Stevia in Baby Foods – Substitutes for Sugar?

ALERT!  This post applies ONLY to sugar in teething biscuits, bread sticks, First Birthday Cakes and other non-meal type foods!  Sugar (and salt) should never be used in your baby’s every day meal foods.  There is no need to sweeten up baby’s applesauce for example!

Arianna wrote to us tonight to ask about using Stevia as a sugar substitute in our website’s teething biscuit recipes page  Stevia is a natural herbal sweetener and it is a member of the Chrysanthemum family.   The National Institutes of Health Clinical Center  (The Clinical Center is home to the National Institutes of Health intramural clinical research program. Located on the NIH Bethesda, Maryland campus, the Clinical Center complex is where clinical biomedical research occurs)     notes that Stevia is a 

“Sweet Leaf of Paraguay (Stevia rebaudiana), extracts from which provide a food sweetener 300 times sweeter than sugar. In Brazilian herbal medicine, stevia is used as a tonic for diabetes, hypertension, and high blood pressure—uses that the Botanic Garden says have been validated in American clinical studies. Danish researchers have demonstrated that stevia may prove useful in the treatment of diabetes.”

The above information was published in 2004 and it’s a bit strange to find the NIH actually “supporting” stevia when the FDA is continuing to try to ban it! More on that later!

At this time, Stevia is not FDA approved for any use as a food additive and as late as Sept. of 2007, the Hain Celestial Group was sent a warning from the FDA to remove stevia  from a few of it’s drinks!  The FDA stated in it’s letter “that although it has received requests to use stevia in food, “data and information necessary to support the safe use have been lacking.”   If you delve a bit into the Stevia vs. FDA issue, you will find few studies of credibility indicating stevia is dangerous and deserving of a ban.  However, there are studies that have indicated possible carcinogenic, teratologic and mutogenic affects of stevia and steviosides.  It’s interesting to note that some indegineous people of Paraguay use stevia leaves (eaten or made into a drink) as a contraception – this would seem to indicate some sort of fertility issue with consuming stevis……but again, I digress…………………

All cultures that use stevia do not use it as the US would if it were approved.  Using stevia as a sweetener in the sweet foods and drinks that are copiously consumed in the US might have dangerous implications.  Societies that use stevia use it in small quanties in foods that are not consumed on a daily basis or in copious amounts.  

It is plausible that using stevia (which is MUCH cheaper than aspartame or sucralose) in sodas for example could cause negative health issues!  So, stevia is sold in the US as a “dietary supplement” and not as an approved food additive or approved supplement.  This label of “dietary supplement” is kinda like a caveat emptor – buyer beware;  if you get sick from stevia or if you get cancer from stevia, we’re not responsible because the FDA has termed it a dietary supplement.

Ok, I’m getting to the point!  I’d not recommend using aspartame, sucralose or sacchrine as a substitute in teething biscuit recipes for babies.   I would not therefore recommend using stevia either.  There are many herbs that should not be offered to infants due to side effects and since the information about stevia is so sketchy and surrounded in controversy, I’d err on the side of caution.  Skip the sugar if you want or read our Sugar Substitutes for Baby Foods page and learn about Agave, Brown Rice Syrup or Maple Syrup.  In the end, when a 1/2 cup of sugar is called for in a teething biscuit recipe and your baby eats a small crumb of the biscuit,  I find it better to use natural organic, unbleached, pressed granulated cane sugar!  You should try it in all your recipes that call for sugar when you can’t use a syrup!

WHO Stevia Study  Very Interesting!