Why is Stevia Good For You? A Natural, Zero Calorie Sweetener

Stevia, Dried and PowderedAs obesity has reached epidemic proportions all around the world, people have started turning away from sugar.

To replace the sweet flavor, many have turned to artificial sweeteners that are made in a lab.

However, there is a natural option available that has become very popular in the past few years and decades.

It is called Stevia.

Stevia is a Natural, Zero Calorie Sweetener

In South America, a shrub called Stevia Rebaudiana has been used as a sweetener and medicinal herb for centuries.

Sweeteners derived from the plant are either extracts of the leaves or some of the isolated sweet compounds.

The most potent sweet compounds in the Stevia leaf are called Stevioside and Rebaudioside A and they are both many hundred times sweeter than sugar.

Stevia tends to have a bitter after taste. Rebaudioside A has the least bitterness and is therefore most popular for commercial Stevia based sweeteners.

Bottom Line: Stevia is a natural sweetener with no calories. The most common Stevia-derived sweeteners are called Stevioside and Rebaudioside A.

Stevia May Reduce Blood Pressure

Stevia Leaves

If you have elevated blood pressure (hypertension), there is evidence that Stevia may be of significant benefit.

In a study of 106 Chinese subjects taking placebo or 750mg Stevioside per day (1):

  • Systolic blood pressure went from 166 to 153 – a 8% decrease.
  • Diastolic blood pressure went from 105 to 90 – a 14% decrease.

In another study, this time with 174 Chinese individuals taking placebo or 1500mg Stevioside per day (2):

  • Systolic blood pressure went from 150 to 140 – a 7% decrease.
  • Diastolic blood pressure went from 95 to 89 – a 6% decrease.

In the second study, there was also a much lower incidence of Left Ventricular Hypertrophy in the Stevia group, which is a thickening of the heart and one of the consequences of high blood pressure.

Three other studies showed no effect, one in people with mild hypertension and two others in people with either normal or low blood pressure (3, 4, 5).

Bottom Line: Stevia appears to lower blood pressure in humans, but only when it is already elevated.

Stevia Can Improve Glycemic Control in Diabetics

Measure Blood Sugar

In diabetic rats, Stevia has beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity and may even help the beta cells of the pancreas release additional insulin (6, 7).

In humans, a cross-over study comparing 1g of Stevioside to 1g of Maize Starch showed that the Stevia group had 18% lower blood glucose levels after a meal (8).

Another study comparing sucrose, aspartame and Stevia revealed that Stevia reduced both blood glucose and insulin after a meal compared to the other two sweeteners (9).

Bottom Line: Stevia may be helpful for glycemic control in diabetics, but this definitely needs more research in order to make any recommendations.

Stevia Has Health Benefits in Animals

Mouse

Most of the studies on the health effects of Stevia were done on rats.

In these studies, Stevia had anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrheal, anti-tumor, diuretic and immunomodulatory effects (10).

In rats, stevioside has also been shown to increase HDL cholesterol, lower oxidized LDL, reduce plaque in the arteries and improve insulin sensitivity (11, 12).

Bottom Line: Multiple studies in rats show health benefits for Stevia.

Stevia Appears to be Safe in Humans

Doctor Pointing His Finger

Stevia has an outstanding safety profile in both humans and animals.

There were some studies done many years ago that showed harmful effects in lab animals, but they used ridiculously high dosages and this probably has no relevance to regular human consumption.

Whether this zero calorie sweetener will be associated with weight gain like the artificial sweeteners (in the context of a Western diet) hasn’t been answered yet.

Take Home Message

If you want to sweeten something, Stevia is your best choice by far.

The taste can vary greatly between brands, so you may want to try different brands until you find something that works for you.

44 Comments

  1. Stevia makes me extremely dizzy. I’m wondering why there is so much emphasis on Stevia when coconut sugar also seems to be a very good alternative without the side effects or bitterness.

