|The Mysterious "Sugarleaf" from Paraguay Stevia rebaudiana||
The plant native to the subtropical and tropical South and Central American continents continues to raise issues all over the world. Whereas Stevia is admitted in Japan and, to a certain extent, tolerated in the US, it is far from being licensed by the EU. Poor knowledge concerning the toxicological effects causes bewilderment, not only on the consumer’s part …
It is widelyacknowledged that sweeteners such as honey, cane sugar or beet sugar are harmful to our teeth and cause caries. In South America as well as in many Asian countries one values the dried leafs of Stevia as natural sweetener which is both, low-caloric and friendly to our teeth.
The glycosides stevioside and rebausioside are responsible for the immense sweetness of Stevia. The molecule containing the glycoside is very robust and passes the human digestive tract unharmed. As the substance is not metabolized, it is practically calorie-free and has a negligible effect on blood glucose. Leaves from Stevia have between 10- to 30-times the sweetness of sugar; pure stevioside is 300 times stronger than white sugar.
On top of that, one should not fail to consider that this plant has already been in use for centuries in its native areas. This sweetener is industrially manufactured and marketed accordingly in China and South America.
The main argument supporting the EU’s dismissal of Stavia was based on the lack of according toxicologic research and data. Only steviosides, the substances responsible for the sweet taste, had been scrutinized in studies to that point. These studies are quoted to have indicated an inexplicable effect on blood glucose levels. The Commission also criticized that possible allergic reactions had not been subject to study. Laboratory rats reportedly started to suffer from fertility problems at extremely high doses. Another argument was that the agricultural parameters for production, such as the plants’ need for fertilizer, had not been considered– should the leaves be grown on a big scale or not?
Studies on the pharmacological effects of Stevia show varying results: It was considered to be possible that the constituents of Stevia inhibit the growth of bacteria and formation of plaque on teeth, while lowering the blood glucose level.
On the other hand it is, from the present perspective, hardly possible to gather the necessary proofs for complex food such as Stevia. Ironically, “natural“ products from exotic plants are doomed to fail the Novel Food regulations, while chemicals or simple synthesized substances are easily allowed to be commercialized.
Today products containing Stevia are easily available, even though various economic lobbies disapprove of this development. Until Stevia products are admitted by the EU’s Scientific Committee on Food, they may not be used as sweeteners, food or food ingredient and have to labelled accordingly.