More than 30 years ago, a patient of mine who lived in Japan contacted me. He was diabetic and had heard there was a powder available in Japan that was sweet and safe for diabetics. Would I check it out if he sent it to me? Of course I would. Soon afterward, I received a small package with several bottles of powder with labels in Japanese. I had a friend?s mother translate it, and found that the powder contained stevia.
Stevia is a plant native to Paraguay. Its leaves are 30 times sweeter than sugar, it has zero calories, is safe for diabetics, and leaves a clean aftertaste. In fact, many consider it the perfect sweetener. But here?s the catch. The FDA won?t allow it to be used as a food ingredient ... even though people in Asia have used it as an additive for decades. You can, however, buy it in health food stores as a nutritional supplement and use it as a sweetener. Does this make sense to you? Me neither.
Federal regulations banned stevia as a food ingredient in 1985 because of a single rat study that linked it to liver problems. Researchers later found these mutagenic effects of stevia to be dose-dependent (i.e., it took a lot to cause the problems). In a more recent study, researchers pronounced stevia safe with no reservations. But the FDA still hasn?t lifted the ban.
All this may change with the partnership of two food giants, Coca Cola and Cargill. They?re trying to accomplish something that the health food industry has failed to do: bring stevia into the mainstream. Sound good? Well, it?s not.
Cargill is a huge food ingredient company - the second largest producer of genetically modified corn in the world. I?ve written about GMO foods before. Livestock won?t eat them, but Cargill says they?re fine for us to eat. We still don?t know the long-term effects GMO foods can have on our health.
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And Coca Cola is turning healthy children into diabetic teenagers with their sugar-laden drinks! Their sodas that are sugar-free are still high in phosphorous, weakening the bones of everyone who drinks them.
Meanwhile, Cargill and Coca Cola have been developing stevia plantations in China and South America for the past three years. They want to use stevia - but call it rebiana - in foods like yogurt, cereals, and desserts.
If the FDA approves the use of rebiana, Coke will have the exclusive rights to sell it in beverages. That would leave Pepsi and other drink companies - including those that make healthy drinks - with sweeteners that have problems. These include NutraSweet and Splenda. (For more information, read my articles on my website, available to all newsletter subscribers.)
Leave it to the big corporations to get the exclusive rights to use a safe sweetener like stevia while smaller companies sit by the wayside and struggle to find an acceptable alternative. You can bet that if stevia plantations are already growing the sweetener for Cargill and Coca Cola, they?re expecting to have a monopoly on this food ingredient. Who says the FDA can?t be bought?
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand
Geuns, JM, "Stevioside," Phytocheistry, Nov 2003.
Suttajit, M, et al, "Mitagenicity and human chromosomal effect of stevioside, a sweetener from Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni," Environ Health Perspect, Oct 1993.
Wall Street Journal, May 31, 2007.