What is stevia?
Stevia, or steviol glycosides as they are known scientifically, are a collection of naturally occurring sweeteners that are derived from the Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni plant, native to South America. The most commonly used steviol glycosides are stevioside and rebaudioside A, and they are 250 – 300 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose), so only small amounts are needed to make foods and beverages sweet.
Is stevia safe?
Yes. Its safety is supported by more than 150 studies conducted over four decades and confirmed by local (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) and numerous international bodies, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and the Food and Agriculture Organisation/World Health Organisation Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).
Is stevia natural?
Stevia is derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni plant. Steviol glycosides are extracted from the leaves with hot water, and the extract is passed through an adsorption resin to trap and concentrate the different kinds of steviol glycosides. The resin is washed with a solvent to release the glycosides, and the product is recrystallized into 95% pure (or higher) stevioside and rebaudioside A. These steviol glycosides are often blended with other nutritive or non-nutritive sweeteners in table top sweeteners, foods and beverages.
What products contain stevia and how can I tell?
Stevia is used in carbonated soft drinks, fruit and vegetable juices, milk, puddings, gelatines (e.g., jelly), frozen desserts, yogurt, confectionery, chocolate and cocoa products, chewing gum and other foods and beverages. To identify stevia sweetened foods and beverages, look for “steviol glycosides” (or Sweetener 960) in the ingredient list.
Who can use stevia?
People can enjoy products sweetened with stevia as part of a healthy balanced diet. However, it is important to keep in mind that children, particularly young children, need sufficient energy (and other nutrients) for growth and development. In addition, pregnant and breastfeeding women need to consume adequate energy (and other nutrients) to nourish their growing foetus or infant and should consult with a physician and/or Accredited Practicing / Registered dietitian about their nutritional needs and follow their recommendations.
How is stevia handled by the body?
Steviol glycosides are not directly absorbed through our digestive tract or broken down by any of our digestive enzymes, that’s why they don’t provide any kilojoules or carbohydrate. When they arrive in our large bowel (intestine), they are mostly broken down to steviol by bacteria which is then absorbed into our blood and excreted in our urine, and some is also excreted in our faeces.
Is stevia safe for those with diabetes?
Yes. People with diabetes are among the most frequent consumers of alternative sweeteners. Stevia can assist in managing calorie / kilojoule consumption, which is an issue for many people with diabetes, and it can also reduce the carbohydrate content of the diet which may assist with the management of blood glucose (sugar) levels. Naturals range products can help provide people with diabetes with wider food choices and the pleasure of sweet taste while helping to reduce their effect on blood glucose (sugar) levels.
To find more information about stevia please visit the following websites:
- Food standards Australia and New Zealand: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/code/applications/Documents/FAR_A540_Steviol_glycosides.doc
- World Health Organisation: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/44063/1/9789241660600_eng.pdf
- European Food Safety Authority: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/1537