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…
What Is Stevia?
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
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:
“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.
“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.
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:
- 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.
- When choosing products already sweetened with stevia, look for “whole leaf stevia” on the ingredient label. For example one of my favorite protein powders is made with “whole stevia leaf” instead of rebaudioside a or stevia extract.
- 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).
- Make your own liquid stevia extract (see graphic below for recipe).
- 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. Use honey, pure maple syrup, or 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,
409 responses to “Is Stevia Safe?”
A company called Sunrider has been making stevia supplement since the early 80s. The liquid sweetener is not modified, and is taken mostly from the root, not the leaves. It is combined with chrysanthemum. They used to label it as a facial treatment and sold it with powdered clay to mix it with and apply to the face, but their clients knew it was (also) for tea and is beneficial to health. They began to sell it as a supplement when, finally, the FDA gave approval (when it suited big business). Then, Sunrider clients watched as the mass market sold this strange, clear liquid/crystals and called it stevia extract. Your stevia extract should never be clear; in fact, it is so dark it will permanently stain clothing/carpet/etc.
we have Stevia Farm in the Philippines and more likelyis using it for our daily lifestyle., And its organic,all natural stevia….organically grown and been using here in the Philippines for quite some time..Godbless..for more info,visit us, ANCPH.COM
Curious what Foodbabe says about Whey Low…it’s advertised as a low glycemic natural sugar. I’ve used it in coffee & it tastes just like sugar, maybe a tad less sweet with no aftertaste. It can be used for baking as well. Anyone know about this?
what about a product i just started getting at: iHerb.com called Stevita?
It is supposed to be pure Stevia. Does it contain anything I shouldn’t be eating?
It contains erithrytol a highly processed and rather nasty substance if you reseach it. Stevita is a NO GO, also watch anything that may contain “natural flavors”
Thanks so much for this post! It was mentioned that “maltodextrin” may be a GMO. If it’s not possible to make my own natural stevia sugar and our budget doesn’t allow the super organic kind, is stevia with maltodextrin used an acceptable substitute in the meantime since the certainty of it being a GMO is unsure?
maltodextrin comes from corn. If it’s not organic maltodextrin, there’s a 99% chance it is GMO. Sweetleaf stevia isn’t that expensive.
Who cares if corn is genetically modified??? That does NOT mean there is anything wrong with it! HUGE numbers of plants are genetically modified every time a new cultivar is grown. People in the U.S have been eating genetically modified food for decades.
Your budget doesn’t allow you to purchase organic. Does your budget also allow for the illnesses you may get such as I have? Google serralinis mice GMO study. I have never smoked or drank but I believe I got an illness from the drugs in my food. Pesticides, toxins, gmos,etc. My father was an alcoholic since he was a teen and didn’t get a liver disease until he was 86. He died at 88 falling down on his way to the liquor store. I who lived like a Buddhist and NEVER drank got diagnosed with a liver disease in my early 40 s. It’s the food/drinks. Coca-cola in Europe uses cane sugar not genetically modified corn syrup.my father didn’t eat at McDonald’s until he was in his 50 s. He grew up in Denmark. All clean.
What about Xylitol, I cant find a lot of info on it.. I buy my stevia at the farmers market and that is the other ingredient in it.
Xylitol was extracted from the birch tree, now it can also be made from corn, see the link:
I hope you don’t have dogs. Xylitol can kill a dog that ingests even a tiny tiny amount.
Careful with Xylitol or products containing it such as certain chewing gums if you have dogs. It is lethal!
Silica gel is packaged separately from the main product, in those little bags. It is used as an inert desiccant, that is, it attracts and locks the moisture, thus preventing fungal development in the food. It is not present in the food itself, and the little bags should be thrown away after the food is used. Without a desiccant, the food would spoil and the fungi would create poisonous products while breaking down the food material.
Silica is also an ingredient IN food products. She was saying it is the same stuff in those packets.
Stevia Leaf Extract- Good or not?
I purchase Stevia leaves fresh in the market once a week. But I live in Lima Peru. They are excellent sweeteners, and I also give them to my sister who is Diabetic. Whenever big business gets involved, its all about the money. Here, a bottle of Steve extract powder cost only $3.00, and a 100 grams of leaves cost about $1.00.
