Is Stevia Safe or Healthy?

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Is Stevia Safe or Healthy
Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » Is Stevia Safe or Healthy?

We all know that sugar isn’t healthy, especially in excess, but increased awareness about the problems with sugar consumption have led to the development and use of sugar substitutes.

Some of these substitutes are harmful, and some are beneficial alternatives. Most alternative sweeteners on the market are artificially created and have a host of side effects. Others, like honey or maple syrup, have slightly more health benefits than processed sugar but are still high in naturally occurring types of sugar such as fructose.

One sweetener that often gets lost amid the confusion is stevia…

What is Stevia?

Stevia is an herb, originally from South America, though it now grows throughout the world.

It is naturally very sweet and considered 100 to 200 times sweeter than sugar, but it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels like sugar and other artificial sweeteners do.

It has been used as a sweetener and medicinal herb in various cultures around the world for centuries but has only gained modern popularity in recent years.

Unfortunately, while stevia leaf (in fresh or dried form), is a natural herbal sweetener, many modern forms of stevia based sweeteners are powdered and processed. In fact, popular powdered stevia sweeteners go through dozens of steps during processing from bleaching to chemical alteration.

There are two compounds in stevia that are responsible for the sweetness: Stevioside and Rebaudioside A.

Rebaudioside A is most often extracted and used in stevia powders and sweeteners, but it is not usually the only ingredient. In fact, most stevia sweeteners on the market contain added erythritol from corn, dextrose or other artificial sweeteners.

Stevioside only makes up about 10% of the sweetness in stevia but also has the unusual bitter aftertaste that many people don’t like in stevia. It also contains most of the beneficial properties of stevia that are credited with the health benefits and is the most well studied.

Is Stevia Healthy?

To answer this question, it is important to differentiate between processed forms of stevia and the naturally occurring herbal form.

Stevia as the green plant that you can grow in your backyard or find as dried leaf or tincture form is considered safe and has even been studied and found to have health benefits.

Powdered and bleached stevia, though FDA approved, has not been studied and undergoes an extensive chemical process to reach its final white powdered form.

Benefits of Stevia (in Natural Form)

Stevia as a medicinal herb has been used for centuries but has also been recently studied for its health benefits.

One double-blind placebo study found that regular consumption of stevia can help reduce blood pressure for patients with mild hypertension.

Another study found that stevia may have the potential to reduce breast cancer cell growth, though this hasn’t been extensively researched yet.

Follow up studies have uncovered potential benefits in reducing blood sugar and in avoiding other types of cancer growth.

In addition, most people who consume stevia use it as an alternative for sugar, and simply avoiding sugar can have health benefits of its own.

Risks of Stevia

Even in natural form, there are also some potential risks of using stevia.

It has an extremely sweet natural taste but doesn’t affect blood sugar levels. While this would logically be a good thing at first glance, there is a potential downside to this. The body expects a blood sugar change when consuming sweet foods. Some experts speculate that it might be stressful to the body when it expects a blood sugar rise and it doesn’t occur, though this hasn’t been proven.

Researcher Sarah Ballantyne also presents some concerns about the potential hormone-mimicking and altering effects:

There is evidence that steviol glycosides have contraceptive effects in both males and females. In particular, one specific steviol glycoside, called stevioside, has been shown to have potent contraceptive properties in female rats, implying that stevia may have an impact on estrogen, progesterone or both.

While small and occasional consumption of stevia likely has little to no impact on general health, it should not be consumed on a regular basis especially by those with altered hormone balance and dysfunctional immune systems.

The only studies I found on this hormone aspect indicated that extremely large amounts of the Stevioside part of the plant would be needed to affect hormone balance (and Stevioside only makes up 10% of the sweet compounds in the plant), so I don’t think this is a tremendous concern, especially for moderate or occasional use.

Even though studies show that only extremely large amounts of stevia would be needed to cause temporary infertility or hormone problems, I would still personally avoid stevia if I struggled with hormone problems or infertility.

Final Thoughts on Using Stevia

No human studies have ever shown any problems from pure and natural forms of stevia and dozens of studies have shown potential benefits from it.

