Stevia, Truvia, and Cancer: What You Should Know about the Sweetener

What You Should Know About This Stevia-Derived Sweetener

truvia packets on a table
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Truvia is a sweetener derived from the plant stevia. Truvia is also known as rebaudioside A and is purified from select parts of the stevia plant. Truvia was created by Cargill (the agricultural giant) and Coca-Cola. The key ingredient in Truvia was found to be "without objection" from the FDA. As such, it is now in the "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) category for food additives. Learn about this sweetener and its safety.

The History of Stevia

Stevia has had a bit of a mixed story in the U.S. This plant has been used for centuries in South America as a sweetener and is a common sweetener in places such as Japan. In the U.S., however, stevia was banned from use as a food additive because of research that suggested stevia could potentially cause cancer.

Different Types of Stevia

Like sugar, stevia comes in a number of different forms—liquid, powder, and granules. There are also dessert products that use stevia instead of sugar such as ice cream, jams, and jellies. You may also see Coca-Cola Life and Sprite Green on shelves, both are sweetened by stevia. Pepsi True is another stevia-sweetened product. While stevia is said to be natural, additional ingredients are added in processing such as erythritol, a sugar alcohol, and "natural flavors" as well.

FDA Approval vs. Non-Objection

The FDA's "non-objection" results from data submitted by the industry that shows the safety of a stevia refining process that removes the suspect components of stevia. This process focuses on a component of stevia known as steviol glycoside rebaudioside A (Reb-A). Reb-A (also called Rebiana), has a different safety profile than stevia in general. Truvia is made from Reb-A.

Truvia Safety

But is Truvia safe? Because the FDA doesn't object, it is likely as safe as any of the sugar substitutes out there. You could argue it is less safe because of the cancer finding in the past, but you could also argue that the "naturalness" of Truvia combined with the centuries of use (as stevia) in the world make it safer.

Because of Truvia's "generally recognized as safe" designation from the FDA, there is no restriction on using it during pregnancy. It hasn't been extensively tested as to whether it ends up in breast milk and so the LactMed database supported by the National Library of Medicine says, "Although risk to the breastfed infant appears to be low, an alternate artificial sweetener with more data available may be preferred, especially while nursing a newborn or preterm infant."

A review of studies in 2017 noted that stevia-derived sweeteners were gaining wider use but there have been no studies on its effects on cancer or diabetes risks.

Side Effects of Stevia and Truvia

While stevia is said to be natural, researchers have found side effects to be aware of. Those who are already allergic to ragweed, marigolds, chrysanthemums, marigolds or daisies should avoid stevia to prevent going into anaphylactic shock. Decreased appetite, nausea, feeling of fullness, and bloating may also be symptoms caused by stevia intake. Stevia is also contraindicated in people taking high blood pressure or diabetes medicines as they may interact.

Truvia has been studied for side effects and they are rare, fewer than 1 in 100,000 according to the manufacturer. They do note that erythritol, a sugar alcohol, is used as a bulking agent in Truvia. Although other sugar alcohols are known to produce diarrhea in some people, erythritol doesn't have the same laxative effect in the quantities normally consumed. However, a laxative effect is possible.

Choosing Truvia

Eating Truvia and other stevia-derived sweeteners may have its risks, but if you're already using artificial sweeteners, they may be good additions to your sweetener options.

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