Stevia: What The Research Says

28 May 2017 16:06 GMT

Stevia Plant

I was looking for an alternative to sugar and stumbled upon Stevia, which contains the glycosides stevioside and rebaudioside A which can be used as a sweetener. The sweetener has a very pleasant taste, is about 250-400 times sweeter than sugar, is only very slightly bitter and can be used practically the same way you would use sugar. I use it in black coffee and protein shakes and it doesn't taste "off" in any way, I actually prefer the taste of stevioside to sugar. So what do government agencies like the FDA and EFSA and studies have to say about Stevia?

Stevia glycosides derived from the Stevia plant have been generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the industry1 and it therefore does not require FDA approval for use as an additive in foods in the United States. In the EU, the EFSA has approved Stevia glycosides to be used as a food additive based on scientific evidence, stating: "Considering the available toxicity data (in vitro and in vivo animal studies and some human tolerance studies), the Panel concludes that steviol glycosides, complying with JECFA specifications, are not carcinogenic, genotoxic or associated with any reproductive/developmental toxicity."2

The maximum safe intake of stevioside is regarded around 10 milligrams per kilogram bodyweight. That means that a person weighing 70 kilograms may consume 700 milligrams of stevioside per day, which is roughly equivalent to the sweetness of 200 grams of sugar.

According to the latest studies on Stevia34, it isn't toxic and does not cause cancer, contrary to popular belief. Research seems to even suggest that stevioside has anti-cancer5 properties and may even help fight breast cancer6.

Effects of Stevia on Teeth

We know that sugar causes dental caries, but what about the sweetener stevioside? According to studies, stevioside doesn't cause dental caries and has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties and may even interfere with the metabolism of bacteria on the teeth78.

Effects of Stevia on Appetite

Who hasn't heard the myth from other people that consuming sweeteners will cause you to eat more, because your body expects calories but doesn't receive them with sweeteners? Well, there's a study that suggests that this is indeed not the case with stevioside, as long as it is taken with a meal9. I would however argue that even if it were the case that sweeteners increase appetite, that anyone who is health-conscious should track their daily caloric intake, to ensure that no unexpected weight gain can occur.

Cost Comparison to Sugar

Considering that Stevia is about 250 to 400 more sweeter than sugar depending on the manufacturing process, it should be a lot more economical to use Stevia, or should it? Lets look at how much table sugar costs here in Germany. In the discounter stores Lidl and Aldi a kilogram of sugar costs 0.69 €. The Stevia product which I use is available on Amazon and 100 grams of the stevioside costs 16.39 €. It is according to the producer 280 times sweeter than sugar.

So 100 grams of stevioside gives us the equivalent of 28kg of sugar (100 grams * 280). Knowing that the cost of sugar is 0.69 € per kilogram, we multiply that by 28 to be able to compare the cost to 100 grams of stevioside. The cost of 30kg of sugar is 19.32 €, so sugar is even more expensive than Stevia extract.

Here's the product I use:

References

1.
Has Stevia been approved by FDA to be used as a sweetener? U.S. Food & Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/aboutfda/transparency/basics/ucm194320.htm. Accessed May 26, 2017.
2.
Scientific Opinion on the safety of steviol glycosides for the proposed uses as a food additive. European Food Safety Authority. https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/1537. Accessed May 26, 2017.
3.
Momtazi-Borojeni A, Esmaeili S, Abdollahi E, Sahebkar A. A Review on the pharmacology and toxicology of steviol glycosides extracted from Stevia rebaudiana. Curr Pharm Des. October 2016. [PubMed]
4.
Brusick D. A critical review of the genetic toxicity of steviol and steviol glycosides. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008;46 Suppl 7:S83-91. [PubMed]
5.
Ren H, Yin X, Yu H, Xiao H. Stevioside induced cytotoxicity in colon cancer cells via reactive oxygen species and mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling pathways-mediated apoptosis. Oncol Lett. 2017;13(4):2337-2343. [PMC]
6.
Paul S, Sengupta S, Bandyopadhyay T, Bhattacharyya A. Stevioside induced ROS-mediated apoptosis through mitochondrial pathway in human breast cancer cell line MCF-7. Nutr Cancer. 2012;64(7):1087-1094. [PubMed]
7.
Giacaman R, Campos P, Muñoz-Sandoval C, Castro R. Cariogenic potential of commercial sweeteners in an experimental biofilm caries model on enamel. Arch Oral Biol. 2013;58(9):1116-1122. [PubMed]
8.
Gamboa F, Chaves M. Antimicrobial potential of extracts from Stevia rebaudiana leaves against bacteria of importance in dental caries. Acta Odontol Latinoam. 2012;25(2):171-175. [PubMed]
9.
Mattes R, Popkin B. Nonnutritive sweetener consumption in humans: effects on appetite and food intake and their putative mechanisms. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;89(1):1-14. [PMC]
Copyright © Richard Szibele. All rights reserved.