Any observations around health & nutrition will generally identify “fads” that most sheeples will jump on and companies will exploit to gain a larger market share in the name of “better health”. This has been the case for a long time and will most likely continue on well into the future.
The latest big “Thang” seems to be Stevia. Why? Simple really, as it is a naturally occurring plant grown traditionally in South America and avoids all of the adverse issues that can occur when sugar is consumed. The active compounds are steviol glycosides containing up to 150 times the sweetness of sugar and the compound Stevioside contains most of the beneficial properties despite the bitter aftertaste.
The type of Stevia used to produce product for the human market contains Rebaudioside A which is the most extracted compound and used in stevia powders and sweeteners.
Fantastic you might say!! Bingo, we get the best of both worlds – a healthy alternative to sugar and something that tastes really good too!
Hang on a minute though, not so fast…
Did you know that most of the Stevia sweeteners on the market contain erythritol from corn, dextrose and other artificial sweeteners?? Secondly, powdered Stevia sweeteners go through a large number of steps during processing, that can include bleaching and chemical alteration?
One of the problems with unprocessed Stevia is the bitter aftertaste caused by the compound Stevioside. So the reality is that there has to be processing of this plant to remove the unpleasant bitter taste that occurs naturally in the plant.
So, despite not being exhaustively studied, powdered and bleached Stevia undergoes an extensive chemical process to reach its final white powdered form.
In Canada you’re not allowed to call Stevia a natural sweetener such is the complicated production process. Their food agency says:
“Sterol glycosides are not considered to be a natural ingredient due to its significant processing and the types of solvents used for its extraction and purification. Claims which create the impression that the sterol glycoside itself is natural are not permitted. Therefore, sterol glycosides cannot be described as a natural sweetener.”
Varied solvents can be used in the processing and may include chemicals like chloroform, hexane, hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide, aluminium sulphate and so the list goes on.
How appealing does that sound?
As an aside the heating and cooling that occurs in the processing is enough to get one’s mind thinking about how “natural” the Stevia product is on the shelves of the supermarket or dare I say “Health” shop.
Having said all of that is processed Stevia bad for you – well no but maybe yes as well. (More on this in Part 2)