    • While coconut sugar is low in fructose, it is not low in sucrose. The number of calories in coconut sugar is very close to that of regular table sugar. Also, much of the coconut sugar commonly sold is impure and contains fillers.

      • You do know that sucrose is made of 50/50 fructose glucose right? So it cant be low in fructose but high in sucrose. It would have to just be high in sugars over all. In which case it doesn’t matter because fructose is the real bad guy and eating lots of it is generally frowned upon.

        Erythritol is safe and low calorie with very little to no after taste. The studies listed don’t have enough subjects to be considered valid in the US which requires a minimum of 200, usually much more than that.

        My concern is the fact that there is a potential health risk mentioned but no study listed. This makes me dubious to the claim that a “ridiculous” dose is required for negative side effects. I would say this particular article is slanted in favor of stevia and is not objective enough to be taken at face value.

  2. I was using Stevia every day, drops, probably 10 drops in a cup of herbal tea 3- 5 times a day and I ended up having a bad reaction in my eyes one day in late summer when my son was mowing grass with the riding lawnmower and I had the windows open. Stevia is related to ragweed. I’ve NEVER had ragweed allergies before. I stopped the stevia and haven’t had a reaction. I’ll stick to honey and we even use small amounts of white sugar, we just make sure to have lots of protein and fat with it to bring down the effect of blood sugar being raised.

  3. Susan,

    I’ve no idea where you got the idea that stevia is in the same family – or even genus – as ragweed, it certainly isn’t! They’re in the same ORDER, certainly but, that’s not close enough for an allergy to one to predispose you to an allergy to the other (nor would exposure to one – and a reaction to it – cause you to have a reaction to the other).

    Honey is no better than sugar when it comes to raising blood sugar (forget all the GI/GL nonsense – I hope you don’t believe agave to be ‘healthy’ too…).

    I believe your reaction to be no more than coincidence…

    Lexi – strange… I’ve done a bit of research on the side-effects of stevia, but I’ve come up rather dry. You 100% certain it’s the stevia…? Dizziness can be a symptom of so many things (I’m anaemic, and I know it’s definitely a symptom of anaemia). What’s your blood pressure like…? I know I’m suffering from hypotension (another symptom of anaemia). I’m NOT dismissing the fact it COULD be the stevia, I’m just sceptical… I’d look for another culprit, if I was you…

    • Actually people with ragweed allergies ARE at a higher risk of being allergic to stevia. I am and found this out through my doctor. But you don’t have to go to the doctor to find this out. You can find good info on this with a simple “Google” search. I suspect Susan knows her body better than you do, as well as her research.

  4. JgonzaleZ says:

    I replaced Splenda with Stevia about a year ago and I haven’t noticed any side effects nor bitterness.

  5. I get so confused with all the literature on this. One that says we should not eat artificially sweetened things as it fools our brain into overproducing insulin which then has its own side effects, including feelings of hunger. I have switched to stevia but am skeptical about sweetening anything. Oh my taste buds!

  6. The Paleo Mom has done some extensive research on Stevia and urges caution. Have you read her perspective? http://www.thepaleomom.com/2013/03/teaser-excerpt-from-the-paleo-approach-the-trouble-with-stevia.html

    • Haven’t read her perspective until now, no.

      She certainly did a good job of cherry picking animal studies showing harmful effects at doses that have no relevance to human consumption.

      Plenty of other studies, including in humans, show no adverse effects.

      • Hi Kris,

        I have recently learned of Stevia and purchased two plants to see if it will reduce high blood pressure. How many leaves per day would be required?

  7. Nice article Kris. I agree that Stevia seems to be the most natural and “healthiest” choice for sweeteners. The reason I use quotation marks is because the process for converting the stevia leaf into stevia powder on the shelf is “natural” – depends on what your take on natural is.

    To me natural would be putting the leaf in your tea like the South Americans do.

    Plus then of course whether tricking the brain with high concentrations of sweetener affects calorie consumption is another can of worms altogether.
    But if you’re diabetic and sugar is off the table, then by all means stevia.

