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A sweet new sugar option

Truvia is a sweetener produced from the stevia plant.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: There's an addition to the already long list of artificial sweeteners today. Coke and Cargill want to convince you to abandon Sweet'n Low or Splenda or Nutrasweet or whichever one you use.

Marketplace's Alisa Roth explains why the roots of a weed called stevia might be a big deal.


Alisa Roth: The soft drink business has been a little flat lately. Some people would rather have sports drinks or vitamin waters. Others have been scared off by the bad rap: Sodas cause obesity and other health problems.

Tom Pirko: The consumer's trying to figure out whether or not they're part of a healthy lifestyle.

Tom Pirko's a beverage industry analyst. He says the business has been searching for what he calls a Holy Grail: a sweetener that's cheap, tastes good and won't make you fat.

Everybody's wondering if stevia could be it. The stuff comes -- I'm not making this up -- from the leaves of a Latin American bush. Its better-known competitors like aspartame were all developed in test tubes.

John Sicher edits the trade publication "Beverage Digest." He thinks stevia's natural roots could convince some people to start drinking soda again.

John Sicher: With Americans having a growing interest in natural products, combining that with an interest in low-calorie products, beverage executives think that a natural no-calorie sweetener would be something which would enable them to add products to their portfolio.

Those familiar pink, blue and brown sweeteners may soon be in for some competition. Green packets of stevia under the trademark Truvia go on sale in New York today and across the country by fall.

But those hoping to mix health food with junk food in the form of stevia-sweetened sodas will have to wait a little longer -- Coke isn't saying when it will have them on the market.

In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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You can find non brand stevia at any health food store, Whole Foods or Trader Joes. It is also used in Japan as the non calorie sweetner of choice. There is nothing new about this product.

There's already a stevia-flavored soda on the market, it's called Zevia. Check out their website at www.zevia.com

@ Janna: Splenda is chlorinated sucrose, also a "natural" product. Nutrasweet (aspartame) contains natural amino acids. At what point does a heavily processed natural product become artificial? For that matter, chlorine is a naturally occurring element but is not free from "damaging side affects." Natural does not equal proven safe. When Cargill and Coke put this in soda (or little packets of undetermined color), you won't be eating freshly harvested roots but rather a heavily processed foodstuff. There are studies that say stevia is only safe with minimal processing, that the little white packets of white stevia are not safe, that only brown stevia is safe. I think I'll eat a little sugar and honey periodically and let everyone else have the stevia, aspartame, and other sweeteners.

Is the FDA reconsidering its classification of Stevia as an "unsafe food additive"? (http://www.fda.gov/ora/fiars/ora_import_ia4506.html) Last I heard, Stevia could only be included in products if it was considered a dietary supplement instead of "food." However, I suppose the cynical will assert that the FDA might be willing to relax its position now that Coke and Cargill are involved ;)

I would be more interested to learn what processing goes along with the "natural sweetener." After all, high fructose corn syrup does come from a natural source, but chemical processing makes it less than natural.

Kai introduced stevia as an addition to the list of artificial sweeteners. There's nothing artificial about it. It comes from a plant, just like sucrose and corn syrup, with none of the damaging side effects (dental caries, diabetes, heart disease, cancer) of those high calorie sweeteners.

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