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On nutrition: Is stevia OK, and can supplement help diabetics?

Thank you, readers, for your comments and questions. Here are a few that caught my attention:

Angie D. writes: “I was reading your article (on) sweeteners and have a question about stevia. I am wondering about the safety and use of this product. Most folks think it is great as it is a natural product, but I wonder about how it metabolizes in the body. Please tell me what you can.”

Dear Angie, Stevia (brand names include Truvia®, PureVia® and Enliten®) is made from compounds extracted and purified from the leaves of a South American plant species, Stevia rebuadiana. It was approved for use as a high-intensity sweetener (because it’s 200 to 400 times sweeter than sugar) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2008. Interestingly, this approval is only for highly purified stevia due to concerns about the safety of more crude extracts.

Studies have shown that steviol glycosides – the main ingredients in purified stevia sweeteners – are broken down in the digestive tract and then rapidly eliminated from the body. Thus, they do not accumulate in the body. Several regulatory agencies around the world, including the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) have determined that high-purity stevia extract is safe for consumption at recommended levels by the general population, including children.

Michael Q. writes: “Hello, Barbara, I recently read your article on dietary supplements. I would like your opinion on a product I’ve been using for almost a year now. I am a type 2 diabetic on insulin. I read about a product called Zuccarin Diet that claimed to lower blood sugar levels, as well as helping to lose weight. Have you had any experience/feedback with this supplement? I welcome any response from you.”

Hi, Michael, I am not familiar with this product. It is not listed on the Dietary Supplement Label Database (www.dsld.nlm.nih.gov) nor are its main ingredients listed by the Office of Dietary Supplements (www.ods.od.nih.gov).

I did find the ingredients in this supplement listed by the manufacturer, however. It is primarily cellulose (a plant fiber) and di-calcium phosphate (a filler). It also contains mulberry leaf extract and chromium picolinate, along with anti-caking and coating agents.

Mulberry leaf extract has been shown in some small studies of people with diabetes to help reduce the rise in blood sugar after meals. In these studies, it worked best when taken with meals.

Chromium is a trace mineral that helps promote the action of insulin – a hormone that helps control blood sugar levels. However, most studies report that chromium supplements are not helpful for people with diabetes unless the person has a deficiency of this nutrient. In other words, taking extra chromium if you already get enough in your food will not add more benefit to your blood sugar control.

Thanks for writing!

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to barbara@quinnessentialnutrition.com).

 

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