Is Stevia Safe?

Sugar is one of the most dangerous ingredients on the market. It’s addictive, added to almost every processed food, and will make you overweight, depressed and sick if you eat too much. In fact, Americans eat close to 130 pounds of the stuff per person per year (4 times more than the recommended daily allowance), likely because it is so addictive. That’s why it’s exciting to know there are alternative sweeteners made in nature, like “stevia,” that don’t wreak havoc on your health – or do they? Is Stevia safe? That’s what I went on a quest to find out. Here’s what happened…

Stevia

What Is Stevia?

Food Babe - Stevia Plant

Stevia Plant

For those of you that are hearing about stevia for the first time, it is a plant that is typically grown in South America, and while its extract is 200 times sweeter than sugar, it does not raise blood insulin levels. That’s what makes it so popular. However in 1991 the FDA refused to approve this substance for use due to pressure from makers of artificial sweeteners like Sweet n’ Low and Equal (a one billion dollar industry). But in 2008, the FDA approved the use of rebaudioside compounds that were derived from the stevia plant by Coca-Cola (Cargill) and PepsiCo – hmmm doesn’t that sound suspicious? Not until a major food company got involved did stevia become legal, and only after it had been highly processed using a patentable chemical-laden process…so processed that Truvia (Coca-Cola’s branded product) goes through about 40 steps to process the extract from the leaf, relying on chemicals like acetone, methanol, ethanol, acetonitrile, and isopropanol. Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens (substances that cause cancer), and none of those ingredients sound like real food, do they?

The whole leaf stevia that you can grow in your backyard (and has been used for centuries in countries like Brazil and Paraguay) remains a non-approved food additive by the FDA. However, rebaudioside A (the stevia extract) that was approved by the FDA has not been used for centuries and long term human health impacts have not been studied and are still unknown. The sweetener/sugar industry wields powerful influence over what is ultimately approved at the FDA, and this is just another example where they are influencing decisions that don’t make sense. How can a chemically derived extract be deemed safe in processed food and a plant from mother nature not?

What Kind Of  Stevia To Avoid

Truvia
The 40-step patented process used to make Truvia should make you want to steer clear of this stevia product alone, but there are two other concerning ingredients added (not only to Truvia but other stevia products as well). First, erythritol is a naturally occurring sugar that is sometimes found in fruit, but food manufacturers don’t actually use the natural stuff. Instead they start with genetically engineered corn and then go through a complex fermentation process to come up with chemically pure erythritol. Check out the manufacturing process below:
E Manu process

Credit: Cargill

All Natural Stevia

“Natural flavors” is another ingredient added to powdered and liquid stevia products, likely due to the fact that once the stevia leaf is processed it can develop a metallic taste. Manufactured natural flavor is contributing to what David Kessler (former head of the FDA) calls a “food carnival” in your mouth. This makes it difficult to stop eating or drinking because the flavors they have synthesized will trick your mind into wanting more and more. When companies use manufactured flavor, they are literally “hijacking” your taste buds one-by-one; that’s why I recommend putting products that contain “natural flavors” back on the shelf.

Food Babe - Stevia In the Raw

PureVia

“Stevia in the Raw” sounds pure and natural, but when you look at the ingredients the first thing on the label is “dextrose” – so it’s certainly not just stevia in the raw. And Pepsi Co’s “Pure Via,” also pictured above, isn’t exactly pure either with this ingredient being first on the label, too. Dextrose is a sweetener that’s also derived from genetically engineered corn and has a long complicated manufacturing process, just like erythritol.

Organic Stevia

silica gel do not eat

Even certified organic stevia can have sneaky ingredients added, like this one above which has more organic agave inulin than the stevia extract itself. Agave inulin is a highly processed fiber derivative from the blue agave plant. Also on the ingredient list is an item you are probably familiar with from those little packets sometimes found in boxed goods – silica (pictured). It is added to improve the flow of powdery substances and is the same ingredient that helps strengthen concrete and creates glass bottles and windowpanes. It may cause irritation of the digestive tract (if eaten) and irritation of the respiratory tract (if accidentally inhaled). While it is non-toxic and probably won’t kill you in small quantities, it’s definitely not a real food ingredient I would cook with or that I want to be putting in my body.

