The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Stevia Update

Stevia Update

Health and Wellness

July 27, 2008

 Recently, Cargill and The Coca-Cola Company announced the formation of Truvía, their branded name for rebiana, a high purity, well characterized natural sweetener derived from the stevia plant. The announcement comes on the heels of newly published studies establishing the safety of rebiana as a general purpose sweetener in food and beverages.
 
The road to Truvía’s creation began in 1887, when the stevia plant was discovered in Paraguay. By 1977, the Japanese were enjoying food and beverages sweetened with byproducts from the plant. The FDA decided to permit its use in supplements in 1994, and in 2004, the FAO/WHO Expert Food Additives Committee said stevia posed no major toxicity risks. Beginning in 2004, Cargill and The Coca-Cola Company developed the commercialization and research program for rebiana.
 
Cargill and Coca-Cola conducted rigorous scientific research on rebiana during the last four years, seeking to answer previously unresolved questions on sweeteners made from rebaudioside A – the best tasting element of the stevia leaf. When the stevia plant is harvested, its leaves are dried and soaked in water to isolate the sweet components. Then the product is further purified to rebiana. The result is a product that is up to 200 times sweeter than sugar and no calories.
 
“Truvía, like other sweeteners both nutritive and artificial, has its own sweetness taste profile,” says Ann Tucker, Communications Director for Cargill. “It has scored well in blind taste tests with consumers comparable to other zero calorie products.”
 
Comparatively, products marketed simply as “stevia” are usually a mixture of avariety of components of the stevia leaf – including those that do not give it its sweet taste. Because the product is a mixture of the plant’s properties, quality and composition can vary. This has made stevia studies difficult to interpret in the past.
 
“Historical studies that were based on uncharacterized stevia-based products did not offer conclusive or reproducible research results,” says Tucker. “To be able to correlate the findings from new and older research, the base material has to be the same.”
 
The studies done by Cargill and Coca-Cola definitively answer the questions posed by a 1985 study that found problems like fertility issues in men. That study led to some countries banning stevia, and in the 1990s, the FDA concluded that the data available on the substance was inconclusive, prohibiting its use as a food additive. The new research, says Tucker, used rigorous scientific study methodology beginning with a high purity, well-defined product and establishes the safety of use of rebiana.
 
The current report on stevia, published in the May issue of Food & Chemical Toxicology, found that daily consumption of rebiana (in an amount equivalent to a 150 lb. person drinking 1,000 eight ounce servings of a rebiana sweetened beverage) had no negative effects on the general health, reproduction, growth or development of adults or their offspring.
 
The report also found that consumption of 1,000 mg/day of rebiana – which is the same as consuming eight 8 ounce sweetened beverages or 29 tabletop sweetener packets – was well tolerated in people with type 2 diabetes and had no significant blood pressure effects in healthy subjects. This is a significant finding, especially since past reports voiced concerns that high doses of stevia compounds could possibly lower blood pressure or blood-sugar levels in diabetics.
 
Tucker says that the establishment of Truvía, a consistent tasting sweetening product that is available for commercial sale, is an important step in meeting the needs of consumers who have been asking for a natural, zero-calorie sweetener that is derived from a plant – instead of from chemicals in a lab.
 
“This is important for consumers because it is the first, natural, zero calorie sweetener that will be available on a commercial scale as a general purpose sweetener. For retailers, this is the beginning of a new product category,” she says.
 
Research from the recent study was presented at the Toxicology Forum in the hopes that the results will bring Cargill and Coca-Cola closer to gaining the support of the scientific community and the FDA. They plan to roll out Truvía as a tabletop product this calendar year, and then later, as an ingredient in food and beverages. Meanwhile, the Arizona-based Wisdom Natural Brands, makers of Sweet Leaf, a stevia-based tabletop supplement, plan to introduce their version of the ingredient in soda and food products by the end of 2008.
 
Sweeteners made from stevia are currently approved for use as a food additive in countries like Japan, Brazil and China. Though originally from Paraguay, the majority of stevia plants are now harvested in China. Supply is still limited.
 
“Rebiana is not a new to the world molecule or compound. It begins with the stevia leaf. The publishing of the research was one step in a multi-stage process to bring forward new scientific information on rebiana, and the FDA was consulted throughout the program,” adds Tucker.