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Is Stevia Safer Than Other Artificial Sweeteners?
The shrub Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, known as Stevia, was named by the Spanish doctor and botanist Pedro Jaime Esteve (1500-1556) who found it in the north-east of what is now Paraguay.
The Guarani Indians of this region as in southern Brazil, as it is called in the Guaraní language, have been using “ka’a he’ê” (“sweet leaf”) for centuries as a sweetener. in yerba mate, and many tribes have reported its use. of this plant to control the fertility of women, by applying concentrated Stevia infusions for a long time.
It is this contraceptive property that has been discussed in the scientific literature since the 70s. The reason is simple: Who wants to eat sweets that suddenly make you bald?
Stevia leaves contain a complex mixture of glycosides (a network of one or more sugar molecules linked by a non-carbon part). These compounds give the leaves a strong sweet taste, about 30-45 times more than sucrose, the sweetener of refined sugar. To date, ten different plant compounds (chemicals, all steviol glycosides) have been identified for the sweet taste: stevioside, rebaudioside A, B, C, D, E and F, dulcoside A, rubusoside and steviolbioside. The highest concentration of the sweet product comes from Stevioside and rebaudioside A, responsible for making Stevia extract 250-300 times sweeter than sucrose with almost zero calories (about 0, 2 calories per gram).
Sweet steviol glycosides are chemical diterpenic glycosides, substances that contain two molecules of sugar and one molecule called steviol. Steviol acts as the “backbone” of the chemical structure and is similar to the gibberellin and kaurene hormones. Several studies show that these glycosides are – at least partially – metabolized in the body releasing sugar molecules and steviol.
Is it safe to use Stevia instead of sugar?
It is precisely this compound steviol that for many years called the attention of toxicologists. In studies conducted on bacteria and in cell culture, this compound has been shown to be genotoxic (that is, it can change the genetic profile). However, recent studies in mice, rats and hamsters have revealed that it takes high levels of steviol to cause significant damage to DNA, the molecule of life that contains all of our information.
Looking at the toxicological data, there are hundreds of books discussing the possible health effects of stevia extract, but the results are not very consistent. In particular, the effect on fertility and the potential carcinogenicity of Steviosides have been the subject of controversy in the scientific world. It is a study published by Professor Joseph Kuc Purdue University in Indiana, USA in 1968, which led to a controversial discussion about stevia and fertility. Prof. Kuc found a clear contraceptive effect in female rats that were given high levels of stevia. The rats’ fertility rate dropped to 79 percent.
Although the results of this study have not been confirmed by other scientific groups, the study published by Prof. Melis of the University of Sao Paulo in 1999 also reported a decrease in sperm count in male rats after the application of a dose of Stevia glycosides. Concerns about carcinogenicity or mutagenicity have not been confirmed in most toxicological studies.
Although the health effects of Stevia have not been directly tested on humans, authorities in the United States, Canada and the European Union have deemed Stevia extract unsafe for use as as a tabletop sweetener due to the absence of long-term toxicity. study. In contrast, authorities in other countries such as Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Mexico have a different view and have accepted the use of Stevia extract as a natural sweetener. In many other countries, especially in Latin America and Asia, Stevia and its products are available and have an unconfirmed regulatory status. In Japan, Stevia extract has been available for sale since 1971 as a tabletop sweetener and there are no reports of health problems related to this product.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of Stevia extract as a “dietary supplement” and not as a tabletop sweetener. Only the glycoside Rebaudioside A in its pure form is considered “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS), as of December 2008. In contrast, Stevioside, the other major compound in Stevia extract, has not been recognized as GRAS by the FDA.
Both, in Canada and the European Union (EU), the use of Stevia as a tablet sweetener is prohibited due to a lack of evidence confirming its safety. However, this situation may change. In April 2010, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) carried out a new evaluation of the available toxicological information. As a result of this review, Stevioside and Stevia extracts are generally considered safe when used as tablet sweeteners – at least under certain conditions.
The EFSA established an acceptable daily intake of steviosides of 4 mg per kilogram of body weight, similar to the ADI recommended by the World Health Organization according to a WHO document published in 2008 .In general terms, an adult weighing 70 kg can eat one. 280 mg per day of Stevia extract without any health risks. Because Stevia extract is 250 times more potent than table sugar, an adult can replace 70 grams of refined sugar per day with Stevia extract. This is equivalent to 4-5 tablespoons or 20 teaspoons of sugar. Because the child’s weight is low, the dose should be reduced according to the weight.
It is interesting to compare these data with Aspartame, the world’s most widely used synthetic tabletop sweetener. The World Food Safety Authority has set the acceptable daily value (ADI) for aspartame at 40 mg/kg body weight based on the 1980 Joint Recommendation. FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). This means that – based on available toxicity information – Stevia is considered 10 times more “toxic” than Aspartame.
Although Stevia sweetener is a product isolated from plants and not a common chemical product, the criticism is not misplaced, because “natural” does not necessarily mean risk-free. In conclusion, Stevia extract can be considered safe as long as it is not consumed in large quantities. The conventional wisdom that this “natural” product is safer than other commercially available tablet sweeteners is not supported by available toxicological information.
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