stevia

The truth about stevia: wonder food or another artificial sweetener?

Is stevia good or bad? What makes it so popular? How is stevia actually made? And why has the Soil Association refused to certify stevia or products that contain it as organic?

Today, we’re unveiling the truth.

What is Stevia?

Stevia is currently having a hype moment. Both more and less ‘natural’ food producers increasingly use stevia as a sweetener. Stevia is now produced on a mass scale. It has also been recently acclaimed to be a ‘healthier’ alternative to sugar. An alternative that has zero calories! No wonder, even Coca-Cola has recently started to use it in its products. But, what actually is stevia? Originally from South America, stevia is a herb which is naturally sweet. Raw stevia is actually 40 times sweeter than sugar. Refined stevia is around 200 times sweeter than sugar. Yet some say that it does not raise blood sugar levels like sugar and other artificial sweeteners do. On top of that, stevia has a long history. Various cultures have used it s a sweetener and a medicinal herb for centuries. Sounds like a wonder food, doesn’t it?!

Stevia is highly processed

While stevia leaf is a natural product, food and beverage manufacturers actually use steviol glycosides and market it as 'stevia'. Steviol glycosides is a chemical compound responsible for the sweet taste of the leaves of stevia. It is the main ingredient of what you usually hear of as stevia. But it represents its highly processed form that is far from the original plant. If you look at the ingredients list of products with 'stevia', you will find out that they all contain steviol glycosides. Check it out! In order for stevia to become the powdered sweetener, it has to go through a complex manufacturing process. While some manufacturers call it a 'purification process', in reality the process involves bleaching and chemical alteration. This already makes it far from 'pure'. The process furthermore involves the use of a lot of very toxic chemicals, such as methanol, arsenic, ethanol, acetone, and others. Yum. The manufacturing process also strips stevia of its original molecular makeup which actually has both sweet and bitter components, just like licorice. In this way, the inherent safety mechanism, that is typical of whole plants, undergoes a drastic change. Whether this can have any harmful effects on humans, we still don't know. What we can be certain of, however, is that stevia in this form does not sound like a wonder food anymore.

sugar

Products with stevia cannot be certified as organic

It should be of no surprise that given the reasons above, the Soil Association, which is the UK’s leading food and farming charity and organic certification body, has refused to certify stevia and products that contain it as organic. While EU Regulation 1131/2011, which came into force on 2 December 2011, permits the use of steviol glycosides in certain non-organic specified foods at permitted maximum levels, according to the Soil Association: "The use of steviol glycosides (E 960) as food additive is not in line with the objectives criteria and principles of organic farming as laid down in the organic Regulation. Whilst we recognise that low calorie sweeteners could have a potential role in organic products, we also need to consider the objectives and principles of organic standards more broadly, particularly with regards to the extent to which products are processed and their authenticity. Further discussion and research needs to take place with regards to the role of low calorie sweeteners before we would be able to review our position".

Stevia is a Novel Food

Currently the Food Standards Agency (FSA) classifies stevia as a novel food, which is exactly why the Soil Association cannot certify it as organic. Novel food is a type of food that does not have a significant history of consumption in the EU. Or is produced by a method that has not previously been used for food. In other words, we need more research before we can actually be certain that stevia, in its processed form, makes no harm to our health. Yes. More time and research, and precaution are key! So what if you see a product in store labeled organic, which contains steviol glycosides? The product in question will most likely have been imported from the US, with a USDA organic certification. US organic regulations are notoriously more lax than the high standards of EU and Soil Association.

Stevia is a sweet creep

It is way more clear now why stevia is so popular, although it does not seem that healthy after all. Because steviol glycosides come from a plant, food companies can market it with the word ‘natural’ and thereby appeal to all health-minded folks. Since it is highly processed and can be used in both liquid and baked goods, steviol glycosides is also super easy to add to processed foods. No wonder everyone is adding the white powder into everything from ice cream to drinks. This is also the case in the sports supplements business, or perhaps especially the case. In fact, most ‘healthy’ supplements brands use stevia in their protein blends and market themselves as 'natural' or 'plant-based'. Just take a look next time you're in a health food store. We're not making this up! The problem with using sweeteners like stevia is not only that they are controversial. But also that they distort people’s food preferences. Consume stevia everyday, and you may grow more and more of a sweet tooth: always craving more sugary flavours. It is well known that sweet-dependency triggers many chronic diseases. It is also a common knowledge that our body responds hormonally to sugars as much as to high-potency sweeteners. You can check out here how this can cause a hormonal havoc. This is exactly why at Motion we are different. We follow a NO COMPROMISE approach to creating supplements. We make our food products only with organic certified ingredients that have proven health benefits. And we avoid those untested additives that may help with marketing but can very much mess with your health. First and foremost, we care about you.