Natural sweeteners are healthier than refined sugar because they contain vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and other therapeutic characteristics. Natural sweeteners, like processed sugar, should still be used in limit. Stevia is expected to take the lead in the sugar-alternative sweetener market in 2017. One of the reasons it’s so popular is that stevia leaf extract sweeteners are advertised as “natural” and “free of artificial sweeteners. But, honestly, is stevia natural or artificial?
Is stevia natural or artificial sweetener?
Stevia leaf extract is extracted from the plant stevia rebaudiana, which grows in South America, unlike other zero-calorie sweeteners that are made in a lab. Sweet chemicals called stevioside and rebaudioside A are found in the plant’s leaves and are utilized to create a sweetener. It is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. Sweeteners prepared using stevia leaf extract have traditionally been advertised as natural because the extract comes from a plant.
To create stevia, however, the plant’s sweet-tasting components, known as steviol glycosides, are removed and refined from the leaves. (The leaves themselves are not allowed to be used in food by the Food and Drug Administration.) This can be done using water or alcohol; however, enzymes are sometimes used to modify the extracts. Furthermore, the glycosides can be produced utilizing genetically modified yeast.
“Not only does the FDA not regulate the term ‘no artificial sweeteners,’ but the term ‘natural’ also lacks a regulatory definition, so manufacturers can use the claim anyway they want,” explains Charlotte Vallaeys, M.S., senior policy analyst for food and nutrition at Consumer Reports. “Stevia extracts’ starting material is natural, however these chemicals are heavily processed.
At the end
At least until the FDA regulates the phrase, whether stevia leaf extract is natural depends on how you define natural.
“In direct response to consumer requests that the FDA explore the use of the term ‘natural’ on food labels, the agency asked for information and public comment on the use of this term in the labeling of human food products.” shared a representative from the FDA. “We are currently reviewing comments submitted to the public docket on use of the term ‘natural’ on food labels to help determine next steps.”
You make the decision until then.