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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

Perspective of a Watchdog Group continued...

The CSPI hasn't been sweet on stevia because of possible safety issues.

"For good reason, FDA and a lot of other industrialized countries have not allowed it to be used as a food additive until these safety questions have been resolved. That's what Cargill thinks they've done ... at least with the extract that they're selling," says Schardt.

"We've always told consumers you're not going to drop dead if you use it [stevia] to sweeten your tea," says Schardt. "But there is concern about using it as a food additive, putting it into a lot of products that are sold to millions of people."

The CSPI's verdict on Truvia isn't in yet. But Schardt is cautiously optimistic. "We hope that the stevia extract does prove to be safe."

Sweetness in Moderation

Nutritionist Elaine Magee, MPH, RD -- WebMD's "Recipe Doctor" and the author of Food Synergy -- has blogged about her "wait and see" view of stevia.

"No matter what the alternative sweetener, including stevia, I would recommend moderation," Magee writes in an email. "I think that it tricks our body to taste sweetness and to not get the carbohydrates absorbed in the bloodstream that the body then expects. For some people I suspect this can bring on cravings or overeating later, perhaps."

That probably doesn't happen with "smaller amounts (like one diet soda a day)," writes Magee. "But there are people who have many diet sodas a day. This then also displaces more healthful beverages like green tea, water, or nonfat or low-fat milk."

That theory hasn't been proven. But it has come up in past research on diet sodas and weight gain. That research wasn't related to stevia.

Stevia Competition Heats Up

Pepsi plans to put its own highly purified, zero-calorie, all-natural stevia sweetener -- which doesn't have a name yet -- in various new products after it's approved by the FDA, PepsiCo spokesman David DeCecco tells WebMD in an email.

Meanwhile, a Seattle company called Zevia is already marketing Zevia, a carbonated dietary supplement containing stevia. The company touts its product as "the world's only all natural sugar-free alternative to diet soda." But Zevia hasn't bucked the "dietary supplement" label.

Zevia President and CEO Derek Newman tells WebMD in an email that the company has perfected the stevia taste with Zevia.

"I would be shocked if Cargill's product is nearly as good," he writes.

In a statement emailed by Tucker, Zanna McFerson, business director for Cargill Health and Nutrition, says, "There are many stevia blends available as dietary supplements today. We cannot comment on all the variations and only know that we consistently offer a safe, pure, and consistent product."

Truvia's research may not apply to other stevia products, notes Schardt.

"If you believe Cargill, the research establishing its safety is on a particular extract, a pure extract [Truvia], and that it doesn't necessarily apply to something else that's not quite the same. So that's an issue that I guess FDA is going to have to address," says Schardt.

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