Announced this week, the word on the street is that the FDA is nearing approval of Stevia, the natural sweetener derived from the chysanthemum plant which has recently garnered much support from the organic/naturalist community. Stevia has become a mighty trendy alternative to artificial sweeteners because of one word: natural. Yes, stevia is natural, but that does not seal it's safety. It has been used for hundreds of years in Paraguay and Japan, and yes, it does not seem as though it has been linked to any negative health outcomes in those communities. However, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are poised to begin mass producing beverages made with Stevia. This concerns me for several reasons.
1. I'm pretty sure the amount of Stevia consumed in tribal groups and East Asia was miniscule compared to what would be consumed here given the number of sodas the typical American consumes in a day. Furthermore, there have not been enough studies conducted to investigate a tolerable upper limit for Stevia - how much is potentially too much and what would this mean?
2. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is still concerned. This is the group that helped to nail trans fats/hydrogenated oils back in the 90's. They are a consumer-watchdog group that has no ties to the food industry whatsoever. The fact that they still feel more studies should be conducted speaks volumes to me, especially since some animal studies have yieled disconcerting results.
3. Compared to the hundreds of studies conducted "unnatural" sweeteners, Stevia doesn't pass muster. Being a scientist of sorts, I just can't trust that because it came from a plant and some people (with completely different lifestyles than ours) consume it without issue that it should be GRAS (generally recognized as safe) - especially not for mass production!