It seems everyone’s trying to quit sugar these days. But how safe is Truvia, PureVia & Stevia and other sweeteners?
By Chere Di Boscio
For centuries, South Americans have been using stevia, a plant with a sweet, anise-like aftertaste, as a sweetener since the 16th century, with zero negative health effects. The leaves are dried and ground into a powder, or distilled into a liquid, and there’s only about one calorie per teaspoon. The Japanese have also been using stevia safely for nearly 100 years, with no reported ill effects.
In fact, this completely natural sugar substitute is said to have several health benefits: it can not only stave off tooth decay, weight gain and diabetes, but it’s also said to strengthen immunity, good bacteria in the gut, and kidney function. It may even help prevent pancreatic cancer!
In short, given the health benefits of stevia, it’s a wonder that anyone would choose to ingest aspartame, sorbitol, saccharin or any other harmful chemical sweeter. Or…is it?
The corporate manufacturers of Splenda, NutraSweet and other toxic sweeteners worked hard to ensure they had the North American market in sweeteners covered, by allowing stevia to be sold as a ‘dietary supplement’ only, which meant it was available mainly in health food shops rather than supermarkets, greatly limiting its availability in the USA and Canada, where enormous mega-marts prevail.
Yet, as news of stevia spread throughout the world thanks to the internet, there was no keeping it away from increasingly obese and diabetic Americans worried about their health.
So, it seems the large food corporations thought: if you can’t beat them, join them, and started including stevia in their sodas, sweets and snacks. Kind of.
Truvia and PureVia are the latest sweeteners to hit the market from Coca-Cola in a joint venture with food giants Cargill and PepsiCo. They are both marketed as natural “stevia” sweeteners. They are even sold in health food stores! However, both Truvia and PureVia are not purely natural stevia at all – in fact, they may be just as bad as the chemical sweeteners that preceded them. Here’s why.
The Dangers of Truvia & PureVia
So how safe is Truvia? Is PureVia any safer? Both products are not natural. They are mixed with chemicals in a laboratory, thus creating a ‘patentable’ product, unlike pure stevia, which is just a natural plant. The first three ingredients in Truvia are: Erythritol, Rebiana and Natural Flavours, and PureVia’s formula is almost the same, but also contains Dextrose.
Note that pure, unrefined stevia is NOT an ingredient in either of these products. As for exactly what Truvia is made of, let’s take a closer look:
1) Erythritol: A sugar alcohol which is made by heavily chemically processing genetically modified (GMO) corn; this is the main ingredient in Truvia. Sugar alcohols are notoriously hard to digest and so are known for their unpleasant side effects such as gastric distress, diarrhea, cramping, gas and bloating–all symptoms that many who have consumed Truvia and PureVia have complained of. It can also act as a pesticide. Not good.
2) Rebiana or Reb-A: This is the molecule of the stevia plant that gives it a natural sweetness. Again, it is chemically separated from the plant in its natural state. Only half of one percent of Truvia is Rebiana. The truth is that the only reason Truvia can claim to be a form of stevia at all is because rebiana is derived from the stevia plant, but let’s be clear – this is no closer to stevia than a gummy bear (made with cow gelatine) is to a steak.
3) Natural Flavours: In America, the term “natural” is not FDA-regulated, therefore there are no standards when using this word. This is a perfect example of how the term “natural” is used to deceive consumers, as nothing about Truvia is natural at all, despite the maker’s claims to the contrary. In fact, the makers of Truvia are very good at stretching the truth, along with other types of marketing deception such as using pictures of leaves and the colour green on Truvia’s packaging and website, implying the product is “natural”.
4) Dextrose: It seems weird to have this ingredient in PureVia, since this corn derivative is medically used to increase blood sugar. If you’re using artificial sweeteners to lower blood sugar, then it doesn’t seem to make sense to use PureVia, which contains this ingredient.
It’s not only PureVia and Truvia that are full of these harmful ingredients, though: there are other brands claiming to be ‘natural’ stevia that contain them, too: be sure to read the labels!
Legal & Ethical Issues
Truvia and PureVia have only been on the market for a few years, but there are already class action lawsuits against the manufacturers of these products by people who have suffered health issues as a result of ingesting these chemical sweeteners.
Recently, the manufacturers of Truvia were forced to settle one of these lawsuits by paying settlements to those who bought their product on the (false) grounds that it was ‘natural’. In fact, if you have purchased Truvia for personal use, you could be eligible for benefits from the class action settlement.
The result of the lawsuit was that the court agreed these sweeteners were not ‘natural’ – but rather remarkably, the judge allowed the brands to continue to market them as such, so long as an asterisk was present on the packaging to lead consumers to information that explained the use of chemicals in the sweeteners!
It’s also worth noting here that the makers of these sweeteners, Cargill and PepsiCo are responsible for some of the world’s worst destruction, such as cutting down rainforests for palm oil plantations, slaughtering hundreds of millions of animals (who are raised in horrific conditions) for food,siphoning off fresh water for commercial use rather than allowing residents access to it, etc. So even if their products were ‘all natural’, (and they’re not) it’s undoubtedly unethical to buy them anyway.
What Can You Do?
So, how safe is Truvia or PureVia? We’d say: not very. Even if you trust these formulae, they are often put into soft drinks and snacks that are labelled as being ‘with Truvia/PureVia’, which means exactly that – they are ‘with’ other sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose (a synthetic additive created by chlorinating sugar) or Acesulfame-K, which is a potassium salt containing methylene chloride, a known carcinogen that’s often used in paint stripper.
If you’d like advice from a health care professional, Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD says: ‘I’d steer clear of any sweetener made in a lab.’ And we’d tend to agree!
Of course, the best product to buy is 100% pure, unbranded stevia from South America (not China, where it is sprayed with pesticides). Add it to your tea and coffee in its raw form, and remove the leaves when you’re ready to drink.
Alternatively, SweetLeaf is a natural, pure brand that is not only chemical free, its production is super ethical, too: the brand has been working hard to keep Latin American farmers away from growing crops related to the drug trade.