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No-Calorie Natural Sweetener on the Way

Truvia, Made From Stevia, Expected to Debut This Year; Other Stevia Products Step Up
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 5, 2008 -- Splenda. NutraSweet. Sweet'N Low. Equal. Those no-calorie sweeteners may soon have new competition made from stevia, a shrub native to South America.

Stevia isn't new. It's been used for centuries as a sweetener in South America and is used Japan.

But in the U.S., stevia may only be sold as a dietary supplement -- not as a sweetener or a food additive -- due to the FDA's safety concerns. But that may be about to change.

Truvia, a new stevia product developed by Cargill and Coca-Cola, isn't settling for supplement status. It's set to debut later this year as a tabletop sweetener and ingredient in certain Coca-Cola products.

Truvia will have competition. Pepsi has its own stevia product in the works, and stevia supplements may look to move into the mainstream. All that buzz could spice up the competition for your sweet tooth.

But are the safety issues settled for good?

Naturally Calorie-Free

There's no shortage of no-calorie sweeteners on the market. The FDA has approved five artificial ones:

  • Aspartame: Brand names include NutraSweet and Equal.
  • Sucralose: Brand name is Splenda.
  • Saccharin: Brand names include Sweet'N Low, Sweet Twin, and Necta Sweet.
  • Acesulfame-K: Brand names include Sunett and Sweet One.
  • Neotame: Approved for use as an ingredient in a wide variety of foods including baked goods, soft drinks, chewing gum, jams, and syrups.

Truvia differs from those products because it's natural, and it differs from current stevia products because it's backed by extensive safety studies, notes Ann Tucker, Cargill's communications director.

Those studies, published in the advance online edition of Food and Chemical Toxicology, show no signs of the possible health issues -- such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and reproductive effects -- that have been noted in some, but not all stevia studies done mainly on animals.

In the Cargill and Coca-Cola funded studies, Truvia didn't affect blood pressure in healthy people or blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. Further tests in rats show no effects on reproduction, fertility, or other health problems.

When Will Truvia Debut?

"Is it a go? Yes, it's a go," Cargill spokeswoman Ann Tucker says of Truvia. But she can't say exactly when Truvia will be available.

"That's the gazillion-dollar question," says Tucker, adding that Truvia will get a "rigorous review" by the scientific community before it hits the market.

The FDA says it will review Truvia's case to be considered "generally recognized as safe," which would pave the way for it to become the first stevia product allowed as a food additive in the U.S.

Perspective of a Watchdog Group

"No company was able to demonstrate its safety to FDA," David Schardt, senior nutritionist at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), tells WebMD. "Now maybe Cargill has done that. Maybe."

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