If you've been watching TV lately, you may have seen the ads from Cargill for their newly-licensed zero-calorie sweetener, Truvia™, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved. A similar product from Whole Earth Sweetener Company, PureVia™, is also in the pipeline for use in foods and beverages. These newly approved sweeteners are purified forms of stevia called rebaudioside A.
It seems the airwaves are about to be hit big-time by advertising for products containing these stevia sweeteners, which were relegated for quite a long time to the dietary supplement aisles in America. The FDA did not like this herb. Despite that, for more than 20 years stevia extracts have been sold as commercialized sweeteners in Japan and Brazil.
Coca-Cola Co. and Pepsico are among the first companies to market new beverages containing stevia. They are working with Cargill Inc. and Whole Earth Sweetener Co., respectively, to develop products made with the sweetener. We'll soon be seeing many of these products in the grocery aisles, as the companies also have developed table-top sweeteners for the public.
Sprite Green®, a reduced-calorie, sparkling beverage made with Truvia™ was announced recently from Coke. It is currently available only in New York and Chicago. Sprite Green® contains some natural sugar and has 50 calories per 8.5 ounces. Coca Cola also plans to develop some Odwalla® juices with the sweetener.
SoBe Lifewater® products are on the launchpad from Pepsico (Apple Pear, Blackberry/Blueberry and a Pomegranate) that contain Merisant's PureVia™. In March, they also plan to release an orange juice containing PureVia™.
It is possible that stevia may also have some health benefits. The herb has been widely used to treat diabetes in South America, and animal studies have shown promising results. In addition, stevioside, a natural ingredient of the stevia plant, has demonstrated blood pressure-lowering effects. Despite evidence of benefits in some human studies and support from laboratory and animal studies, more research is warranted on these claims.
Reported side effects of stevia include muscle pain, muscle weakness, dizziness, nausea and abdominal fullness. In most reported instances, these effects resolved after the first week of use. However, those with kidney disease are cautioned that higher doses of stevia may affect kidney activity.