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S W E E t E N E r U P D at E

Sweet...but How Safe?
By Dav i D S c h a r D t

by tens of millions of people, and needs to be tested in two rodent species in lifetime carcinogenicity studies before it can be accepted as generally recognized as safe,” says Curtis Eckhert, a professor of molecular toxicology at UCLA. He and graduate student Sarah Kobylewski co-authored the reviewcommissioned by CSPI.


his is a potential game-changer among zero-calorie sweeteners,” said Lou Imbrogno, senior vice president of Pepsi Worldwide Technical Operations, in a press release in July. Stevia may be natural—unlike the other major non-caloric sweeteners. But is it safe...and does it taste like sugar?

Fertility & Blood Sugar
While the UCLA toxicologists questioned whetherstevia is ready for prime time, new research has apparently put to rest earlier worries that the sweetener could impair fertility or affect blood sugar levels. In a study sponsored by Cargill, “we found no reproductive problems through two generations of rats fed very large doses of rebaudioside A,” says the company’s director of regulatory and scientific affairs.3 Another Cargill-funded study fed 122people with type 2 diabetes 1,000 mg a day of rebaudioside A—two to seven times the estimated amount they might consume. After 16 weeks, a long-term measure of their blood glucose levels didn’t change.4 The UCLA toxicologists didn’t question the results of either study.

Keep Off the GRAS?
For centuries, stevia leaves have been used in South America to sweeten beverages. And its extracts areused to sweeten foods in Brazil, Paraguay, Japan, Korea, and China. But in the United States, stevia can be sold only as a dietary supplement. The reason: nagging safety concerns. This summer, though, several companies told the Food and Drug Administration that they consider highly purified extracts of stevia to be GRAS—Generally Recognized As Safe. (If an ingredient is GRAS, it isn’t considered afood additive and can be used without prior FDA approval.) But they may have jumped the gun, according to a review prepared for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (publisher of Nutrition Action) by toxicologists at the University of California, Los Angeles. These are the major stevia sweeteners that are being rushed to market:
■■ Truvia (from Coca-Cola and agricultural behemothCargill). Cargill is rolling out Truvia as a tabletop sweetener. Coca-Cola has plans to use it in soft drinks. ■■ PureVia

DNA Damage & Cancer

The two main sweet-tasting components of stevia are rebaudioside A and stevioside. Two of the new stevia extracts— Coke’s Truvia and Pepsi’s PureVia—are more than 95 percent rebaudioside A. (Wisdom Natural Brands won’t disclose what’s in SweetLeaf.)Rebaudioside A and stevioside are so closely related that any damaging evidence for either Will stevia join these major no-calorie sugar substitutes? one casts doubt on the safety of ■■ Acesulfame-potassium. Tests conducted in the the other. 1970s—one of which suggested an increased cancer risk The UCLA toxicologists’ first in female rats—were of mediocre quality. concern: In some test tube and


Photos: © travis manley (bottle), (powder). Photo illustration: Jorge Bach.

(from Pepsi-Cola and Whole Earth Sweetener Co.—a subsidiary of the company that manufactures the Equal brand of aspartame). Whole Earth plans to start selling PureVia as a tabletop sweetener this fall. PureVia-sweetened Pepsi drinks will come later.

■■ SweetLeaf.

Wisdom NaturalBrands started selling SweetLeaf sweetener in June. Cargill and Whole Earth Sweetener have asked the FDA to review the safety evidence before Coke and Pepsi start adding stevia extracts to diet drinks. That’s good news, because the UCLA toxicologists are concerned about whether stevia extracts could cause cancer.

animal studies, stevioside (but ■■ Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal). Judging by the...
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