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By Chere Di Boscio
For centuries, South Americans have been using stevia, a plant with a sweet, anise-like aftertaste, as a sweetener. 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 half a century, with no reported ill effects.
In fact, this completely natural sugar substitute is said to have 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,too. 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 ensured 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 giant 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 are 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 safe? Both products 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. Note that stevia–pure 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.
2) Rebiana: 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. 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”.
These products have only been on the market for a few years, but there are already class action lawsuits against the manufacturers of Truvia and PureVia by people who have suffered health issues as a result of ingesting these fake stevia 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.
And yet, perhaps the greatest irony of all is this: pure, natural stevia is still classified as a ‘dietary supplement’ in the United States.
What Can You Do?
Even if you trust Truvia and PureVia (which we don’t), they are often put into drinks and snacks that are labelled ‘with Truvia/PureVia’, which means exactly that–they ‘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.
Of course, the best product to buy is 100% pure, unbranded stevia from South America (not China, where it is sprayed with pesticides). Alternatively, SweetLeaf is a natural, pure brand that is not only chemical free, its production has also kept Latin American farmers away from growing crops related to the drug trade.
But whatever you do, avoid not only artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin but also Truvia and PureVia if you care about your body absorbing chemicals with unknown effects.