Stevia: beyond the sweetener

Friday, August 26, 2016

Ágnes Kemenczei, Tekla Izsó, Katalin Frecskáné Csáki, Anita Maczó,
Lajos Bognár, Gyula Kasza

1. Summary


More and more people use sweeteners as sugar substitutes, and among these, one can find products of both natural and artificial origin. One of the most popular ones among natural sweeteners is Stevia of plant origin, and the popularity of the use of dried Stevia leaves as tea has been increasing as well. There are approximately 150 to 300 species that belong to the genus Stevia. Of these, the best known is Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, and the sweetening power of the product, containing a mixture of glycosides, that can be obtained from its leaves, can be as high as 350 times of that of sugar. Before its authorization for use as a food additive in 2011, several evaluations were carried out regarding the safety of steviol glycosides, and finally an ADI value of 4 mg per kilograms of body weight was determined by the EFSA in 2010. Nonetheless, the Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni plant itself and its dried leaves are currently classified in the European Union as not authorized novel foods. This is so, because steviol glycosides authorized as sweeteners contain 95% purified stevioside and/or rebaudioside A, while dried Stevia leaves contain a variety of other components. Research into the risks of these are still taking place.


2. Introduction


The eating habits of developed Western societies have changed significantly over the past century. Mainly, a dramatic increase in sugar consumption can be observed, which is primarily due to the spread of the use, in the food industry, of high fructose corn syrup. Growing sugar consumption have also been accompanied by an increase in the prevalence of a number of non-infectious diseases (cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes) and their risk factors (obesity). In the primary and secondary prevention of these diseases, the use of sweeteners as sugar substitutes can play an important role.

In the wide variety of sweeteners, products of both natural and artificial origin can be found. Among sweeteners of natural origin, currently Stevia (also called in Hungarian “Sztívia” or “sztevia”) is one of the most popular ones. Not only the sweetener obtained from the leaves of the plant, but the use, as tea, of dried Stevia leaves are gaining popularity. Therefore, in our article, various forms of use of plant parts and their legal aspects are discussed.

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