Wow – you are so fortunate
I live in Guatemala and want to see if I can buy some Stevia leaves here, what are they called in Spanish? Thanks!
in spanish, stevia is called Estevia. Search for stevia in guatemala on google
There is a Peruvian brand called Nuestra Salud that recently started carrying the whole dried stevia leaf- it’s actually just the dried leaf, nothing else added. I bought it in a supermarket in Queens, NY. Their website is http://www.nsnuestrasalud.com. I use lots of their products and they are great, just pure herbs. I haven’t seen the stevia on their site yet but hopefully they will put it up soon!
Gheez.. Too many theories. Best and most secure way of eating is to first get rich, buy own land, grow own organic plants, and eat them!
We have grown and followed these directions last year for making liquid stevia. It did not end up tasting very good. We did, however, enjoy chewing on a leaf now and again. Perhaps we will try it again next year. The leaves do get more potent at the end of the season but before they turn brown. We did not know this going so perhaps that was our problem.
Where does one find stevia leaves?
Patty- I use this site: http://www.nsnuestrasalud.com/detalle.php?id=112
it’s the whole stevia leaf and nothing else.
Amazon carries this as well now… http://www.amazon.com/Estevia-Stevia-Leaves-3-Pack/dp/B00UMB4LE8/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1427980427&sr=8-6&keywords=estevia
What about the KAL brand of stevia?
Saw some comments a while back that stevia is in the rag weed family and a light bulb went on in my head. Maybe just maybe that’s why I have had phlegm constantly in my throat the last couple years (about as long as I’ve been using it everyday). So much so that one would think I was a smoker and I am not nor have I ever been. I stopped using it and the phlegm has subsided a lot!
I am surprised that you actually recommend Sweet Leaf Stevia because I just tried to purchase the extract and it has natural flavors:-(
SweetLeaf Organic Stevia Extract has a powdered form in a bottle that looks like a spice bottle and it only contains organic stevia extract, but it you buy the individual packets they have other stuff added
It also has Inulin and silica
I meant the Sweet Leaf Stevia has – inulin and silica
https://www.mountainroseherbs.com has an all natural stevia leaf herb powdered form, still green, no additives. taste very sweet with a bit of a tea flavor to it.
I don’t know where your getting this BS that sugar is addicting, but sugar is not addicting. Your body naturally craves more of it when you metabolism slows down because it is easier to break down and use as energy. This is one of the reasons why couch potatoes usually end up diabetic. The human body is not intended to sit around on it’s ass for long periods of time, and it starts looking to go into hibernation mode and store fat when you sit around a lot. That’s why you need exercise. No amount of good and healthy eating or pills will compensate for lack of exercise. Healthy eating will help, but you have to get some exercise for it to do any real good.
What about “Skinny Girl” Stevia and Agave/Stevia products?
Basically everything “Skinny Girl” has artificial flavors/colors so the Stevia/Agave products are really irrelevant. I wish it weren’t true, but they sure use a lot of marketing hype.
I tend to go for unrefined sugars, such as turbinado or sucanat, at least those still have most of the minerals left in them, It may not be the ideal choice, but at least it’s not white refined sugar.
i have used organic better srevia by now foods which has no added ingredients on its package. does not contain maltodextrin or silica. if there label is true.
I’ve been using the Now brand also because it didn’t list any other ingredients. But I was just reading that the reason it’s white is because of the chemicals used in processing the green leaf. So now I’m extremely concerned about any Stevia that’s white!
Greetings! Can anyone tell me if there’s a way for lay people to remove the alfalfa”green tea” flavor of the green crushed stevia leaf powder? Or does that always require a factory and hard chemicals to process that leaf flavor out leaving only our favorite sweetness behind?
I use NOW brand Stevia powder and it pure. You need to read the labels of each individual product though because I think one of the liquid products has something else in it. The one I use is called “Better Stevia”. On the front it says Organic and NON GMO. Under ingredients it states
“Organic Stevia Extract Powder (Leaf) ”
If you are interested in growing Stevia please check out http://www.agifarms.com
Find more details about stevia white extract here:
Great article, great advices, I am going to plant stavia in order to be sure to have 100% natural products.
