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Stevia

(Stevia rebuadani bertoni)

Stevia is a small perennial shrub from South America, now grown commercially in a number of locations. The natural sweetener derived from stevia leaves is 30-100 times sweeter than sugar. There is no after-taste and it is safe and non-toxic according to Japanese research. Stevia is high in chromium, (which helps to stabilise blood sugar levels), manganese, potassium, selenium, silicon, sodium and vitamin A. It also contains iron, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin C, and zinc.

The best quality stevia leaves are usually imported from South America and Mexico, and are about 12 percent to 13 percent stevioside, the active ingredient. The poorest quality but most ample supply is currently coming from China, where the leaves contain only about five percent to six percent stevioside.

Stevia leaves and the water-based concentrate are sold in some South American countries as aids for people with diabetes, hypoglycemia and high blood pressure. Research has demonstrated that stevia liquid concentrate inhibits the growth and reproduction of harmful bacteria and other infectious organisms. Stevia also inhibits the growth of the bacteria that cause gum disease and tooth decay, and in some countries it is available in oral-hygiene products.

Less known is the ability of water-based stevia concentrate to help heal numerous skin problems, including acne, seborrhea, dermatitis and eczema. Stevioside has potential as a treatment for type 2 diabetes. Recently it was demonstrated that oral intake of stevioside causes a clear-cut reduction in the glycaemic response to a test meal. And its safety record is impeccable - no adverse effects have ever been reported, even in high-dose toxicity trials conducted at a number of research facilities.

stevia
 

The History of Stevia - How money influences the food and drug agencies

(The original 2006 article below has been left as-is so that the later updates at the end of the article make sense. The article and updates very clearly demonstrate the pervasive influence of Big Pharma on government food and drugs agencies and the absolutely blatant political corruption involved.)

As a natural sweetener with no known side effects and a number of nutritional benefits, stevia is naturally seen as potentially damaging to sales of toxic artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, and so has become a target of misinformation and invented dangers promulgated by those whose interests it threatens .

In 1984, stevia importers were informed by the US FDA that they could no longer import concentrated stevia liquid into the United States for sale as a sweetener. A further import ‘alert’ was imposed by the FDA in 1991, instructing importation agents to not allow stevia in any form into the United States. The agency was later forced to relax that order, but this de-restriction only allowed stevia to be imported and sold as a liquid concentrate for skin care. Under continuing pressure, the FDA issued a revised import alert in 1995 which allowed stevia to be imported and sold if it was labelled as a dietary supplement.

In Europe, the actions of the ‘authorities’ are even more reprehensible, and the sale and use of Stevia for ANY purpose is banned across the European union with absolutely no credible scientific justification for this decision. This ban is upheld and supported by the UK Food Standards Agency.

A rumour (no prizes for guessing where it came from) about adverse effects in the male reproductive system and possible carcinogenicity is used to justify the ban. The false rumours are based on a junk science experiment with rats funded by the artificial sweetener industry. In the experiment, rats were force-fed daily extracts from about 2.7g of dry stevia leaves per day. This works out at over 5% of the body weight of a rat! Even using this massive overdose, the ‘evidence’ for any harm was weak to say the least.

Many small businesses based in Europe are now beginning to ignore the ban and import stevia products for sale online. In 2004 Belgian researchers organised an international symposium on "The Safety of Stevioside". Scientists from all over the world concluded that stevioside is safe:

The lethal dose is very high (15-20 g/kg body weight).

Only minute amounts are needed for sweetening purposes.

Stevioside is not carcinogenic. On the contrary, it has been proved that stevioside reduces breast cancer in rats as well as skin cancers in animals.

Stevioside has no effect on male or female fertility.

The absorbion and metabolism have been studied in human volunteers. Stevioside is not absorbed by the gut. Some stevioside is metabolised to steviol by colonic bateria and absorbed, but this is quickly metabolised to steviol glucuronide, and excreted in the urine.

In short, the ‘reasons’ for the EC ban are completely false, and introduced simply so that there is a pretext for banning this natural and harmless (but unpatentable) sweetener.

Compare this with the apparently trouble-free and widespread licensing of artificial substances such as aspartame and sucralose, with known histories of problems and cover-ups.

At best this iniquity shows the dangers of allowing paid expert lobbyists to manipulate ambitious but technically illiterate politicians, at worst the ban on stevia is an outrightly corrupt abuse of power by EC officials and politicians serving the interests of ‘big pharma’ for their own reasons. The ‘calorie free’ sweetener industry is worth billions - and money apparently talks quite loudly in the corridors of power.

 

IMPORTANT UPDATE: December 2008

The US FDA has now issued ‘letters of non-objection’ for the use of stevia. In other words, the same supposedly toxic substance that the FDA (and most other compliant ‘health agencies’) were so busily protecting us from by seizing imports of stevia at the border, destroying thousands of tons of stevia products, threatening companies and individuals with fines and even ordering the destruction of books containing stevia recipies - is now OK.

