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Is Truvia a Safe Alternative to Sugar?

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A member of my online community emailed me today asking about the sweetener Truvia. I have had a few questions about this apparent miracle cure for sugar and decided to do a little digging.  Could it really be our safe answer to sugar? 

Truvia is a tale of the Stevia plant, big business and the F.D.A.  Contrary to what some of you may believe, I am not a conspiracy theorist but this story smacks of conspiracy;  A conspiracy to keep an incredibly safe sweetener (especially for diabetics), with 0 calories that won't rot your teeth away from the U.S. public until a big company like Cargill wanted to profit from it.

Truvia is based on the Stevia plant which has safely been used for hundreds of years by the Japanese and used in large quantities for the last 30 years. Truvia is made by boiling down the Stevia plant and making rebiana. There have been studies that say Stevia is unsafe but I was unable to find anything solid either way. You see, at the request of an anonymous complaint the FDA banned the use of Stevia in 1991 unless it was labeled as a supplement. They labeled Stevia as an unsafe food additive and limited it's import.

The F.D.A. based this ruling against their own guidelines that state that any natural substance used prior to 1958, with no reported adverse effects, should be generally recognized as safe (GRAS). So the FDA left many people confused as to how Stevia could be unsafe as a sweetener, but safe as a supplement in 1994 when they approved its use as such- a contradictory statement of safety based upon how it is sold. How could something be safe and unsafe at the same time?  Labeling it safe for use as a supplement meant it would be much harder to market and thus, less likely to take a share of the artificial and natural sweetener market.

The big food manufacturers were happy with their Aspartame and the big profits at the time and had no interest in another sweetener. Still, they surely didn’t want any of their competitive markets growing.  They knew there were questions about safety issues with current sweeteners but they regarded them as nothing more than annoyances. The FDA made it very clear that it would take the power to move a mountain to re-evaluate the safety of Aspartame.  

Fast Forward to May 2007 when Cargill requests a patent on rebiana (or Rebaudioside A), a high-purity form of the best tasting part of the stevia leaf.   Acceptance by many that aspartame is not the best alternative for our population at large is growing. Food manufacturers are looking for alternative sweeteners which fit with today’s current health and Wellness trends and will get them away from Aspartame. 

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Fast forward to May 2008 when "results of a rigorous safety evaluation program that affirms earlier positive safety findings and addresses outstanding questions to definitively establish the safety of rebiana are e-published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and Cargill and The Coca-Cola Company Company introduce Truvia™, the brand name for rebiana" from Cargill's website.

I thought Stevia couldn't be patented as it was a leaf but hey, what do I know. Basically, Cargill and Coca Cola now own the main stream Stevia sweetener market in one very quiet, swell swoop. How did that happen? The FDA approved rebiana under GRAS (generally accepted as safe). But how does it go from being boiled to looking so pretty and white? I believe it is just a natural drying process but my call to Ann Tucker with Cargill to find out did not receive a response.

So there is a little history of Stevia in the US. It is still banned but now Cargill and Coca Cola have the patent on rebiana. If we should believe Cargill's research, rebiana is the first consistent, high-purity sweetener composed of rebaudioside A, which is safe.

So what to do?  I truly think that everyone is different and Truvia will work sans side effects for some but not for others. But is it safe for the general population? I don't know, is sugar safe?  It looks like there are no reproductive issues with Truvia but some have had some gastrointestinal problems associated with Truvia's use.

I will be sticking with my small amounts of sugar, honey and supplemental drinks sweetened with stevia to make me sweet for now.  I will continue to look for reliable safety data on Truvia. The main problem I have is that I just do not trust Cargill, Coca Cola or especially the FDA. How can I trust an underfunded organization that tells me that stevia (or rebiana) is safe if I buy it from Cargill and Coca Cola, but not safe for purchase from other companies in foods and drinks unless labeled as a supplement? 

Please help me out here.  Am I missing something? 

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I have a B.A. in Communications from Michigan State University. My professional background is in business development, medical sales and marketing. After the birth of my first daughter in 1996, I found fulfillment in raising a family, volunteering (more...)

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