Natural Sweetener Stevia Makes a Gutsy Comeback

Good news for consumers seeking healthy sugar substitutes! ARS scientists with the Dairy and Functional Foods Unit in Wyndmoor, PA, have made an exciting discovery, finding that the popular natural sugar substitute stevia had no negative effect on human gut health.  

Derived from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, a plant species native to Brazil and Paraguay, stevia is a natural, non-nutritive (zero-calorie) sweetener that tastes several hundred times sweeter than sugar.  These qualities have made stevia one of the most widely used sugar substitutes across the globe, including in Japan, the European Union, and South America. 

Despite stevia’s international popularity, however, its legal and commercial status in the United States has been somewhat overshadowed by concerns about its potential impacts on the human body. This is partly due to the relatively limited research available; few studies have especially investigated the impact of stevia on gut microbiota, explained ARS research molecular biologist Karley Mahalak.

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