  8. I’ve used Stevia over two years and have had no side effects either.

    Btw, the “rat” in your picture is actually a mouse.

  9. I have tried Stevia tablets in tea/coffee and have found them to taste salty and a bit like liquorish. Perhaps this is just me and my individual taste buds.

    I came across this website which says that too much Stevia can be bad for one!

    http://www.livestrong.com/article/99571-dangers-stevia-raw/

    What do you think?

    • “There were some studies done many years ago that showed harmful effects in lab animals, but they used ridiculously high dosages and this probably has no relevance to regular human consumption.”

      There are plenty of higher quality studies in both animals and humans that show an outstanding safety profile.

      “Too much” can be bad for you, possibly. But no one is eating Stevia by the spoonful, it is a highly potent sweetener and you just need a very tiny amount of it.

  10. Susan, I found information about the side effects here. http://www.livestrong.com/article/34149-effects-stevia-body/

    I have tried Stevia on two separate occasions with the same result. Many other sources site that it may cause unsafe drops in blood pressure, which could be a possible explanation for the dizziness. It just doesn’t work for me, but if it works for you, great!

    However, I do agree with the general sentiments of the discussion: all sweeteners should be used very sparingly no matter the sweetener of your choice. And thanks to Kris for another informative article.

  11. I have been using Stevia for the past ten years, almost daily… I feel great, and do not miss sugar at all. I recommend Stevia to everyone, however if you do feel side affects such as dizziness, etc then I recommend you stop using it.

  12. You mentioned that we try the different brands of Stevia to find the taste we like the best. What are some of the other Stevia brand products? I’m trying to find one that doesn’t have the strong after taste. Thanks Kris for another great article.

  13. I read right on the box that this product should not be used if you have high blood pressure. Then, when reading the article and comments above its stated that stevia actually COULD help LOWER blood pressure. So whats the deal?

    Medical interaction or the classical, since you use medication to lower blood pressure using stevia might lower it too much? I have High blood pressure and do use medication to lower it so can I use this stuff or not?

    Any pertinent comments will be apreciated.

    Ty

    • I don’t think there’s anything to worry about, you’d have to eat quite a lot of Stevia for it to have any substantial effect on your blood pressure.

      If you’re concerned, talk to your doctor.

  14. I have heard that people using Agave nectar as part of weight loss programmes have experienced increased sugar cravings (presumably these people had a high insulin sensitivity to begin with). Is there any danger of Stevia having a similar effect?

  15. Philippa says:

    How does xylitol, derived from Birch, compare with stevia?

    I know one of the main plus points of stevia is that it is sweet without actually being a sugar – is xylitol similar?

    • Xylitol has calories in it, Stevia does not.

      I wouldn’t call them similar, although they’re both used to replace sugar. Xylitol has about 33% fewer calories than sugar. Haven’t done any research on it though.

  16. Hi Kris,

    The “symptoms or side effects” can perhaps be attributed to stevia which is not pure. I have known the following for a while now but have gone back to wiki and cut and paste for your readers. I hope this helps. Further shame on Coca-Cola and Pepsi… too sad!!!! Buyer beware!!! Check all supposed brands for purity.

    Stevia Leaf Powder. There are no additional ingredients. Stevia Leaf Powder is a fine powder (mesh 80) made from whole leaf.

    Avoid Truvia, manufactured by Coca-Cola…???, contains erythritol and rebiana. Rebiana is the trade name for high-purity rebaudioside A, a Steviol glycoside which when used as a non-nutritive sweetener is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is the primary source of sweetness in the Truvia sweetener brand. According to the Truvia website, Rebiana is derived from Stevia leaves by steeping them in water. Cargill has filed patents which give it exclusive rights to sell Rebiana in beverages.

