Is Truvia Healthy?

Is Truvia a Healthy Natural Sweetener

Truvia is the new “all-natural” sweetener created from the stevia plant. Thanks to it’s claim to being “natural,” many health-conscious shoppers have been swayed into believing that Truvia is a healthy alternative to sugar.

After all, Truvia has no calories! And it’s sweet! And it’s natural! On Truvia’s website, we read that it’s “the first great-tasting, zero-calorie natural sweetener that’s a miracle of nature, not chemistry.”

So, is all this marketing true? Is Truvia actually a miracle of nature? Is Truvia Healthy?


Is Truvia healthy?

First, we should ask if it’s really a natural sweetener. The short answer? No.

But wait! I thought Truvia was made from stevia. Stevia is a natural sweetener. It’s a plant that I can grow on my patio. I can harvest the leaves, dry them if I want to store them, then use them (dry or fresh) to add a hint of sweetness to just about anything — cool, refreshing iced teas, naturally healthy lemonade, and more.

That said, Truvia is not stevia. Stevia looks like what it is — a plant, an herb. It’s green, and can be purchased in a dried, powdered form. Some companies make extracts of stevia in a liquid form — something you could do, too, with a little bourbon or vodka on your side. Either way, this is something you can grow and make in your own kitchen. But what about Truvia? Truvia looks like table sugar. It’s crystallized sweetness. Can you make Truvia in your kitchen?

Of course not! Despite attempts to get straight answers from the folks at Cargill and Coca-Cola who manufacture Truvia, all we know about it is that it’s made first by steeping the stevia leaves in boiling water. But how it goes from being “stevia tea” and gets converted into a crystallized ingredient called rebiana is a mystery of the food industry. Surely there’s some kind of processing involved, no?

PureVia, a competitor to Truvia created by PepsiCo, also extracts an ingredient from the stevia leaf called “Reb A.” (Sounds similar to rebiana, doesn’t it? That’s because both are actually alternative names for rebaudioside A, the “active” ingredient in stevia.) From PureVia’s website, we learn:

The pure Reb A from the stevia plant that sweetens PureVia starts with stevia leaves, which are first milled and then steeped in water using a brewing method that is similar to brewing tea. The resulting stevia extract is then further purified to separate the Reb A through a proprietary technology using ethanol.

Another mystery of the food industry, but at least we know it involves ethanol.

Then, on top of rebiana, Truvia also contains erythritol (a sugar alcohol like xylitol) and “natural flavors.” Lovely.

Sugar alcohols like erythritol and xylitol, while being somewhat better than artificial sweeteners, aren’t truly “natural” sweeteners, either. From the article Sugar Free Blues, author Jim Earles writes:

The final word on sugar alcohols as a group seems to be a mixed message. The evidence does seem to support the positive claims made on behalf of these sweeteners, and perhaps this gives them a valid place in certain applications. For example, given the choice between treating a child’s ear infection with a course of antibiotics or with administration of a therapeutic dose of xylitol, the latter option would certainly be preferable. Of course, there may be even better options.

While sugar alcohols may indeed occur in nature, their usage as sweeteners also suffers from the same problem as many other sweeteners, pharmaceutical drugs and other substances today–one single factor from a natural food item is being isolated from its normal co-constituents and consumed at levels that are difficult to obtain when eating the food item itself. Rarely, if ever, does this situation lend itself to good health. While sugar alcohols are certainly the lesser of two evils when compared to the non-nutritive sweeteners, they should be consumed with prudence if at all. There are better choices.

Conclusion: Is Truvia Healthy?

What do you think? It’s not natural, but rather made by a mysterious, patented refining process to extract rebiana from the stevia leaf. Plus, it contains other ingredients besides rebiana, including erythritol (a dubious sugar alcohol) and “natural flavors” (whatever they are).

