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)