Stevia – Is it an illicit drug or just a really healthy sweetener?

In light of recent events I felt I needed to weigh in on the great stevia debate.  As early as last week, a law firm in Washington, D.C. petitioned the FDA to not allow the marketing of stevia as a food ingredient in the United States.  According to FDA § 301(ll), the petition asserts that stevia is a drug.

FDA § 301(ll) prohibits the marketing of any food to which has been added an approved drug for which substantial clinical investigations have been instituted and their existence made public.

Now I did a little research and found what I believe to be these clinical investigations on stevia.  I found two published studies examining the effect of stevia on hypertension, one by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2000 and another by the Department of Medicine, Taipei Medical University in 2003.  Both studies concluded that the subjects taking stevia had significant reduction in blood pressure and quality of life showed no deterioration.

This is where the story really starts to grind my gears.  Stevia has not only been proven to lower blood pressure, it has a low glycemic index, low calorie count and is low in carbohydrates.  With all the obesity and diabetes in the United States I fail to see the issue on why we shouldn’t be allowed to use stevia as a sweetener in food.

In addition, dried stevia leaves contain vitamins, minerals and nutrients such as ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, calcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, fluoride, zinc, selenium, cobalt and proteins. Some of the compounds such as vitamin A and C are sensitive to the high temperatures used in the extraction process, but many of the other compounds are retained.

It would only be speculation on my part as to who is behind this petition, but I will tell you I found through numerous articles that when Japan commercialized stevia as a food ingredient stevia eventually accounted for 41 – 50% of the Japanese sweetener market.  Countries such as Japan, China, Korea, Israel, Taiwan, Brazil, Paraguay, Colombia, Panama, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Central America all use stevia as a sweetener. In Paraguay and Brazil it has been used for centuries and in Japan for over 5 decades.

I don’t claim to be a chemist or a food manufacturer.  In fact, I am just a sales and marketing manager for a food import company.  Regardless, I find this petition ridiculous and a last ditch effort to keep stevia out of the U.S. sweetener market.  This is only my opinion and recommend you do your own research on the subject of stevia.

I now personally use stevia in my drinks and plan on experimenting with stevia in my recipes.  If you don’t believe that stevia is a great product give it a try for yourself.

You can request a free sample of my favorite stevia brand, Erba Dolce stevia, at http://www.internaturalstevia.com.

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