake for those of us with diabetes and pre-diabetes) and enhance the quality of life of you and those around you.  Apparently for some people that even means growing and making their own stevia extract.  It uses vodka......hmmmm......there are reasons to not be lazy.....

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