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April 3, 2001

Meal Planning, Food and Diet

Question from Leawood, Kansas, USA:

Why is it that the nutrition advisors for the diabetes community are pushing dangerous sweetener alternatives, i.e., aspartame, etc. instead of educating people about the sweet herb stevia? This herb is as sweet as artificial sweeteners and actually has properties that help control high blood sugar levels. It is disappointing to me that our kids who's bodies are compromised by the disease have not been given the option of a sweetener that won't do more harm than good!

Answer:

You raise an interesting question. Stevia is an intensely sweet herbal extract with a long history of personal use in various countries. It is also used in processed foods in some countries, notably Japan. Although it is undoubtedly safe, given its long track record, unfortunately it has not been widely researched under controlled situations; therefore, it’s not possible to support the claim made by some who promote its use, that it is nutritionally superior to other sweeteners. Not all herbs are safe, and since this one appears to have biological activities beyond it’s sweetening properties (such as affecting blood flow), some controlled studies would be welcome. Until such studies are done, it is highly unlikely that authoritative groups such as the American Diabetes Association will add stevia to their recommendations.

Many of the dietitians I know who work in diabetes are aware of stevia and offer it to their clients as one of several possible options for sweetening foods. Of course, these days, table sugar, honey, and other nutritive sweeteners are among the options offered since concentrated sweets are now recognized as being no more harmful to blood sugar than other forms of carbohydrate. It’s great to have a variety of choices available and for people to know how to use them within their own approach to diabetes management.

You have obviously found stevia to be helpful in managing your own child’s nutrition and diabetes, and you are certainly not alone. There are others who prefer other non-nutritive sweeteners, and others who stay away from all non-nutritive sweeteners, either because of their own nutritional concerns or because of issues of taste. It’s great that we live in a time where people have so many options and access to information to help them make informed choices among them.

BB

[Editor’s comment: ChildrenwithDiabetes.com has reviewed this product, at Stevia.

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