Truvia, a popular stevia-based sweetener

truviaTruvia is a popular alternative sweetener billed as “stevia-based” and “natural.” While neither statement is accurate, Truvia has some good qualities to offer and appears to be completely safe when used in reasonable amounts.

Developed by Coca-Cola and Cargill and introduced in 2008, the product rates as the second-most popular alternative sweetener on the American market today, bested only by Splenda.

Cargill is a giant corporation that manufactures additives and ingredients for food companies worldwide. The ingredients listed on Truvia’s label are:

  • Erythritol; a sugar alcohol
  • Rebaudioside A; designated as “Rebiana” on labeling; this sweet compound is isolated from the stevia plant (1)
  • Natural flavors; a vague term with unclear meaning

Product hype on Truvia’s website claims the sweetness is “born from the leaves of the stevia plant.”

The sweet flavor in stevia leaves originates from two separate compounds: rebaudioside A and stevioside. Truvia contains no steviocide, which studies show may help in lowering blood pressure and dropping blood sugar levels. (2, 3)

Miniscule amounts of rebaudioside A are included in purified form; this compound has not been associated with any health benefits.

Truvia Gets Its Sweet Flavor from Erythritol

Cargill’s advertising capitalizes on stevia’s good reputation as a safe sweetener with significant health benefits, but Truvia contains only a tiny amount of one isolated compound found in stevia.

The main source of sweetness in Truvia is erythritol, a sugar alcohol with molecules structured like a cross between alcohol and a carbohydrate.

Erythritol is completely different than ethanol, which is what makes people drunk when they overindulge in wine, beer or spirits.

This sugar alcohol is found in certain natural foods such as fruits, and can be extracted and used as a sweetener.

Cargill’s website states the erythritol they use in Truvia comes from corn that’s processed into a starch, fermented with yeast, and then turned into a broth. This is purified and evaporated into crystals.

Because of the chemical structure of erythritol, the sugar alcohols stimulate taste receptors in the tongue and are then absorbed in the small intestine before being excreted in urine within a few hours of ingestion.

The absorption rate is close to 80%, so no significant amount reaches the large intestine, which means the negative effects on metabolism that occur when other types of sugar are ingested are not an issue. (4)

Some other sugar alcohols you may have heard about include sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol.

While the ingredients in Truvia may not be natural by any stretch of the imagination, they don’t appear to be harmful or dangerous.

“Natural Flavors”

Neither Gargill’s website nor the product label specifies what the “natural flavors” included in Truvia are.

Cargill patented the combination of flavors in 2009, and the company isn’t legally obligated to disclose what they are or how they’re made.

The term “natural flavors” falls into a category of additives only loosely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration; basically, a company can call any flavoring “natural” as long as the chemicals are basically equivalent to the natural flavor in question.

It seems unlikely flavorings in Truvia are natural, if only because the other ingredients are highly refined.

Two lawsuits were filed against Cargill over this issue in the past few years. (5, 6)

Legal action was based on consumer claims that advertising and marketing of the product is deceptive; the isolation of a single component of stevia (rebaudioside A) requires a chemical process, and the fermentation and processing used to create erythritol is far from natural.

The lawsuits also claimed Cargill used genetically modified corn to manufacture erythritol used in Truvia.

Cargill chose to settle the case out of court, but continues to market Truvia as a “natural” product, charging much higher prices than consumers would pay for other sweeteners like Splenda or Sweet ‘n Low.

While the ingredients in Truvia may not be natural, they don’t appear to be harmful or dangerous.

Data from Studies and Trials

Based on the results of multiple long-term animal studies, erythritol appears to have no toxic or negative metabolic effects. (7, 8)

Truvia has never been used in any studies or trials, but Cargill sponsored a month-long trial with a hundred participants, half of whom took high doses of rebaudioside A, while the other half took a placebo. (9)

Blood pressure in both groups was monitored, and no significant changes were noted at 1000 mg daily of rebaudioside A.

The effects of erythritol were tested on diabetic patients in two separate trials. (10)

In one study, subjects took a single high dose of erythritol; insulin levels and serum glucose measurements remained stable until the next meal was consumed.

In the other, 20 grams of erythritol were administered to 11 diabetic patients daily for two weeks. No important markers changed significantly, and no negative impact to kidneys was noted.

Subjects in another study consumed large amounts of erythritol daily for a week; this was incorporated in foods like yogurt, cookies, chocolate and sweetened drinks. No ill effects were reported. (11)

However, it turns out erythritol is deadly to fruit flies; researchers who discovered this suggested it should be considered for use as an environmentally safe pesticide. (12)

Side Effects and Dosage

Digestive disturbances were reported by participants in a European trial in which very high amounts of erythritol (50 grams) were taken with water. The most common side effects experienced were nausea, bloating and loose stools. (13)

In a comparison of erythritol and sorbitol, another alcohol sugar, researchers found subjects could consume an average of four times as much erythritol as sorbitol before reaching the point of experiencing digestive problems. (14)

When used in reasonable amounts, erythritol isn’t likely to cause trouble for most people, but anyone who has experienced side effects from using sugar alcohols should be cautious.

Recap

Compared to sugar, erythritol is almost calorie free; it contains only 0.24 calories per gram while sugar delivers 4 calories per gram. Erythritol doesn’t affect insulin, blood sugar, cholesterol or triglycerides. (15, 16)

Diabetics, patients with symptoms of metabolic syndrome, and anyone looking to cut calories in the diet may find Truvia a reasonable sweetener choice.

Summary: If you can get past the questionable marketing strategies and find you enjoy the taste of this alternative sweetener, there’s no evidence to suggest Truvia is harmful in any way.

References:

  1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691508002329
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2900484/
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14693305
  4. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=924264
  5. http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Regulation/Cargill-hit-with-deceptive-marketing-lawsuit-alleging-Truvia-stevia-based-sweetener-is-not-natural
  6. http://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/news_home/Regulatory_News/2013/07/Lawsuit_questions_natural_clai.aspx?ID=%7BEBC59CE9-B149-4257-A098-31F4731805F5%7D&cck=1
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8933643
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9862657
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18555574
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8933647
  11. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0273230096901105
  12. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0098949
  13. http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v61/n3/full/1602532a.html
  14. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/027153179600036X
  15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8039489
  16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8933646
0 comments… add one

Leave a Comment