So is this as a result of new research showing stevia is in fact safe? Well, no, such research has been available for a decade.

The reason is much simpler: Thanks to the internet and various campaigners, the toxic effects of aspartame and some other artificial sweeteners have now become so widely known that informed consumers are refusing to use products containing them. In other words, products containing aspartame and sucralose in particular are meeting increasing market resistance, and as word spreads more widely will eventually become unsaleable.

So the same powerful consumer product corporations who have been so enthusiastically adding these chemicals to practically everything regardless of the consequences, now realise that the game is up and an acceptable alternative must be found. Stevia, or stevia derivatives (which may not be as safe as the natural extracts) seem to be the chosen option. And like a puppy following its master, the FDA has once again fallen in step with the interests of corporate business and begun to legalize a food and beverage ingredient that until very recently it so aggressively suppressed.

For the UK Food Standards Agency ‘explanation’ of its continuing ban on stevia, please refer to the following document: http://archive.food.gov.uk/pdf_files/stevia.pdf (a copy has also been archived on this site in case the link is taken down - http://www.health-answers.co.uk/stevia.pdf). Right-click on either link to download the PDF document if required.

Just for once, the interests of consumers and a decision by the FDA coincide. In time aspartame will be a bad memory and a wave of stevia-sweetened products will hit the markets, with appropriate trumpeting of the benefits (which could have been available decades ago if it was not for the corruption of big business and the US and European government health agencies and the polititians responsible).

The circumstances surrounding this FDA approval of stevia show in stark clarity the true loyalties of the agency and the methods it is happy to use to further the interests of its corporate clients. When stevia threatened the profits generated by the use of aspartame, it was routinely suppressed by the agency using illegal bully-boy tactics that should never have been tolerated in a free society. But now, when powerful business interests want stevia approved, the FDA suddenly reverses its position and decides to legalize the herb - as if all the misinformation, bullying, and outright state sponsored thuggery just never happened.

So now it is only a matter of how long it takes before the European ‘health agencies’ - who have completely banned the use of stevia on totally fabricated grounds - to perform an equally adroit about-turn as the pressure comes on from those same multinational corporate concerns. If nothing else these seedy dealings illustrate just how seriously we should take the pronouncements of government health agencies on matters where commercial interest is involved.

FURTHER UPDATE: April 2010

Surprise - surprise! This supposedly hazardous natural extract that has been banned for decades on the grounds that it is toxic and potentially carcinogenic, is now set for full approval in the European Union! No further scientific evidence required - the FDA’s volte face and the requirements of corporate business are all that are needed by the EU’s deeply corrupt food standards agencies to suddenly reverse years of deliberate misinformation and a cynical ban, as if they never existed:

19/04/2010 Evening Standard Herb approval The European Food Safety Authority has confirmed that Stevia, a natural herb 300 times sweeter than sugar, can be safely taken by both adults and children. The natural sweetener is made from the leaves of a South American herb and has the benefit of having all the flavour but none of the calories of sugar. It could start appearing in manufactured foods and drinks in Britain from next year if the European Commission approves it.

Note especially the word ‘confirmed’ - as if the EFSA had always supported the use of stevia and is simply rubber stamping this situation, rather than totally banning it on specious grounds for cynical commercial reasons, as was the actual case. As for ‘drinks’ - no prizes for guessing which well-known American corporate soft drink will be first on the block with the 'new' all-natural sweetener!

FURTHER UPDATE: November 2011

From 'Just Drinks' - soft drinks industry trade magazine for 14th Nov 2011:

"Soft drinks industry toasts EU stevia clearance. The soft drinks industry has welcomed the European Commission's formal approval of stevia sweeteners for use within the European Union for the first time. After months of examining the safety of natural sweeteners derived from the stevia plant, approval was publicly announced by the Commission today (14 November). The product has now been cleared for use in the EU's 27 member states. Coca-Cola Europe said today that the decision "paves the way for the company to deliver more beverages with fewer calories"."

The ever-flexible UK Food Standards Agency is of course happy to follow wherever it's masters lead, and has now published an 'update' of their previous total ban on supposed safety grounds. This document can be found at http://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/news/2011/4761/steviolglycosides.

So there we are then. Despite a decade of bans and enforcement by the FDA and literally every European government food and drugs agency, Stevia is now officially completely safe for human consumption and Coca-Cola is first off the stocks with stevia-sweetened products. For "After months of examining the safety of natural sweeteners derived from the stevia plant, ..." read: "After receiving new instructions from their corporate clients, ..." 

This example of the deliberate, cynical, greed-driven demonisation of a natural alternative to profit making artificial products is not unique, but it is one of the most blatant examples of corrupt US and EU government practice currently in evidence. Normally these things are hidden by 'official' stonewalling, but in this case a change in commercial needs has inadvertantly exposed the working relationship between the international food and drink industry and national government agencies for anyone to see.

 

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