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Stevia, a sweet superfood with a biotech risk

The review of superfoods destined to feed populations increasingly attentive to the link between diet and health (of necessity a virtue) cannot fail to consider the stevia. The first among the Non-Nutritive Sweeteners (NNS) to derive from a plant, rather than from chemical synthesis. (1) At least as long as the industry Biotech it won't take over.

Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, the plant and its properties

La Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni it is a herbaceous-shrub plant perennial (semi-perennial, in cold climates) of the Asteraceae family. Native to Paraguay and also widespread in Brazil, Argentina and South America, it has been cultivated and consumed for decades in Thailand, China, Japan, Korea and Israel. From this year also in Italian - in the provinces of Agrigento and Trapani, thanks to the initiative of the agronomist Massimo Somaschini, founder of ItalStevia.

The sweet herb - as it is called by the Guarani tribes, the first to use it - it is known for some healing properties. Some studies refer to anti-inflammatory and immunostimulating properties, (2), others to the long-term (1-2 years) ability to contribute to blood pressure in hypertensive individuals. (3) Still others with antioxidant, antitumor, diuretic, antimicrobial and anti-plaque properties, .. (4)

Consumption of stevia It was also associated with lower blood glucose and insulin concentrations, compared to both placebo and sucrose. Conversely, several studies show a relationship between the contribution of others Non-Nutritive Sweeteners (NNS) and disorders as well as metabolic diseases. (5)

Stevia and steviol glycosides, sweetener of natural origin

The active ingredients of the plant (Stevioside e rebaudioside A) are particularly concentrated in the leaves which, when dried, have a sweetening power from 150 to 250 times higher than sugar (sucrose), without however providing energy value (zero Calories).

Unlike some synthetic sweeteners (e.g. aspartame), the active ingredients of stevia are stable over time and at high temperatures (200 'C). And above all, the extracts of the plant do not present the serious health risks already detected on artificial sweeteners (see, lastly, what is noted in acesulfame-K and memory damage).

Stevia and synthetic biology, risks and opportunities

The dark side of the coin, as often happens, is represented by the 'gold rush' by unscrupulous industrial giants. Which - Evolva (CH), Stevia First (USA) and DSM (NL), in the lead - are already trying to produce steviol glycosides through synthetic biology, (6) instead of extracting them from the leaves of the plant. In consideration of this, we can see:

  • the risk, on the one hand, that consumers are misled as to the natural origin of the ingredient, due to the exceptions to the rules provided for GMOs which Europe is preparing to concede to the 'new GMOs'. Neither Coca-Cola nor PepsiCo have indeed answered the question whether they plan to use synthetic steviol glycosides, or if they intend to inform consumers about it, (7)

  • the opportunity, on the other hand, to develop integrated stevia cultivation and processing chains, also in Europe, to meet the growing demand for sweet superfoods natural, possibly organic.

Dario Dongo

Notes

  1. Even the polyols, on closer inspection, have a natural derivation. Polyvalent sugar alcohols (sugar alcohols, polyols) are in fact digestible carbohydrates found naturally in fruit and vegetables, cereals, mushrooms. The most commonly used polyols in food products are sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol, mannitol, erythritol, isomalt and lactitol. However, since the sweetness of polyols varies on average between 25% and 100% of sugar, they are generally used in combination with other sweeteners to achieve the desired flavor and level of sweetness. Polyols are classified as bulk sweeteners and are distinguished from NNS both for their energy intake (10kJ / g -2,4 kcal / g is the conversion coefficient indicated in Annex XIV at reg. EU 1169/11), both for the lower sweetening efficacy

  2. V. Chaiwat Boonkaewwan, Chaivat Toskulkao and Molvibha Vongsakul, on Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2006, https://doi.org/10.1021/jf0523465

  3. See Ulbricht C, et al., Su Cardiovasc Hematol Agents Med Chem, 2010, https://doi.org/10.2174/187152510791170960

  4. See Singh, SD & Rao, GP, su Sugar tech (2005) 7: 17. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02942413. See also S Jayaraman, MS Manoharan, S Illanchezian, In-vitro Antimicrobial and Antitumor Activities of Stevia Rebaudiana (Asteraceae) Leaf Extracts, its Tropical Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, 2008, http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/tjpr.v7i4.14700, Varanuj Chatsudthipong and Chatchai Muanprasat, Stevioside and related compounds: Therapeutic benefits beyond sweetness, its Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 2009, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pharmthera.2008.09.007 e http://www.ijapbc.com/files/18-1322.pdf

  1. V. Romo-Romo A, Aguilar-Salinas CA, Brito-Córdova GX, Gómez Díaz RA, Vilchis Valentín D, Almeda-Valdes P (2016) Effects of the Non-Nutritive Sweeteners on Glucose Metabolism and Appetite Regulating Hormones: Systematic Review of Observational Prospective Studies and Clinical Trials. PLoS ONE 11 (8): e0161264. doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0161264

  2. For further information on synthetic biology and its new frontiers, please refer to our free eBook GMO the Big Scam, its https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/libri/ogm-la-grande-truffa

  3. Valuable considerations on the rights of small farmers of Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni in Latin America and on the threat to biodiversity posed by synthetic biology are available in the report by The Berne Declaration et al., Stevia-derived sweeteners violated indigenous rights, Switzerland, 2015, on https://intercontinentalcry.org/stevia-derived-sweeteners-violate-indigenous-rights/

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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