Was wondering what it meant when the label for protein powder says only Stevia. Good or bad? On Wegmans whey protein powder. Thanks!
What about Slimtevia as a sweetener?
How about Yacan Syrup as a sweetener? Also, what about Organic Agave as a sweetener? Are these safe?
Your research is by far superior to the other websites I’ve visited, but this article is one of the most paranoid about Stevia that I’ve seen. An example: telling people to stay away from “silica” found in products because it’s used in industry. Silica is a natural compound in dirt, and you consume plenty of it when you eat ANY vegetable regardless of how organic the vegetable is or how many times you wash it. Eating food HEAVY in silica can cause digestion problems of course but only if your system is sensitive and you’re eating unwashed, dirty foods from your garden.
That’s like saying “stay away from this dangerous chemical that claims to be all natural, but caused 46,000+ deaths between 1999 and 2010!” And then you find out the ‘chemical’ is water and those deaths were from drowning.
Another real problem with this article is this quote:
“This makes it difficult to stop eating or drinking because the [natural] flavors they have synthesized will trick your mind into wanting more and more.”
No. No no no no no no no no no no. No no no. No.
This ‘chemical’ isn’t especially engineered to ‘hijack your brain.’ Like you said, its made to cover up a negative flavor, in this case the metalicness of stevia, with a more pleasant flavor. The crave you’re talking about is usually your brain craving sweets; it has nothing to do with the natural flavors. It’s your brain wanting to fill itself with sugar from a biological imperitive to consume as many calories as possible. Your brain tastes sweetness and it craves more, period. The sweetness of the Stevia, just like the sweetness from any kind of sugar, including the all natural fructose from fruit, is ‘hijacking’ your brain. In other words, it’s a matter of self control, not evil chemicals comandeering your mind.
And I’m not saying “natural flavors” are fine. You’ll have to do your own research to determine whether or not you want to consume what’s in “natural flavors,” but it has nothing to do with cravings in a general sense.
And lastly, while I 100% agree that the Truvia/Purevia chemical procedure to process the stevia extract might be concerning, which you labeled as bad cause they used chemicals like ethanol and acetone, you went ahead and provided a way to personally make stevia extract by using vodka… What? Heating vodka only dissipates the alcohol, which is only generally 40% by volume, the rest of it is going to stay in your homemade Stevia extract! What hypocrisy! You try to scare your readers into avoiding “processing chemicals” and then tell them to make their own by PROCESSING IT WITH CHEMICALS.
I’m done. To the readers of this article, heed my advice: do your own research. This article sounds good, and maybe the extra caution exercised is necessary for a weak-willed person who can’t control their portions and only eats vegetables grown in their own garden.. but in general 75% of the advice here makes little sense, even if partially rooted in fact. Research the specifics of vague ingredients like “Natural flavors,” look at the statistics and studies of substances like silica and personally decide if the “risks” (if you can call them that) are worth it. If you’re use to drinking Coca Cola and Pepsi in any of their forms and habitualized going to places like McDonald’s and Taco Bell… then switching to pretty much any Stevia product is a healthier alternative for your sweets intake. Dont let articles like this discourage you.
I’ve been looking to try a sugar substitute for my morning coffee. I used to use Equal but not only is it not good for you, I can’t stand the taste. Since I stopped using Equal, I’ve switched over to coconut palm sugar. I love the taste but, it’s still sugar and it has calories. I tried Stevia when it first came out on the market and I hated it. It tasted metallic and bitter. I know now that the kind I was using is overly processed. I see that you recommended Sweet Leaf brand. What about Simply Stevia but Stevita? Have you looked into this company at all?
Does anyone know where I can purchase packaged foods? I am having a hard time locating any baked goods, candies or fruit juices containing stevia/erythritol/parve?
Whole Foods carries a 365 Brand organic stevia extract powder. Under ingredients on the label it states: organic stevia extract(stevia rebaudiana)(leaf). Here in Portland Oregon it costs $6.00 for one ounce.
Artificial sweeteners are just as bad for you as natural sugar. They both cause insulin/sugar spikes and both hasten the onset of adult type 2 diabetes.