Personally, I feel safe using stevia in leaf form or tinctures made from leaf form but avoid the white processed and powdered versions. It’s always possible to overdo things though, so I use it in moderation and vary it with other forms of natural sweeteners with a good safety profile (and taste!) like monk fruit extract or allulose sweetener.

In particular, the two forms of stevia I use are:

What do you think? Does your family use stevia?

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

71 responses to “Is Stevia Safe or Healthy?”

  1. Sarah Avatar

    What about stevia in vitamins?? Or all organic protein shakes? I’m assuming it’s the processed type?

  2. Jessica Avatar

    I started eating Lily’s chocolate, which is sweetened with stevia, three years ago. I probably ate a few squares (or more) of it every other day. It took three years to realize that I was suffering from stevia issues, but after the muscles in my legs started to get sore and stiff, an arthritis diagnosis, and feeling weak like an 80 year old in my 50 year old body (heart palpitations, fatigue, joints popping)… I did some research and discovered that many others suffered from exactly the same symptoms when using stevia.
    I stopped four months ago.
    Within a week, I felt like a different person. No more needing to take a nap every day. The muscles in my legs, hips, buttocks and lower back got some resilience back.
    After a month or so, I was no longer afraid I couldn’t climb multiple flights of stairs. The muscles in my legs had gotten so weak, stairs freaked me out. Whenever I lay down or sat for long periods, my muscles just sort of melted into the bed or the couch. I had a hard time rolling over in bed at night because lower back muscles were so weak.

    Kicking stevia was one of the best things I’ve ever done and I tell EVERYBODY who uses it that they may be suffering from stevia-related issues and just not know it.

    If you choose to go deeply into it, you will see individuals going to see rheumatologists, getting MRIs, some even on painkillers, who experience rebounds when they get off stevia. It’s amazing. Wellness mama, you need to know this.

  3. Meri Alexander Avatar
    Meri Alexander

    Thank you! I am trying to learn as much as possible about the ingredients that are in foods. Everything seems to have a side affect both positive and negative

  4. Jackie Avatar

    I’ve been using stevia for years with no problems. Recently I purchased the liquid drops, or tincture. Are all tinctures considered more natural, or unprocessed, since there is no bleaching etc. the bottle just says deionized water, stevia leaf extract and 11% alcohol. Do all tinctures have alcohol. I do t care but doesn’t alcohol have calories.

  5. Laura Avatar

    Hi, the sweet drops stevia that you link to has quillaja in it. Do you know of any other stevia that doesn’t have quillaja in it? Thanks!

  6. carmen Avatar

    regarding the possible hormone altering affects of stevia i had learnt while studying a bachelor of health science in Nutrition that there may be a link with young male/male children consuming stevia and testicular cancer and male reproductive decline. this was a few years ago so i can not remember who conducted the study but i know myself as a mother i allow my daughter to consume very small amounts of stevia occasionally but in reality parents and care givers should provide a nourishing balanced diet low in processed sugars and limit fruit intake to 2-3 serves/day from the begging so the child’s body and reward centre in their brain is use to eating that way. great article thanks.

  7. Marla Avatar

    Yes we use organic stevia in the liquid form made, but I altenate with raw honey, organic cane sugar, and organic maple syrup. Thanks for your providing such great information.

  8. Jill Avatar

    I use Stevia and have been wondering about the “body expecting sweet calories but not getting them” issue, myself. Overall, I try to stay away from as much “sweet” stuff as possible, but I am a tea lover and some teas just need a little sweetness to bring out their full flavor and cut any bitterness.
    Thanks, Wellness Mama, for a quality article.
    I will add, that one of the most recognizable “stevia” products (which I won’t name for liability reasons) has very little actual stevia and is mostly a chemical concoction produced by a major soft-drink company and a chemical manufacturer.
    My advice – definitely do your homework and read the ingredients!

  9. Lisa Avatar

    I use the white powdered stevia in my tea and lemonade and have not suffered any adverse effects from it. I have lupus, celiac, borderline diabetes and post-menopausal, and it is one of the few things I can consume without issue. Informative article that still tells me I have nothing to fear from it. I grew it once to try the ultimate all-natural version of it, but couldn’t stand the black licorice after-taste!

