Most of us have heard about the blessings and benefits of whole leaf stevia. It’s an herb. It grows from the earth. It happens to be sweet. We like this.
Some of us have also heard that PepsiCo’s PureVia and Coca Cola’s Truvia are not whole leaf extracts of stevia. They’re an isolate compound considered the “active” sweetener also known as rebaudioside A, rebiana, or just Reb A.
The FDA has approved the isolate for the GRAS (generally regarded as safe) list but the rest of the leaf didn’t make the cut. Mind you, the GRAS list also gave the thumbs up to margarine and aspartame.
A leaf can’t be patented because man didn’t create it. The isolate doesn’t occur naturally in nature but requires an artificial/laboratory process; thus, it’s patentable and has favor with the FDA.
Stevia, like all herbs, delivers synergistic nutrition. When used as a whole food ingredient stevia is:
- full of vitamin C, calcium, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and iron;
- non-cariogenic, meaning it doesn’t cause “caries,” or tooth decay, but actually promotes oral health;
- used to control blood sugar and even treat type 2 diabetics in nations such as Brazil and Paraguay, thanks to its component “stevioside,” a chemical that stimulates the release of insulin from the pancreas;
- a pain reliever when applied directly to wounds;
- used as part of a treatment for eczema and dermatitis;
- an ingredient for a facial mask to smooth and refresh the skin.
Whole leaf stevia has not been FDA approved as a sweetener but can only be sold as a supplement. The increasing number of products on the market that are “sweetened with stevia” may not contain the whole leaf but Reb A or possibly another “active ingredient” such as stevioside.
Always read the ingredients label.
For instance, a new soda is rising in popularity. You may have heard of it? It’s called Zevia.
Zevia drinks contain some nice ingredients like the anise oil, lemon oil and ginger extract in their Rootbeer flavor. They also contain ingredients like the controversial, cancer-linked caramel color and the stevia isolate, Reb A. The ingredients list may be a little misleading to the unknowing consumer. Right beside Reb A you’ll find in parenthesis (Stevia Extract), but make no mistake, it’s not the whole herb. It occurs nowhere in nature. It’s another form of artificial sweetener.
In principal, being that Reb A is isolated for commercial and not health purposes, its aim isn’t consumers’ health or lower blood sugar but capital gain. History has taught us that nutrients separated out from their whole food source are more likely to come with “side effects.” Scientifically, the product is still very new. We simply don’t know the long term effects of consuming Reb A.
We do know that artificial sweeteners are associated with weight gain, increased appetite, compensatory eating, confused insulin signaling causing insulin resistance, thus leading to type 2 Diabetes, along with literally a multitude of chronic and acute conditions.
On the bright side, whole leaf stevia has been enjoyed by human beings for more than a thousand years, used medicinally in Paraguay and Brazil for centuries, was researched by Spanish botanist and physician Petrus Jacobus Stevus (Pedro Jaime Esteve 1500–1556), and adapted as a sweetener in Japan since the 1970s.
Stevia is great in baking and cooking. You can use it to make homemade sodas or put it in your homemade toothpaste. Enjoy the whole leaf stevia in tea or in any of its extract forms, and it’s probably still best to ingest it in moderation.
Also check out my recent article Why Stevia As a Sugar Substitute Is Good For You