New sweetener offers natural alternative to sugar

Stevia is a natural sweetener made from the leaves of a South American plant and has the benefit of having all the flavour but none of the calorie of sugar...

A natural herb that is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar could soon be used in our foods and drinks, after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has confirmed it can be safely taken by both adults and children.

Stevia is a natural sweetener made from the leaves of a South American plant and has the benefit of having all the flavour but none of the calories of sugar. It could start appearing in manufactured foods and drinks in Britain from next year if the European Commission approves it.

It could replace aspartame, an artificial sweetener which campaigners claim has caused health problems. Toxicological testing showed that the stevia substances are not genotoxic nor carcinogenic,

or linked to any adverse effects on the reproductive human system or

for the developing child.

Stevia, which originated in Paraguay but has been used for decades in Japan and other Asian nations, got a major boost when the US Food and Drug Administration cleared the use of a stevia extract in December 2008. Since then, stevia ingredients have been in widespread use in the States, and now it looks like they will soon be given the green light for use in products in the UK.

Experts say the product comes at the right time with concerns growing in the United States and elsewhere about obesity linked to sugary soft drinks and other products.

‘In an era with serious political and social and health ramifications of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, stevia’s new ‘natural’ label will give it a prime spot as the holy grail of sweeteners,’ says food policy consultant and blogger Naomi Starkman.

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