How To Choose The Right Kind Of Stevia

Luckily there are ways to enjoy this sweet leaf closer to it’s natural state… because let’s be honest, the no-calorie artificial sweeteners out there are really dreadful, and no one should consume them (check this post for the low down on those). So here’s what you can do:

  1. Buy a stevia plant for your garden (luckily it’s totally legal!) or purchase the pure dried leaves online – you can grind up them up using a spice grinder (or use a mortar and pestle) for your own powdered stevia.
  2. When choosing products already sweetened with stevia, look for “whole leaf stevia” on the ingredient label. For example my favorite protein powder is made with “whole stevia leaf” instead of rebaudioside a or stevia extract.
  3. Add fresh or dried leaves directly to tea or drinks for natural sweetness (note the straight stevia leaves are only 30-40 times sweeter than sugar, vs. 200 times using the extract).
  4. Make your own liquid stevia extract (see graphic below for recipe).
    Stevia Extract
  5. If you are not up for getting a stevia plant of your own or making your own extract, remember to look for a stevia extract that is 100% pure without added ingredients (Sweet Leaf & Trader Joe’s have versions).

And when all else fails, choose a suitable alternative and forget stevia altogether. Lisa uses honey and pure maple syrup, and I personally prefer coconut palm sugar, since it is low glycemic (making it more diabetic friendly) and one of the most natural unprocessed forms of sugar available. It is naturally high in amino acids – has 10,000 times more potassium, 20 times more magnesium and 20 times more iron than conventional sugar. I use it all the time in my baking, from pound cake to muffins to a recent delicious cookie that is low in sugar – check out all those recipes here!

If you know someone who uses artificial sweeteners or stevia, please share this post with them.

Wishing you the best health life has to offer,

Food Babe

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274 Responses to “Is Stevia Safe?”

  1. Heather

    NOW brand Better Stevia Extract Powder is organic.
    Here is the ingredient list:

    Nutrition Facts
    Serving Size 1/32 Teaspoon (45 mg)
    Servings Per Container 2,511
    Amount Per Serving % Daily Value*
    Calories 0

    Total Fat 0 g 0%
    Sodium 0 mg 0%
    Total Carbohydrate 0 g 0%
    Sugars 0 g
    Protein 0 g
    *Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
    Calories 2,000 2,500
    Total Fat Less than 65 grams 80 grams
    Saturated Fat Less than 20 grams 25 grams
    Cholesterol Less than 300 mg 300 mg
    Sodium Less than 2,400 mg 2,400 mg
    Total Carbohydrate 300 grams 375 grams
    Dietary Fiber 25 grams 30 grams
    Calories per gram:
    Fat 9 Carbohydrate 4 Protein 4

    Ingredient: Certified Organic Stevia Extract Powder (Stevia rebaudiana) (Leaf).

    Contains no sugar, salt, yeast, wheat, gluten, corn, soy, milk, egg, shellfish, preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors or artificial sweeteners. Vegetarian/Vegan Product.

    Just have to read labels…
    This one is available at health food stores and online a source is swansonvitamins.com

    Reply
  2. ELIZABETH

    You show SweetLeaf as one of the recommendations for stevia extract that is 100% pure without added ingredients but looking at the label on this brand it lists “inulin soluble fiber” as the first ingredient. WHAT IS THAT?

    Reply
    • Roscoe (to ELIZABETH)

      Inulin is a type of fiber found in plants. It’s natural but some people are sensitive to it (may cause stomach cramps).

      Reply
  3. Aliza

    I looked into one of Trader Joe’s Stevia products they sell. The one they sell is a small canister of Stevia and it is 100% pure no additives and organic for those who don’t have time to make there own.

    Reply
  4. Carolyn

    Have you done any research on monk fruit extract?

    Reply
  5. A Haleel Rahman

    Stevia one of the best remedies for DIABETES.

