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.
In my opinion, the following “natural sweeteners” are merely highly processed food additives that should not be eaten on a regular basis. They should be avoided by persons who are allergic (or sensitive) to corn, or fermented foods.
A popular crystalline bulking agent made by combining yeast and corn sugar so it ferments and turns into a sugar alcohol. Other common sugar alcohols used as food additives are: Glycerol, Erythritol, Arabitol, HSH, Xylitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol, Isomalt, Maltitol and Lactitol. Unlike other sugar alcohol food additives, Erythritol is much more difficult to digest by oral and intestinal bacteria. After traveling through the small intestine erythritol is usually absorbed into the bloodstream undigested and excreted through the urine mostly undigested and unchanged from its original form. It has negligible affect on blood sugar. Overconsumption can result in a laxative effect.
Glucose, Dextrose, D-glucose and Grape Sugar
Glucose is commercially made from starch via enzymatic hydrolysis. Cornstarch is used almost exclusively in the United States. A-Amylase (an enzyme found in plants, animal, bacteria and fungi that breaks starch down into sugar) is added to the cornstarch which converts it to glucose syrup. Next, saccharification (a hydrolysis procedure) converts the glucose syrup into a simple soluble fermentable sugar. It will increase blood sugar levels.
Maltodextrine is a glucose polymer, or a chain of glucose molecules. Maltodextrin is commercially made from starch via enzymatic hydrolysis. In the US, cornstarch is the starch of choice. In Europe, wheat starch is used. Cornstarch and enzymes are combined and through partial hydrolysis is processed into glucose syrup. Next, saccharification (a hydrolysis procedure) is used until complex glucose chains are broken down into fermentable sugars, mainly maltose. Maltodextrin is easily digestible but takes slightly longer to digest than glucose. It will increase blood sugar levels.
Isomaltulose is manufactured by combining bacteria and sucrose until it ferments making a syrup similar to honey. Isomaltulose is absorbed by the small intestine just like glucose (sugar) and fructose. It produces low-glycemic and low-insulinemic results. Isomaltulose is not suitable for people with an intolerance to fructose or sucrose.
DO STEVIA SUPPLEMENTS CONTAIN BULKING AGENTS?
In contrast to Stevia sweeteners, Stevia supplements often don’t include bulking agents. The two I did find in Stevia supplements are natural, minimally processed, and considered healthy. Neither agent causes a rise in blood sugar, they are not fermented, and they aren’t known allergens. In fact, both bulking agents below are themselves health supplements that can be purchased separately to aid in digestion and elimination.
Cellulose is plant fiber and is the most common organic compound. Humans can not digest cellulose, but eat it regularly by eating fruits, vegetables and grains in their diet. Humans often call cellulose ‘fiber’ and ‘roughage’. Some animals (termites, cows, horses) can digest cellulose but only with the help of symbiotic micro-organisms.
As a dietary supplement, cellulose is often the inactive binding agent in vitamin and mineral supplements and it’s sold as an insoluble fiber to aid the digestive tract. As a food additive, cellulose is often the active ingredient in fiber products, an anti-caking ingredient to prevent grated cheese from caking together, and as thickeners and stabilizers in processed foods.
Inulin soluble fiber
A perfect bulking agent for powdered Stevia supplements and food products made from plant fiber. Some plants store inulin in roots and rootstalks. Inulins are fructan fiber. Fructans are large repeating molecules of the natural plant sugar, fructose. This sugary fiber dissolves in water but passes through the digestive tract mostly undigested. Some plants store inulin in roots and rootstalks. Most of the inulin fiber that is used as a food additive comes from chicory roots or artichokes.
Considered safe for diabetics as it has negligible effects on blood sugar. Isn’t suitable for persons who have difficulty digesting fructose. The soluble fiber may cause gas and bloating as it moves through the digestive track because it is fermented by bacteria.
HOW TO READ THE LABEL ON A STEVIA PRODUCT
Stevia products made from the highly commercialized and processed compound of Stevia will say “stevia,” “stevia extract,” “rebiana,” “Reb A,” or “Reb-A.”
Stevia products that contain these ingredients, “stevia Leaf,” “Stevia Rebaudiana,” or “Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni,” are made from the original Stevia extract (Steviol glycosides) which includes all the Stevia compounds in their natural state using only water extraction process.
ACTUAL INGREDIENT LABELS
Truvia™: erythritol, rebiana and natural flavors
Pure Via™:dextrose, isomaltulose, cellulose powder, Reb A and natural flavors
Stevia in the Raw (individual packets): Dextrose and Stevia Extract (Rebiana)
Stevia in the Raw: Maltodextrin and Stevia Extract (Rebiana)
Sun Crystalsâ: pure cane sugar, stevia.
Stevita™ Spoonable™: Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni extract (leaves) and Erythritol.
SweetLeafâ Sweetener™: Inulin soluble fiber, Stevia leaf extract
Planetary Herbals Stevia Powder: Stevia Leaf (finely ground)
Kal Pure Stevia Extract: Stevia Extract (Stevia rebaudiana) (leaf)
Now Certified Organic Stevia Extract: Certified Organic Stevia Extract Powder (Stevia rebaudiana)(Leaf)
There is a general rule of thumb that highly refined foods are not as healthy, and many say they are proven to be unhealthy. Now consider that bulking agents are just highly refined fermented corn products which comprise the main ingredient in many of the new Stevia sweeteners. Also, I believe it’s highly likely that millions of Americans are sensitive to corn, and/or fermented products, just like me and several of my friends. That’s why I lost five pounds after switching Stevia products, inflammation caused by food sensitivities to fermented foods caused my body to retain extra water.
So, when I consider the above factors, it is my decision to only buy the natural Stevia extract (Steviol glycosides) that has been extracted with water and may or may not be bulked with natural fiber. Further, I choose to adapt my habits so that I use the finely ground Stevia leaves themselves as often as possible. If you have a green thumb, then consider growing Stevia to use in it’s original form. I had a salad once with fresh Stevia leaves and it was a real treat.
One last tidbit for you to consider is that certain doctors that I trust all agree that anyone with a blood sugar problem should avoid all sugars, and all sweeteners too. This will give your body time to heal, and give it a chance to regulate sugar appropriately. I myself have a blood sugar issue. When I use the finely ground Stevia leaves in my coffee, my sweet cravings are immediately quinced and after a couple days they are greatly reduced as well.
I hope I have helped you to navigate the sea of new Stevia products. My best wishes go out to you on your personal journey and discovery.