I’ll leave you with a final thought. Why aren’t Coke and other companies using just plain stevia to sweeten their beverages? Could it have something to do with how it took the FDA all of three seconds to grant Truvia the coveted GRAS (generally recognizede as safe) status? (GUILTY! I’m exaggerating. It was more like 3 weeks.) How Monsanto spent 20 years blocking the FDA’s approval of stevia when they thought it posed a threat to NutriSweet?

What Should You Use Instead?

To find out which natural sweeteners I regularly use, check out this post on My Natural Sweeteners of Choice.


(photo by greencracker)

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While I adore hats & happy skirts, nothing inspires me quite like geeking out over nutrition & sustainable agriculture.
My name is Kristen Michaelis, author extraordinaire and rebel with a cause.

Comments

  1. says

    Jenny, of the fabulous nourishedkitchen.com, also says to avoid stevia in its processed forms. What I would love to know is, compared with the metabolic effects sugar, hfcs, and “natural” sweeteners like honey have on the body, and specifically on our insulin levels, which is better? fake sort-of-natural non-caloric sweeteners like stevia/truvia/whatever-via, or regular/”natural’ sugars?

    obviously no sugar is the ideal thing for our bodies, yet it does seem it would be of great benefit to many in our society (since we as a whole eat so much sugar er capita) if a sweetener could be invented that did not mess with blood sugar levels and somehow wasnt questionable or downright dangerous, ie. aspartame.
    .-= emily´s last blog post …Duck Fat and Hungry Monkey =-.

    • says

      As far as affect on insulin, the studies are mixed. On the one hand, real stevia (and even the fake, pseudo-stevias now being marketed) doesn’t spike blood glucose levels and hence keeps insulin levels low. On the other hand, lots of studies show that ANY sweet TASTES increase our insulin resistance with time, even if the sweet taste is caused by something sugar-free like an artificial sweetener. Interesting, no?

  2. says

    Well the way I think about it is that it’s a refined food like white sugar. They’ve just taken a part of it a messed around a bit.

    I prefer to just use the stevia leaf. I’m sure there are so many phytochemicals that we would be missing out on anyway by having “Truvia” type foods..

  3. says

    Interesting!

    Many months ago, I looked into PureVia. Besides the “natural flavors,” two ingredients bothered me: erythritol and isomaltuose. They are both derived from fermenting starch or sugar, as you mentioned w/ regard to erythritol.

    On wikipedia, for what it is worth, isomaltuose isn’t recommended for those who are sensitive to sucrose and fructose.

    “Isomaltulose is tolerated like sucrose and not suitable for people with a pre-existing intolerance to fructose and those who are unable to digest sucrose.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isomaltulose

    Then I wrote to PureVia ([email protected]) to find out what the “natural flavors” are.

    They said:

    “Thank you for contacting us! We are not able to divulge what the natural flavors are as that is proprietary information. We can assure you that they are all natural.”

    I asked again, this time from the angle of “if someone had a major allergy, what would you tell them?”

    Their answer:

    “We do use a small amount of a dairy product in our natural flavors but the amount is so insignificant per serving that no one should have any issues with it. PureVia is gluten and egg free. We are very conscious of making sure our product is actually natural and not just claiming to be.”

    Kristen, I appreciate you putting this in perspective with regard to the FDA’s blocking of stevia’s approval. Much more makes sense now. Also, the point about concentrated, isolated sweeteners was very good.
    .-= Wardeh @ GNOWFGLINS´s last blog post …Wild Red Salmon Salad =-.

    • says

      As far as I know, stevia is still not approved as a GRAS food by the FDA! Only this particular derivative of stevia — the rebaudioside A — is. It just goes to show that the FDA *really is* in the pocket of agribusiness (as if you ever doubted it!).

  4. says

    Thanks so much for addressing this topic! For years, the food industry prevented Stevia from being listed as “food.” It had to be a supplement. This was to prevent competition with Aspartame. Then, once they discovered how to make money using a product “derived” from Stevia, it is okay? I don’t trust a product this processed. I like the idea of making my own liquid stevia extract from the stevia in my garden – like my vanilla extract!
    .-= Cathy Payne´s last blog post …Raw Milk Issues in the News! =-.

