Stevia: The New Substitute on the Block

First we had saccharin. Then came aspartame. Soon after followed sucralose. Now we have stevia to add to the mix. This past December, the Food and Drug Administration agreed that stevia is safe to add to food and drinks. Marketed as Purevia, Truvia, and Sweetleaf, stevia was actually discovered centuries ago. It is manufactured by removing glycosides, or sweetening agents, from the leaves of the stevia plant. Stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar, and carries a heightened cost of 9.9 cents per packet, or five times the cost of Sweet n’Low. The flavor has been described as slow to start with a menthol or licorice aftertaste.

With the addition of a new substitute on the market comes the opportunity for food companies to create new foods and drinks. Sprite Green and Trop50 are two products that use stevia. The sugar substitute debacle gets further complicated by products containing more than one type of substitute with hopes of finding the ideal taste for consumers. Keep your eye on the supermarket shelves as more and more food and drink products are expected to hit them.

There is fierce debate as to whether there are consequences to using sweeteners as a substitute for sugar. Research is being done to study whether artificial sweeteners trigger a negative metabolic response that may actually cause people to not only crave more sugar but to also gain weight. In addition, we sometimes forget that sugar only has 15 calories per teaspoon—so one might ask what the big deal is to just stick to the natural version and learn how to appreciate it in moderation.