The new ‘miracle’ sweetener Stevia (100% natural) has just been authorized in France, making it the first EU country to give the green light to a much-hyped product which is hoped will save the soft drink industry from falling sales and aspartame backlash. Already in use in Australia, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, full approval in France is still dependant on a scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), but France has taken advantage of a window that allows individual member states to approve ingredients for a limited two-year period. So, in the coming months, it will be rolled out in drinks, desserts, yoghurts, tinned fruit, mustard and certain diet products.
Stevia sweeteners with 97 % purity rebaudioside A (Reb A) are made from a plant which originates in Latin America (but now grown in China) and are said to have a sweetening ability 300 times that of saccharose, but with no calories.
It will appear under the brand names PureVia (owned by Pepsi), Truvia (developed by Cargill and Coca Cola) and Liv.
Why do we need another sugar substitute, even one that is 100% natural and calorie-free? A new study from the Netherlands shows that the brain may in fact be able to distinguish between sugar and non-caloric sweetners. Paul Smeets, a neuroscientist at University Medical Center Utrecht, used a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain responses in people sipping two versions of orangeade, one containing sugar and one containing a mix of four artificial sweeteners: aspartame, acesulfame K, cyclamate and saccharin. The scans revealed consistent differences in how their brains responded.
According to an article in the LA Times, both sugar and the artificial sweeteners activated a brain region called the amygdala, which signals sensory pleasure. But only the sugared drink turned on a cherry-sized nugget of brain tissue in a region called the caudate. That little nugget, Smeets concluded, seemed to represent an unconscious perception of calories — assessed quite separately from the sweet taste. “We think the brain can distinguish, even if the people themselves cannot distinguish, between a caloric and a noncaloric sweet drink.”
We can only hope that it will be less toxic than aspartame. If you consume a lot of Diet Coke, or your children are addicted to ‘sugarless gum’, please check out this film, “Aspartame: Sweet Misery – A Poisoned World.” It’s quite an eye-opener.