  5. says

    Oh my gosh, do you ever feel like we have to become chemists when we become mothers?!

    This is a great post.

    I heard an interview with Sally Fallon Morell recently and she said she does not ever recommend the liquid stevia. Nor does she recommend the white powdered kind.

    I tried some dried green stevia — it was nasty! I grew some in my garden too. I think it would be good if you mixed it into iced tea or lemonade like mint.

    For now, I’m sticking to honey, maple syrup, sucanat, etc.

    Kristen – I liked how you called Truvia and other sweeteners “non-nutritive” — so true. Sucanat and maple syrup are unrefined and have nutrition.

    Hey, another thing I’ve been meaning to ask you. Did you make your font smaller? I can’t read your posts anymore. I have to zoom in a few times everytime I come to your blog now. Is it just me? My eyes?
    .-= Ann Marie @ CHEESESLAVE´s last blog post …New Podcast: Finding Safe Organic Beauty Products with Joanna Runciman =-.

    • says

      I wouldn’t buy the white powdered kind, either. How does it get that way? As for the liquid, I think it really does depend on the brand/how it’s made. If it really is just an extract/tincture like the kind you can make from herbs at home using a bit of alcohol, then what makes it any different from those? If it’s some other weird liquid, though, with unknown ingredients or processing, then I’d hesitate, too.

      And no, I didn’t change anything about my font. I doubt that it’s your eyes. Perhaps an update to your browser now renders some fonts differently? Who knows? There’s probably a perfectly normal, technical, reasonable explanation. That said, I’ve not heard about any font issues from anyone else, and I certainly don’t have any.

      • says

        The white powdered kind is usually a mix with some other semi-sugar. I believe Trader Joe’s sells one (which I have purchased in the past) that is a mix with lactose. Where normally you would use a tiny pinch of stevia compared to a tablespoon of table sugar, the TJ’s kind is a 1/3rd ratio – so there’s probably a LOT more of the “other sugar” in those powdered stevia mixes than you’d think.
        .-= Psychic Lunch´s last blog post …KFC Chicken Pot Pie. There are no words for this. =-.

    • Delph says

      Maple syrup is absolutely refined, and refining does not neccessarily make something less or non-nutritive.

  6. yoda says

    Ok, first of all, Rebiana and Rebaudioside A are NOT the same thing. This is a common myth. Rebiana is not an ingredient in the stevia plant, nor is it found in nature. It is produced by the action of chemicals and stringent alcohols, including ethanol and methanol on various stevia glycosides. Rebaudioside A (Reb A) is one of the 11 glycoside compounds naturally within the stevia leaf and is produced by the action of sunlight on the leaves. Rebiana is simply the trade name Cargill gave their chemically derived product in 2008. Still, only 9/10 of 1% of Truvia is Rebiana and masking agent, which may have been needed to cover their bad taste profile possibly caused by chemicals. The other 99.1% is erythritol, a sugar alcohol derived from sugar extracted from corn. Cargill has reported that 30% of their corn is GMOs. I know PureVia list Reb A, but I understand that it is essentially Rebiana. However, PureVia only contains 8/10 of 1% Rebiana and guess “natural flavors,” which I think may be a masking agent, but don’t know for sure. The other 99.2% is erythritol and isomaltose, which is a form of sugar. These products are not really steiva products at all. Personally, I use SweetLeaf brand of stevia whch contains no sugar alcohols or sugars and does not use ethanol, methanol, alcohols, solvents, or enzymes during extraction like most do. Interestingly, they are the only one that extracts using only pure water during the entire process ( and this inludes their liquids). It also retains all three of stevia’s natural 0 calorie, 0 carb, and 0 glycemic index properties, due to its purity since others probably cannot due to additives like those mentioned above. BTW, SweetLeaf is GRAS–it is also a common myth that the FDA has offered GRAS status to only Rebiana. On the other hand, I understand GRAS status is not the same as “approval” as GRAS means that the FDA has no questions regarding the product at this time, but they can change their mind at any time–my understandng is that about 5 “stevia products” are GRAS, but I don’t think stevia has been approved.

