It’s not often that the Food and Drug Administration gives the OK to a new sugar substitute; over the past several decades, only five have been granted the “generally recognized as safe” status, including aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), and saccharin (Sweet'N Low).

A new proposal, however, has been submitted for the first all-natural sugar replacement to be approved as a food additive in the United States. Coca-Cola and Cargill have teamed up to create Truvia (pronounced tru-VEE-a), a zero-calorie sweetener made from leaves of the stevia plant. If the FDA clears it, as expected, you'll begin to see new products containing the Truvia logo—and flavor—beginning this fall. Thanks to a regulatory loophole (keep reading), you can even order it now online at Truvia.com.

Truvia (also known as rebiana) is made by taking the best leaves of the stevia plant, drying and soaking them, and then isolating the active compound. The stevia plant, which grows naturally in South America, has been used as a sugar substitute since the early 1900s and has recently been sold commercially in several countries. Since stevia products have not been approved as food additives in the United States, they have not been incorporated into any processed foods and can only be sold as dietary supplements, which aren't regulated by the FDA. In grocery stores they're often found in the vitamin aisle.

For me, this is big news: I have a well-known love affair with Splenda and I have tried just about every sugar substitute on the market. My previous experience with stevia-based sweeteners was, um, less than sweet. I found that they had an off flavor and didn't dissolve in my tea the way sugar does. They certainly didn't have the clean, enjoyable taste of sugar or Splenda. So I was eager to try out Truvia to see if it really is new and improved.

After I stirred one packet of Truvia tabletop sweetener into my tea (as I would Splenda), I was pleasantly surprised at how clean and sweet my drink tasted. It wasn't the Splenda flavor I'm used to, but it also didn’t have much of a distinguishable aftertaste—a problem I've had with pretty much every other sweetener I've tried. I'm betting the slight aftertaste I did detect is due to erythritol, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol.

Here’s what other two other Health.com staffers had to say about the Truvia samples we recently tried:

It has a texture similar to sugar, and has a similar sweetness. It’s not harshly or chemically sweet, though it has a bit of bitterness and a fairly strong vanilla-like aftertaste, and you’re left with a vague, lingering sensation of having tasted something sweet that wasn’t quite sugar.
—Scott Mowbray, editorial director

It was less sweet than Splenda, but still had a not-real-sugar taste. It practically dissolved in my mouth—very light.
—Mara Betsch, editorial assistant

Not so sweet news
The bitter news about sugar substitutes is that they aren’t a guarantee for weight loss. Some people who use them may unconsciously eat and drink more just because they are sweetened with sugar subs, and sugar subs don’t help break a sweet tooth. Also, preliminary animal studies suggest that when the taste of sweetener isn't supplying the body with calories, sweeteners may trip up our body’s internal mechanisms to control hunger and satiety.

Bottom line
If you have an insatiable sweet tooth, better to satisfy it with fresh and dried fruit before using intense sugar substitutes—natural or unnatural ones. If you drink soda, switching to calorie-free is a great option, and if you normally add one to two teaspoons of sugar to your coffee or tea, a switch to a sugar sub is ideal. If you want a different sugar substitute, go ahead and give Truvia a try.

By Julie Upton, RD

(PHOTO: TRUVIA.COM)