  10. Dahlia Vazquez Avatar
    Dahlia Vazquez

    On the liquid stevia recommended here, it contains grapefruit seed extract which I thought was not good for you…

  11. Patrick Avatar

    Upon my reseearch I have read Omica stevias whether powdered or liquid are some of the purest on the market. I’ve never tried it I’m simply researching stevia brands in my attempt to find ones better than the “big” brands (same research that’s lead me to this article). If anybody has ever tried Omica please comment as it is expensive. The majority of the reviews on Amazon are five star. I use stevia because of diabetes so the more natural/organic while still tasting good, the better.

  12. Kathie Avatar

    Questions: Skinny girl stevia both powder packets and liquid are organic. Does that mean that both have no added chemicals? Are both forms safe to use? Is the liquid form better health-wise?

    Love your site! Thank you for your investigations into the health issues, and your great recipes!

    Thanks, Kathie.

  13. elizabeth Avatar
    elizabeth

    (regarding the last line of your stevia post)
    did you mean to hyperlink “this recipe” for us to have your stevia tincture recipe?
    hope so 🙂

    thanks so much!

  14. Jessica Avatar

    Japanese researchers have discovered that our gut bacteria convert steviosides to steviol, which is mutagenic and absorbed into the bloodstream. The WHO has published data that 4 mg stevia/kg body weight is the safe maximum intake. One serving of powdered stevia is 42 mg, so the limit for a 120 lb woman would be 5 servings/day. https://nutritionfacts.org/video/is-stevia-good-for-you/

  15. Arliss Avatar

    Have you heard of Swerve? I’m generally really leery of any kind of sweetener that has a fancy name and supposedly tastes just like sugar, but I admit I’m curious about this one. Everything I’ve read so far sounds pretty positive. It’s erythritol and oligosaccharides and supposedly has no effect on blood sugar.

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      It would technically be safer than many artificial sweeteners, but I’m leery of sugar alcohols and would not personally use it.

  16. Haleigh Avatar

    I do not use any sort of Stevia any more. I suffer from migraines and was told by a Dr. to use Stevia instead of other artificial sweeteners. I already did not really use artificial sweeteners (I thought, because I didn’t drink diet soda or anything major) but after learning all the different names for artificial sweeteners I began checking labels much more diligently and found out how many packaged foods contain sweeteners. Even things that aren’t diet sometimes contain mostly can sugar or other normal sweeteners with a small amount of sucralose to reduce calories just a bit.

    ANYWAYS, back to Stevia… I didn’t avoid products with that because of my Dr.’s recommendation. But after still getting migraines regularly, I realized the tea provided at my work had Stevia in it. One day after not having any tea or any migraines in a few days, I then brewed a cup of the tea and had a migraine beginning before I was even through the entire cup. Since then I’ve cut out Stevia as well as anything with Rebaudioside A (because that was another one that it took me awhile to learn about and look for on labels!) and now I’m mostly migraine free (well down from 15-20 per month to 1-2). One of my main triggers is hunger, so I think for me it may all be blood-sugar related. I’m not a Dr. but personally, I believe the theories on stress to the body when it’s expecting a rise in blood sugar but doesn’t get it (as stated above) definitely are true. However, I expect it doesn’t affect everyone. Unfortunately, it seems my body is just too sensitive to blood sugar related changes than the average person so it’s no Stevia for me.

    I’m glad that diabetics have found a healthier, natural way to sweeten things, though. I wish it was easier to identify products that contain ANY no-cal sweetener and more awareness that whether or not something is “healthy” varies person by person and other people suffering from migraines may need to avoid Stevia too. Ex: for me, small amounts of natural sugar, syrup, honey etc. is much “healthier” than Stevia or any other no-cal sweetener, however for a diabetic, Stevia leaves are a great option. This all being said, I am curious now what form of Stevia is in the products I’ve gotten migraines from. If it’s NOT Stevia leaves, I am somewhat curious to try out Stevia leaves and see if they are any better. But I’m in no rush… doing nothing to risk a possible migraine is preferable!

    Thanks for the great information!

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