  7. says

    Several months back, I had come across a coupon for Truvia, and it also happened to be on sale at my local health food store. I was a little skeptical, but I figured if I could get it that cheap, I would at least give it a try. I drank exactly one glass of iced tea sweetened with Truvia, before I was knocked out with a migraine. I actually wonder, based on that, if msg could be one of the “natural” flavors. I know it is a migraine trigger for me, and if I am correct, it can actually be listed as a natural flavor. It could be something else entirely, but after that incident, and looking at the ingredient list (shouldn’t the rebiana be the first ingredient on the list??), I tossed it.

    I think we tend to be way too focused on trying to find alternative sweeteners, and it doesn’t often occur to us to just eat less sweet stuff.

  8. Heather says

    Most of the white powdered stevias I’ve seen are mixed with something relatively inert, like inulin. The liquid stuff I figure is about like a glycerine tincture of any herb. And I think that stevia itself was finally granted GRAS status, because suddenly it is in the sweetener section at the grocery store (even Wal-Mart!) and is being produced by companies such as Sugar in the Raw (Stevia in the Raw), aside from the not-really-stevias like Truvia.
    If you are trying stevia & are getting a bitter taste from it, you are probably using too much. Try it again, using less. For us, ONE eyedropperful is enough for a whole GALLON of iced tea.

  9. hutch pawleys says

    i use the stevia powder without the other ingredients. it helps me avoid ice cream. i am sure i would be healthier if i lived in the wild and only occasionally encountered a bee hive but i have to walk past ice cream to get frozen berries. i hope they can put stevia into soft drinks to reduce the glycemic exposure of most people. i avoid sugared beverages but it is hard to convey that message generally. i think making stevia drinks available would suffice without putting a discouragement tax on sugar. sugar is obviously a powerful substance. you can train a very large animal with a tiny amount.
    eating for taste is an outdated strategy but it is hard to completely avoid in my world.
    sweet dreams

  10. chris says

    So they won’t give you every detail about how they make it so you think it must be bad, although REb A is Reb A. It’s the same thing that you extract, but they do a lot more of it far more efficiently because they have to. And you don’t like Erythritol? Why not? You don’t want to eat something in a quantity you can’t get in nature? So how about sugar, or cheese? How about maple syrup or agave? Where do you drawer the line? Sugar alcohols are naturally occurring simple carbon molecules. There is nothing wrong with them. In fact, Xylitol has some amazing health benefits. Just because there is a chemical process used to extract something does not mean that the end result is corrupt. Do you really shun science? I see that you have a computer. Do you know how they extract the rare earth minerals for it? What about the radiation you are being exposed to as you read this? Maybe we should all live in a cave and eat berries.

  11. says

    also consider most Stevia is made with Maltodextrin to keep it free flowing. Maltodextrin is usually a GMO corn product. They don’t tell you that. This is why they cannot label their product “Certified Organic”!

  12. lynne says

    Good news I think. Dr. Oz has just reported that coconut palm sugar does not cause an insulin reaction. Hopefully this is a natural product. It’s at Trader Joes.

  13. Jonnal says

    There’s an implication here that anything you don’t understand makes it bad for you. That’s ridiculous. Do you understand the complex organic chemistry that goes into chemical purification processes? If the answer is no (and it clearly is), then why would it matter to you if the exact process was disclosed?

    Regardless, the fact that a product is processed or doesn’t come in its natural form is irrelevant to its nutritional content or value, and to pretend that it is is silly. You could have purely lab synthesized foods, obviously unnatural, and they could still be perfectly healthy, regardless of how well you understand the process behind their creation.

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