Ask Larry:

Your Question: I read your article about the likely harmful effects of Splenda. What about Stevia? Or Truvia, which I think is composed of stevia and something else to make it taste better. None of the articles I read mention Stevia.

Larry’s Response: Stevia is extracted from a natural product – the leaves of the stevia plant and is exceptionally sweet. Some people claim it leaves a bad after taste.

Truvia is a mixture of stevia and erythritol. By itself, stevia is so sweet that it has to be cut (diluted) with something so it will be used “like regular sugar”. If a person usually adds two teaspoons (10,000mg) of sugar to their ice tea, for example, they would get the same sweetness from only 40mg of stevia (about 1/250th the amount). That’s practically impossible to measure (at least by anyone who doesn’t have an analytical scale).

The Truvia makers decided on erythritol. It’s an alcohol sugar that isn’t very sweet itself – so it doesn’t add to the sweetness of the product. Also, it is believed to be relatively safe.

However, erythritol has been suggested as the active ingredient in Truvia that causes impaired motor function and reduced lifespan in fruit flies. That probably isn’t highly important to humans, but it is certainly something to consider; are you interested in ingesting a substance regularly that is associated with some form of neurotoxicity?

For the most part, stevia is a benign sweetener – and Truvia might be the same. In the long haul, though, all of us would be better off if we learned to NOT crave so much sweetness. A few studies have shown that tasting sweetness can cause insulin release – even when there are no calories being consumed. Excess or unnecessary insulin is associated with obesity and several inflammatory diseases, including diabetes Type II.

I know people who have stopped adding sugar and other sweeteners to everything. Kicking the sweet habit was difficult – which suggests a close correlation to other addictions. Once accomplished, though, they report that most sweetened things (pastries, for example) are too sweet, to the point where they can be referred to as “sickeningly sweet”. This strongly suggests that we really don’t need any sweeteners. But, that’s just my interpretation, supported by almost 10 years being sweetener free.

I might add a little honey to my tea, not for sweetness, but because I like honey and recognize its health benefits.

For those who must add sweetness, stevia is probably okay in moderation. Like Truvia, many brands of stevia are also diluted.