South Americans have used this natural sweetener for years and it's been approved as a food additive in Japan for more than three decades. This sugar substitute is derived from the leaves of the stevia shrub. It's much sweeter than table sugar and has no calories.
If you live in the U.S., Canada or Europe chances are you won't be gulping down stevia-sweetened soda pop in the near future. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has turned down three requests by food manufacturers to add stevia to foods. Experts say there has not been adequate testing to give assurance of safety.
What's more, laboratory studies have found potential cancer and reproductive problems with the sweetener. European scientists are concerned about potential toxic effects of stevia's main ingredient, stevioside.
If you are already using stevia as a tabletop sweetener (it's available in health food stores), be cautious and don't over do it. While a little won't harm your health, experts are concerned about potential health problems if stevia was widely consumed by millions of people in sugar free commercial foods and beverages.
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