Stevia Becomes Truvia

Patient Expert

Today we know the name of a previously unheard of sweetener, named Truvia. It's pronounced Tru-VEE-a and promises to have a pronounced effect on the choice of sweeteners that many people use.

It's non-caloric and natural. It will be big because the big boys, Cargill and The Coca-Cola Company, are behind it. It's especially big news for people who want to lose weight, like most people with diabetes.

Truvia is the brand name of the extract rebiana from the stevia plant that these companies launched in a Webinar this morning.

I never heard of Truvia before today. But I knew it was coming. In my new book, Losing Weight with Your Diabetes Medication: How Byetta and Other Drugs Can Help You Lose More Weight than You Ever Thought Possible (New York: Perseus Books, February 2008), I wrote about the stevia extract, called rebiana, that these companies have been developing for the past four years.

"It's hard to determine the advantages and disadvantages of the natural stevia, which is essentially untested, against the artificial Splenda, which has been tested," I wrote in the book. "But a tested and FDA-approved form of stevia may be coming. It's called rebiana. Coca-Cola and Cargill are working together to develop a refined formulation of stevia. Already, Coke has filed two dozen patent applications for it."

An article on the FDA's website explains stevia's strange status an a dietary supplement -- but not a food additive. "Stevia is derived from a South American shrub," the article says. "Though it can impart a sweet taste to foods, it cannot be sold as a sweetener because FDA considers it an unapproved food additive. 'The safety of stevia has been questioned by published studies,' says Martha Peiperl, a consumer safety officer in FDA's Office of Premarket Approval. "And no one has ever provided FDA with adequate evidence that the substance is safe.' Under provisions of 1994 legislation, however, stevia can be sold as a 'dietary supplement,' though it cannot be promoted as a sweetener."

Cargill and Coca-Cola promise to change all that. This morning's Webinar announced the completion of Truvia safety studies e-published today in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, (although I have not yet been able to obtain the studies).

Update May 16, 2008: The journal just sent me the 12 studies of rebiana that it has accepted for publication. They will total about 200 pages when they eventually appear in print form. Each of the studies that I looked at show the authors either work for or consult for one of the companies. I had expected that. But what I did not expect was that the journal accepted the studies almost immediately upon submission. So, although Food and Chemical Toxicology is a peer-reviewed journal, it doesn't look to me as if any peers actually reviewed these studies.

One of the speakers said that these studies are randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind. These are the highest scientific standards, according to Dr. Steven Bratman's article, "Double-Blind Studies," on my website. The Truvia studies included people with type 2 diabetes. They determined that Truvia doesn't affect our blood glucose control. This counters a single-dose study in 2004, which suggested that stevioside, a closely-related component of stevia, reduced blood glucose levels of people with type 2 diabetes. For most people with diabetes I think this is going to be menu-changing. But not for me.

Later, however, I stopped using any sweeteners, whether or not they have any calories. That's because some research indicates that even non-caloric sweeteners can raise our levels of circulating insulin. That makes us hungry, leading us to eat more, something that I really don't need. Cargill and Coca-Cola say that they submitted the Truvia studies to the FDA today for approval and hope to start marketing Truvia this year. They have set up Truvia and rebiana websites with much more information. If like the great majority of people with diabetes who still use any sweetener, Truvia could be in your future.

Read more of David's posts on artificial sweeteners and diabetes:

Splenda or Stevia?