Newswise — Just how bad is the standard American diet these days? In September, the financial services group Credit Suisse released a detailed report on the dietary impact of sugar and sweeteners, which are an ever-growing part of what U.S. residents eat. Not surprisingly, it included some sobering statistics. In 1981, U.S. calorie consumption averaged 3,200 per day; in 2012, that number was 3,900 per day. Their original research also demonstrates that 96 percent of physicians in the U.S. point to the increased use of sugar in food and drinks as a major factor behind the rise of caloric intake and our obesity and Type 2 diabetes epidemics.
What can be done to counteract this destructive trend? The search for viable alternatives is gathering steam. For example, the Credit Suisse study notes that stevia—an all-natural alternative to sugar and high-fructose corn syrup—is one increasingly popular alternative. Major beverage companies in particular are rapidly adopting stevia, and Coca-Cola has recently launched their first stevia cola drink, Coke Life, in Argentina that is sweetened with stevia and has half the calories of the original. Many further initiatives—involving stevia and other sugar alternatives—are underway.
Grown primarily in Paraguay, Brazil and China, the stevia plant is grown for its sweet leaves. In fact, the extract of the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana—one of many stevia species—is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar, but does not promote tooth decay. Stevia has been consumed for decades as a sweetener in Japan, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of stevia extract as a food additive in 2008.
In addition to its sweetness, stevia has no calories or carbohydrates, giving it no glycemic load and making it a favorite option among those with diabetes. Studies have also indicated that stevia may even have direct medicinal effects. These preliminary studies have shown that stevia may be used to lower or stabilize blood sugar levels; that it can raise “good” cholesterol levels and reduce “bad” cholesterol levels in the human body; and that it may help to lower high blood pressure.
Another benefit of stevia—one that distinguishes it from some other alternatives to sugar—is its ability to remain stable under high temperatures. As a result, it can be used to cook and sweeten a wide range of products including coffee, tea, oatmeal, cakes, jelly, bread and chocolate.
Inspired by stevia’s demonstrated benefits, Stevia First Corp., an agricultural biotechnology company based in Yuba City, Calif., is focusing on modern stevia production. Company co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Robert Brooke has an ambitious goal: creating a first-of-its-kind stevia enterprise in North America, drawing on the expertise of U.S. researchers and growers in California’s Central Valley.
Stevia First’s target audience includes multinational food and beverage companies that foresee the future and want the better-tasting, healthier sugar-free products. By enabling healthier products that are built for the mass market, Stevia First aims to help prevent calorie overconsumption and the obesity and diabetes it triggers.