Have you ever researched SweetLeaf Natural Stevia Sweetner? I did not see it on this post and it does not list any of the ingredients that the other ones do. I started using it a few months ago, but was wondering what you think about it. Ingredients are Inulin Soluble Fiber and Organic Stevia Extract. Thank you!
Coconut palm sugar is not by any means low glycemic. It’s lower than regular sugar but not by much.
I have read all your comments..but I cant still find any solution on what stevia to use. Some pure stevia is pretty expensive and low in quantity. Could someone tell me where to buy a good safe stevia other than a plant or leaves. I am bad with handling a plant. I have also heard about the side effects of stevia. Is it good to use or bad to use? stevia produces genetic issues? is it true? other names mixed with stevia power like xylitol , maltodextrin ,Erythritol and etc …they all sound like bad chemicals going into my body. Hope you understand my problem. I am trying to cut sugar and in a process to find a best safe alternative..yet there are draw backs with a safe “stevia”
Something to think about. Every Stevia powder I have seen in store is white powder. I have news for you Stevia leaves ground in a coffee grinder produce a dark green powder. It isn’t white like you see in store packets. In my opinion from reading Stevia labels every one of them had some form of sugar substitute in them. Labels are so misleading it is pathetic. The tiny amount of Stevia in the packet might be 100% Stevia but the packet contents are not 100% Stevia. If you read the ingredients on the labels you will see other ingredients that aren’t Stevia so that should tell you the packet is not just Stevia. Like I said ground Stevia is dark green not white.
When I make coffee or tea I add 1 or 2 tablespoons of Stevia crushed leaves in with the coffee o tea grounds in my coffee maker. This way I don’t end up with Stevia bits in my drinks. I also will put 3 tablespoons of crushed Stevia leaves in the filter and run the pitcher, 12 cups water, through it jut like making coffee or tea but with only the Stevia. Now you have 12 cups Stevia liquid you can add to sweeten drinks or food.
The heck with erythritol since it is just another corn sweetener. You might as well be using high fructose corn syrup. Just another name for the same thing I my guess.
Thank you for your article, I just wonder if using vodka which is a lot more processed than (stevia final form) is a good idea, Alcohol might be required but I would not recommend Vodka. Alcohol can help Type 2 Diabetes while drunk with a meal but you are no making it easy for your liver. Hope it helps.
Hello FoodBabe, my older sister and I adore you. We love all the life saving knowledge you put out there! We’re constantly emailing eachother about the latest food info you release like its breaking news! 🙂 Speaking of breaking news, what are your thoughts on the new Monk Fruit sweetener -specifically, Lakanto? We would really appreciate your input on this sugar-free product. I hope and pray you get to read this. Thank you sooo much!
I just checked out the Sweet Leaf website and the first ingredient it shows is Inulin and silica. Is this any different from the chemically produced organic agave inulin you mentioned in the Wholesome sweetener ingredients part?
Stevia contains sterols and antioxidant compounds, including kaempferol. Sterols are steroid alcohols and are an important class of organic molecules that occur naturally in plants. They are linked to reduced LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) levels in our bodies. Kaempferol is a strong antioxidant that helps to prevent oxidative damage to our cells, lipids, and DNA. Studies have also confirmed that kaempferol acts as a chemopreventive agent, which means that it inhibits the formation of cancer cells.
Can you give us an idea of what kind of sparkling waters are safe to drink? I don’t do any sodas or alcohol. So I love a good sparkling water. Thanks for all the research. I had no idea about drinking carbonated water was so bad for us. But all of a sudden for the past six months my allergies have been so bad and I thought it was from things in the air or that I have Eaten. It must be from the sparkling water as my nose runs constantly. I’ve never had this happen in years in years.
What about dried stevia leaves?
Since you said that Stevia in the raw is not good, is Monk fruit In The Raw, which i use in my tea and coffee, good? Would love to hear you thoughts.
Just a heads up…I recently purchased a 2 pack of SweetLeaf Stevia via your link in this article. 2 out of 3 of its ingredients are ones you advise us to avoid. “Inulin, Stevia Leaf Extract, Silica.”