By now I’m sure you’ve heard how bad sugar is for you, but is stevia safe to use as a substitute?
Sugar substitutes are on the rise now that word has gotten out to the masses how sugar is making you fat and leads to many other health diseases.
Going through sugar withdrawals is real and finding a healthy substitute for it helps many get over their sugar addiction.
Stevia has become increasingly more popular amongst health aficionados as a sugar substitute over other artificial sweeteners.
The big question remains if stevia is safe for you or not.
Stevia has been used for centuries as a superfood in South America as a natural sweetener in their yerba mate tea.
Even Japan and Brazil have been using stevia as a sweetener for over 30 years.
Everybody seems to be on the bandwagon for stevia these days. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s 100% safe for every one to be using.
It wasn’t too long ago Splenda was being touted as a totally safe zero calorie alternative to sugar. It turns out that these artificial sweeteners are linked to weight gain, heart disease, headaches and more health problems.
It’s time to dive deep into uncovering the truth about stevia and whether or not this zero calorie sweetener will actually help you lose weight and if it’s safe for you to be using.
What Is Stevia?
Stevia is a herb originating from South America where the locals use the leaves to sweeten up their foods.
The stevia we buy at the store is the extract of this leaf, and it’s up to 200x’s sweeter than typical sugar.
The good thing about stevia is it contains zero calories and zero carbohydrates.
Unlike sugar it won’t spike your blood sugar levels after eating.
One of the big reasons why sugar causes you to gain weight is it spikes your blood sugar causing your body to release insulin.
This sets off a chain reaction of hormonal releases leading you gaining weight, type 2 diabetes and many more health problems.
The stevia leaf undergoes a manufacturing process since it’s so sweet it needs to be cut.
They use additional ingredients such the sugar alcohol erythritol from corn, dextrose and other artificial sweeteners.
This is why when you look on the back of a package of stevia it’ll contain other ingredients other than just the extract.
This should be one of your concerns when deciding which stevia to buy as these other ingredients could cause negative effects to your body.
Rebaudioside A (Reb A) is the compound in stevia that is the most extracted and responsible for the bulk of the sweetness in the leaf.
Stevioside is the other compound extracted from stevia but to a much lesser extent because it has much more bitter aftertaste than Reb A.
Is Stevia Safe For You?
After a lot of research and my own personal experience I’ve found the stevia extract we buy in the store is most likely perfectly safe for you to be using as a sweetener.
The reason I say “most likely” is from the conflicting reports arguing both sides of whether or not stevia is safe.
Eating stevia in moderate amounts, 250-500mg a day is most likely safe according to a 2 year study.
Although some scientists have went on the record saying it could be unsafe for pregnant and lactating women for periods longer than 2 years.
So be sure to talk to your doctor first before using stevia if you fit that criteria.
Now let’s go into the benefits and risks of using stevia extract as a sugar substitute when it comes to losing weight and health concerns.
Is Stevia Safe? The Benefits
Even though there isn’t an overwhelming amount of published studies proving the benefits of stevia there is still enough to earn two thumbs up for losing weight.
In a double blind randomized study over 2 years researchers found stevia use helped to reduce blood pressure in those with mildly high blood pressure.
Stevia is also useful in helping you lose weight.
As a substitute for sugar stevia was found to lower insulin levels fed to animals on high-carb, high-fat diet.
They also found the animals to have lower levels of total and LDL (good) cholesterol with elevated levels of HDL (bad) cholesterol.
In a 2010 study in Appetite they found stevia use reduced blood sugar levels after meals when compared to the use of sugar and the artificial sweetener aspartame.
Interestingly enough, the researchers also found increased feeling of being full after using stevia.
Having adequate levels of satiety will help you to not eat as many calories.
It’s theorized one of the benefits of stevia is its antioxidant effect on reducing inflammation could be highly beneficial to those with type 2 diabetes.
Having inflammation in your body could not only lead to weight gain but also accelerated aging amongst many other health problems.
Stevia could also be useful as a cancer fighter. This 2012 study in Nutrition and Cancer found stevia lowered the markers of breast cancer in patients.
Is Stevia Safe? The Risks
In my opinion, and that of many other health experts agree your body will most likely have some kind of insulin response after you eat anything sweet.
The trick and benefit of stevia is it minimizes the damage of an insulin response when you eat something sweet.
Stevia when compared to sugar and artificial sweeteners will most likely limit the damage. Although, there are no studies that have conclusively found this.
There is a history with stevia and the FDA you need to know about…
In the 1980’s animal studies linked stevia use to causing problems with infertility and maybe even genetic mutations.
In 1991, the FDA banned the use of stevia.
But in 1995 the FDA allowed stevia to be sold as a food supplement.
In 2008, the FDA granted stevia GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) after the makers of Truvia and Pure Via submitted research to them regarding the safety of Reb A.