    Reply
  6. Lisa

    I think this stevia extract powder looks like a great option- what do you think?

    http://store.trimhealthymama.com/product-p/1085-455175149.htm

    Reply
  7. Danielle Sokol

    Have you heard of STEVITA? It’s a liquid extract. Freshly pressed from the leaves and not reconstituted. Ingredients: Stevia rebaudiana bertoni (leaves) and other ingredients is distilled water and grapefruit seed extract (a natural preservative).

    Reply
    • Jackie (to Danielle Sokol)

      FYI, grapefruit seed extract is not a preservative, it is an antioxidant.

      Reply
      • Laura (to Jackie)

        Antioxidants prevent oxidation therefore they are often used as a preservative to prevent oxidation of a food, to preserve the quality of the food.

  8. Lisa

    One more question… I used Trader Joe’s liquid stevia in my smoothies and the taste is great. But how do you substitute powdered stevia for white sugar in recipes… so many times in my baking I resort to organic cane sugar to keep the taste and texture right- however I’d love to use a healthier sweetener if it doesn’t compromise the result!

    Reply
  9. Paula Dominique

    Note that grapefruit and grapefruit seed extract are prohibited for those on blood thinners.

    Reply
  10. Shelby

    Looking at a SweetLeaf product it lists “natural flavors” which is not favorably documented in this article and appear to be discouraged.

    Reply
  11. Jane

    NOW brand Better Stevia Extract Powder is organic is what I’ve been using for a few years, what do you think of that brand?

    Reply
  12. Carolina

    What about Sweetnol? Would you consider it safe? It is used in the Honest Company’s Kids Multivitamins.

    Reply
  13. Louise

    I like the idea of making my own stevia, but being diabetic, hard liquor is not ok for my liver. Is there a non-alcoholic option that can be used?

    Reply
    • LorXena (to Louise)

      The alcohol (Ethanol) is used as the solvent to draw out the desired compounds from a macerated or ground up dry plant source. After the extraction is complete, slowly and gently heating (not boiling) the liquid for 20-30 minutes afterward evaporates all the alcohol, which is why it should then be stored in dark bottles and should be refrigerated to prevent spoilage. You could also not heat it and store the alcohol extraction (for longer storage) and heat it just prior to consumption. For instance, when making hot herbal teas or other hot beverage: add drops of the alcohol stevia extract to the surface of the hot liquid beverage and let it cool for a while. The alcohol will evaporate from the surface of the hot liquid while the tea steeps. It doesn’t take as long as 20 minutes due to the small amount floating on top. If it cools down too much while waiting, reheat it gently to ensure all alcohol evaporates before ingesting.
      Here is a protocol for stevia extraction:
      http://nutritionstripped.com/how-to-make-stevia-extract/

      Reply
  14. Debbie Shilling

    Like to know, if Stevia-made by Emperor’s is on theGMO- poison list?????????????? Thank you Debbie

    Reply
  15. Christine Hernandez

    Can anyone tell me where I can buy a stevia plant?

    Reply
  16. jani

    This post has created more confusion than answers. Just writing this to give feedback to the author from a reader.

    Reply
    • Ernie (to jani)

      Jani,
      It’s not brain surgery, it’s natural sweetener. After trying different routes to sweetening my coffee, I went and bought a bottle of Stevia from Trader Joe’s. No preservatives in it, and I use about 1/2 a teaspoon…the stuff is great. My wife, who’s recovering from cancer, won’t touch it, because to her it tastes too good so she thinks it must have the same effects as sugar (it doesn’t). Try stevia and see if you like it, if you don’t , other sweetening alternatives like FB or some of the other repliers mention above: maple syrup, manuka honey, non GMO sugar beet powder etc. Just don’t go back to using sugar. And not even ‘organic’ brown sugar. Sugar is sugar is sugar. Hope this helps.

      Reply
  17. Ashley

    where do I find coconut palm sugar?

    Reply
  18. Carolina

    I bought Stevia in the Raw, and it only has one added ingredient Maltodextrin. I looked it up, and there is no proof it’s harmful.

    Reply

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