Imagine being able to eat your favourite sweet products without having to worry about the added calories? Well you will be pleased to know that more and more this is becoming the case thanks to Stevia*! Stevia is a naturally sourced, zero calorie sustainable sweetening ingredient which can be (and is) used in food and beverages that has been used around the globe for many centuries.
About Stevia Farming
The Stevia plant is native to South America and from the sunflower family, growing up to 1.2 meters. Compared to other naturally sourced sweet ingredients Stevia requires less water, land and energy. Farming Stevia has provided a stable source of income for those in Paraquay. In Kenya a third of the Stevia farmers are women, with the extra money made usually going to fund a child’s education. These farmers may have previously been growing tobacco or sugar canes which are not required as much anymore. Other places where Stevia is more significantly cultivated include China and the United States, but also many other parts of the world, including Vietnam, Brazil, India and Colombia. There is even help with start-up costs and free cuttings to help with the low germination rate, and there is never any competition with local food crops. Everything is monitored (such as the organic fertilisers) and it is fully traceable. As so much of the stevia leaf is used and it is a naturally growing product there is zero landfill waste.
Stevia the Taste
It is all very well me telling you that a product is just as sweet but without the calories that it is ethically sourced and sustainable, but let’s be honest without any dietary restrictions our purchasing is a lifestyle choice, which we make mainly based on taste. I was invited along with some others to find out more about stevia with experts at Pure Circle (who are the world’s leading producer of high purity stevia). First they explained about how different people’s lifestyle choices gave them different needs in their diets (due to whether there was a problem with obesity, what the levels of fitness were like, their work and transport situations), and how even different climates could adjust individual tastes. Stevia is sweeter than sugar so also costs less to transport, with each leaf having 40 tastes. You may have already tried stevia as it may be found in thousands of food and beverages around the world (including tea, soft drinks, juices, yogurt, soymilk, granola, snack bars, baked goods, ketchup, cereals, salad dressings, alcoholic beverages, chewing gum, canned fruit and jam and as a table top sweetener).
We got to taste for ourselves how sweet it is (you can eat the leaves), and compared it with sugar. It was clear to see that even in a small sample we all had different tastes. I could see how the different extracts of the leaf would suit different products for taste.
Coca-Cola and Stevia
The first big move in the UK to use Stevia was by Coca-Cola who were one of the first companies to sign up to the Public Health Responsibility Deal. They introduced stevia in Sprite in April 2013 – replacing 30% of the sugar. Since then they have reduced sugar and calories in Dr.Pepper, Fanta Orange, Fanta Fruit twist, Oasis, Lilt and glaceau vitaminwater by more than 30%. They also launched Coca-Cola Life which has 37% less sugar and calories in it than regular Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola are all about choices and encourage their customers to enjoy Coca-Cola responsibly as part of an active, balanced lifestyle. 2015 sees the four Coca-Cola brands uniting as one brand with four variants: Regular Coca-Cola (42 calories per 100 ml), Coca-Cola Life (27 calories per 100ml), Coca-Cola Zero (less than 1 calorie per 100ml) and Diet Coke (Less than 1 calorie per 100ml). I took part in a blind taste test to see if I could tell the difference between the four variants of Coca-Cola products with and without stevia in (Regular, Diet, Zero and Life). I have to say I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was unable to tell the difference between Regular Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Life. However, I was surprised to see that I really did not like Coke Zero which I had previously enjoyed!
Coca-Cola actually have a lot of commitments in helping people with their lifestyle choices. They invest n community projects, including bringing ParkLives to 10 major cities and 20 towns by 2020. These are fun free family activities in the heart of communities. Coca Cola Great Britain was a founding partner of Special Olympics Great Britain, and since 1978 have been helping to raise awareness of the charity and its work to support people with an intellectual disability to have fun, keep fit and build friendships through sport. 165 thousand young people from disadvantaged communities have had access to sport on their doorstep through StreetGames
Coca-Cola the Future
Coca-Cola are committed to helping people chose better lifestyles, planning on having 50% of the cola they sell to have lower or no calories by 2020. Coca Cola will continue to reduce the number of calories per litre in drinks by a further 5% across their range by 2025. They have already started to offer smaller bottles/cans of their drinks. 2015 sees the launch of their vitamin water with zero calories and sugar, and this summer sees the return of Coca-Cola Zero to all McDonald’s restaurants, bringing a no sugar, no calorie option to the 3.8 million customers McDonald’s serves every day. By the end of 2015 there will be new colour-coded labels on all of their drinks (except waters) which show the amount of fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar and calories in each of the products.
* Stevia has been determined to be safe for consumption by all the major global regulatory organisations, including the Food and Agricultural Organisation/World Health Organisation’s Joint Expert Committee on Food Additive (JECFA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). Like all other sweeteners it is safe for children and pregnant women. There is no known risk of allergies.
I was invited to find out more about Stevia from Pure Circle and Coca-Cola but was under no obligation to write anything about it at all. I was given a stevia plant of my own to grow and have called it Evia – check out my Instagram to see how she survives!
Words and opinions are my own apart from factual information which was supplied.