Now the FDA only approves highly purified extracts of stevia (the whole-leaf is still banned) even though Latin American’s have been eating the leaf for centuries with no known ill effects.
There is also some conflicting evidence that stevia could kill off the good bacteria in your gut.
This study from the Institute of Microbiology and Biotechnology at the University of Latvia found stevia kills large number of Lactobacillus, which is known to be good bacteria for your gut health.
Lactobacillus is an important bacteria for your gastrointestinal tract, and it’s the same good bacteria found in most probiotic supplements such as Pro-X10.
To argue the findings in this previous study, another study published in 2003 found no negative impact of stevia use in the fecal cultures of study participants.
In my opinion, as long as you’re not consuming crazy high amount of stevia your gut should be fine.
Although, if you have an allergy or hypersensitivity to ragweed or the daisy family you should avoid stevia or at least talk to your doctor first.
Powder vs. Liquid Stevia
The big debate whether stevia is safe depends on which kind of it you’re using… liquid or powder form?
I don’t recommend using a stevia powder like Truvia because it undergoes a 40-step manufacturing process, and adds other ingredients.
Even the number one ingredient of the Coca-Cola brand Truvia is erythritol.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol used as a sweetener made from cornstarch and linked to numerous health problems.
I’d also stay away from the Pepsi owned Pure Via brand. They both use dextrose as its number one ingredient and undergoes a similar manufacturing process of Truvia.
Generally, I recommend and personally use liquid stevia because it undergoes a much lesser manufacturing process and doesn’t have near as many additional ingredients of powder forms.
You can find the liquid form of stevia in most health food stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.
But unfortunately you won’t find any at coffee shops.
Most coffee shops that actually carry stevia usually have that packets. Almost all of which use additional sweeteners like erythritol and dextrose.
Coffee and weight loss work well together but when you add stevia it takes things up a notch.
This is why I usually keep a bottle of liquid stevia in my car so whenever I grab some coffee I can just add a few drops of stevia to sweeten it up when needed.
I’d also recommend using organic sources of stevia whenever possible just to minimize any damage that may come from the manufacturing process.
If you’re using a protein powder then be sure to use one sweetened with stevia such as BioTrust Low Carb protein powder.
Most other protein powders use artificial sweeteners like sucralose. Sucralose has been linked to weight gain and more serious health problems.
The Best Stevia Brand
Trader Joe’s Stevia
As you can see even the Trader Joe’s line of stevia have additional ingredients in them.
The number one ingredient in their stevia packets is maltodextrin. Thumbs down.
Their powder form of stevia extract is better with only lactose as the only other ingredient.
But this can be of concern if you have an intolerance or sensitivity to the lactose in milk. Sideways thumbs.
Finally their organic liquid stevia is the best option with only de-ionized water and 11% alcohol as the additional ingredients. The alcohol is needed to have the extracted stevia in liquid form. Thumbs up.
Wholesome Organic Stevia Packets
Wholesome brand of stevia may be organic but the packets use erythritol. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol and is the number one ingredient. Thumbs down.
SweetLeaf Organic Stevia
If you’re wanting packets of stevia then Organic Stevia Sweetener by SweetLeaf will be the best option.
It has organic inulin fibers as the number one ingredient, which are a plant fiber beneficial to your gut health. They use inulin fiber as a bulking agent in these packets of stevia. Thumbs up.
SweetLeaf Sweet Drops is a good option even though it’s not organic. It does have quillaja extract, but this ingredient has beneficial polyphenols. Thumbs up.
Just say no! I’d go with any other option on this page for stevia other than Truvia.
It not only has erythritol as the first ingredient but it undergoes a long manufacturing process.
Who knows what they’re really using for their “natural flavors” too. Two thumbs down.
Using stevia as a sugar substitute in moderate amounts is most likely safe for you and can even have health benefits.
Stevia can help you lose weight, improve insulin sensitivity, fight type 2 diabetes, lower blood pressure and even maybe fight cancer.
Yet you should be aware there have been some older studies finding stevia to be linked to infertility and a reduction in good gut bacteria.
The truth is there really isn’t a whole lot of research published on the use of stevia to make a conclusive statement.
But the bulk of it is pointing to it being perfectly safe in moderate amounts.
Stevia is a much better option than using sugar or artificial sweeteners that have been undeniably proven to making you fat and causing serious health problems.
For my complete list of the best (and worst) natural sugar substitutes be sure to read my blog post.
Of course, the best thing you can do is not to use any kind of sweetener at all.
This isn’t very realistic since most of us really need to have some kind of sweetener to satisfy our sweet tooth.
The best option is stevia.
Stevia is most likely safe and can even help you lose weight as long as you’re using it right.
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and he’s a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) by American Council on Exercise. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college levels. He has over 15 years of experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He strives to bring inspiration and results for people to live healthier lives through smart diet and exercise.