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The Other Side of the Stevia Debate
There are two sides to every argument—and this one says stevia is safe for your customers.
Questions raised about stevia safety
photo: Ethel Aardvark

Before making a decision about the safety of any ingredient, it’s best to consider all the available evidence. With that in mind, QSR reached out to John A. Thomas, Ph.D., D.A.T.S., F.A.C.T., a professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology at Indiana University School of Medicine. Thomas has studied the natural sweetener, stevia, along with high-intensity artificial sweeteners.

Thomas’ take on stevia is in direct contrast to Curtis Eckhert’s, which we detailed in “Is Stevia Safe”.

You believe stevia is safe for human consumption. Why?

Recent studies on Reb A [rebaudioside A] using not only state-of-the-science experimental designs but equally important using  'pure' preparations have concluded that Reb A is safe for human consumption.  Some earlier studies indicated that 'crude' extracts might be genotoxic in some (but not all) experimental studies.  These earlier tests failed to use a “pure” preparation of Reb A.

Should restaurants and retailers feel comfortable serving stevia-infused beverages to their customers?

Reb A is unequivocally safe for consumption.  Extensive new testing under [good laboratory practice], further examination of the sweetener's metabolism, and clinical data has now been published in at least 250 published peer-reviewed studies on Reb A and related compounds, and it has been declared safe in at least the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRS) submissions and by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).

It is your assertion that the studies Dr. Eckert reviewed were flawed, which resulted in his conclusion regarding the safety of stevia being flawed. How were those studies flawed and how have current studies corrected those issues?

In brief, the earlier studies on Reb A failed to use “purified” test materials and in some selected in vitro genotoxic assays were reported as positive.  

The Food and Drug Administration has approved stevia as a "supplement" versus a "sweetener"? Is this cause for pause?

In my opinion it should make no difference now that Reb A has been deemed safe by the FDA, three separate expert Panels, by JECFA, and by several other regulatory reviews by agencies in many countries.

Sherri Daye Scott is QSR’s editor.