    PureVia (by Pepsico…????) is a blend of several different ingredients. It contains dextrose, cellulose powder, natural flavors as well as the stevia extract rebaudioside A….even worse

  17. Hello, I was wondering if any of you know anything about erythritol?

    I’ve looked it up and sounds too good to be true…

  18. Steven Wilson says:

    Hi Kris,
    It is getting to the stage where I can’t drink fizzy drinks at all due to the unusual (horrible) taste I get from them. Even proper Coke has the same taste that diets drinks and 7-Up or Pepsi Max have. I even noticed it in a chewy candy gum the other day.

    Could this be down to Stevia? I only found out the name when I went onto Coca Cola’s website. Although they don’t mention the use of artificial sweetners in their “full fat” (non-diet) drinks I think I can taste them.

    • I’m not sure what you mean. I don’t think these drinks you mentioned contain any Stevia.

      • Steven Wilson says:

        I thought the strange taste was from the artificial sweetners added to diet drinks. I have been trying to find out more about them and came across Stevia on the Coca Cola website. They say they add this to their diet drinks but I also get the same taste from normal Coke

  19. Jessica says:

    I’m really amazed that nobody here has mentioned Xylitol. I really, really LOVE the taste of Xylitol. To me, it is the sweetener that most closely resembles the taste of sugar. That’s important to me, especially in my favorite caffeinated beverage… coffee :) Xylitol is also actually good for your teeth! Have you done any kind of research on the effects (good/bad) of Xylitol??

  20. Takushi says:

    Hello to you, Kris.

    I’m going to go straight to the point and ask you for your thoughts on an article on why someone quit stevia.

    http://empoweredsustenance.com/is-stevia-bad-for-you/

    Namely point one and six, which seem to mention issues about the adrenal glands being stressed and that Stevia “doesn’t support glyocen synthesis”.

    I’m much more likely to follow your article due to (gasp) tons of citing, but I am still interested in hearing what you think about that article, as I’m not seeing any other comments mention it. Thank you.

  21. Denise Ferris says:

    When stevia came to the US I used it like regular sugar being I heard it was safe. Never worried how much I was taking in, but I found I was becoming forgetful, scared me big time, I was only in my 40′s then. I cried, thinking I was losing my memory.

    I gave it a lot of thought and thought to myself, what was the last thing I started using that may be causing all this… Stevia came to mind, as soon as I stopped using it things went back to normal… I won’t touch the stuff now. Just my own thoughts on the subject.

  22. I just love the insight on this website. I am learning so much! I like reading the controversy. It has its value and opens perspective, but time and time again Kris’s message earns credence when I don’t know whom to believe.

  23. I’ve been looking into different opinions on the subject and somehow it still makes me a bit doubtful whether stevia is actually as safe as it seems to be…

    Kris, how could you comment on these posts which somewhat contradict your approval of stevia?

    http://empoweredsustenance.com/is-stevia-bad-for-you/

    or this one: http://www.drfranklipman.com/stevia-good-or-bad/ which suggests to grow stevia plant or not to use it otherwise…

    I’m not saying you are wrong, I’m just trying to understand which choice should I make.

    Basically my goal is to eliminate sweet food as much as possible (eventually) as for me it makes sense to get used to less sweetened food and help my taste receptors to learn how to feel the taste of real, whole foods again (I’m in a very good relationships with veggies anyway =)

    But for example you mentioned that dried fruits are also not so great to use as a natural sweetener, so now I’m left with tasteless oatmeal for breakfast lol.

    I’d highly appreciate if you could comment on those links and if you agree/disagree…

    Thanks!

    • Neither of these articles contain scientific references, so it’s hard to take them seriously.

      The first one is mostly nonsense, the second one seems to mostly be criticizing the substances often found in stevia products like Truvia and mentions some way of getting quality stevia at the end.

      • Valerie says:

        Thanks!
        And what about concern that in the long-term zero calorie sweetener might “confuse” the brain and lead to issues with insulin secretion etc.?

        Thank you!

  24. Kris, does this mean stevia is a good option if you’re insulin resistant? My understanding was that it was just as bad to use any artificial sweeteners as it tricks your body into thinking it’s sugar which then has the same effect? I just want something that is ok to use when insulin resistant.

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