I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about stevia lately and have seen several articles and other sources online claiming that there may be some negative stevia side effects.
Isn’t stevia an herb? And aren’t herbs supposed to be good for us? If so, then why all the fuss?
I’m going to answer all of your questions in this article and lay out for you both the good and the bad about how stevia affects your health.
What is Stevia Really?
Stevia is an herbal plant and there are approximately 200+ species of stevia that grow in South America.
What makes stevia leaves sweet are two glycosides – stevioside and rebaudioside. Stevioside is sweet but also has a bitter aftertaste that many complain about when using stevia while rebaudioside is better tasting, sweet and less bitter.
Most “raw” and less processed stevia products contain both sweeteners where most highly processed forms of stevia, like Truvia, only contain the rebaudioside; the sweetest part of the stevia leaf.
As you’re about to see in the research, using the “whole” stevia leaf that also contains stevioside has some great health benefits, but using certain brands of stevia that have been processed and added to is not a good option.
Not All Stevia Is Created Equal!
Here is what you need to know about the various brands of stevia. There are three main categories that you need to be aware of.
1. Green Leaf Stevia – This is the least processed of all types of stevia and the leaves have basically been dried and ground into powder form. This is the type of stevia that has been used in Japan and South America for centuries as a natural sweetener and health remedy. This stevia is sweet, slightly bitter and isn’t quite as potent as most stevia products. This type of stevia is about 30-40 times sweeter than sugar.
This is the type of stevia that I believe is the best option, but still should be used in moderation.
2. Stevia Extracts – Some brands of stevia today extract the sweeter and less bitter part of the stevia leaf (rebaudioside) which doesn’t have the health benefits found in stevioside. This type of stevia may be a better option than other regular sweeteners but there aren’t many studies available yet showing it’s effects.
This type of stevia is about 200 times sweeter than sugar.
3. Altered Stevia and Truvia – This is the type of stevia that you want to stay away from and in reality isn’t stevia at all. The problem with these stevia products is the processing and added ingredients.
According to the United States patent for the Coca-Cola Company, Truvia goes through a 42 step process to make this processed sweetener. First, the rebaudioside is extracted from the stevia leaf then, chemical solvents are added including acetonitrile which is toxic to the liver and is a carcinogen. They then add in a GMO corn derivative in erythritol.
Truvia or rebaudioside stevia products are about 400 times sweeter than sugar.
Also, many other stevia products contain additives such as sugar and dextrose that come from genetically engineered corn.
This point cannot be stressed enough: not all stevia products are created equal. There is a HUGE difference between consuming real stevia and the chemically processed Truvia.
Regarding the good stuff, we have found that there are several studies (322 to be exact!) evaluating stevia’s ability to be used as a remedy.
Overall, it is generally accepted that this tasty herb can support blood sugar, weight loss and most recently even cancer. The benefits of stevia are actually two-fold:
- There are medicinal properties in the plant itself that lend to healing.
- People using stevia instead of white sugar are omitting one of the primary causes of most illnesses including diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer and are, therefore, infinitely less likely to get sick.
Here are just a few of the more promising studies:
Two years ago, Nutrition and Cancer highlighted a groundbreaking study that, for the first time ever, connected stevia consumption to breast cancer reduction. It was observed that stevioside, enhances cancer apoptosis (cell death) and decreases certain stress pathways in the body that contribute to cancer growth.
This spring journal Food Chemistry published a study out of Croatia showing that when stevia is added to natural colon cancer killing mixtures such as blackberry leaf, antioxidant levels soar.
An article published in Journal of Dietary Supplements this April recently evaluated how stevia affects diabetic rats. It was discovered that rats treated with 250 and 500 mg/kg every day “significantly” reduced fasting blood sugar levels and balanced insulin resistance, triglycerides and alkaline phosphatase (which is raised in cancer patients).
Other studies have also found that stevia may help improve cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
On the negative side of things, there is one study that indicates consuming stevia in very large amounts could effect hormones because its glycosides have a similar structure to plant hormones such as gibberellin. But many herbs including ginkgo biloba also have this and if consumed in moderation is a non issue. Also, follow up studies have found that stevia has no effect on hormones.
Best Natural Sweeteners (Ranked)
Most people do well with stevia, but listen to your body because stevia is an herb and everyone’s body may react differently to it. If you can’t get over its savory (almost tangy) flavor, however, some other natural sweeteners you may want to try are:
1. Raw local honey – In my opinion, is the healthiest, (and therefore) best natural sweetener. The health benefits of honey are absolutely amazing. I’ve conducted a thorough review of the scientific literature out there and have discovered that honey has many medicinal benefits.
My ultimate favorite way to use honey is to help prevent seasonal allergies and by mixing it with some organic, ground cinnamon.
2. Dates – The second healthiest sweeter. My favorite avocado chocolate mousse recipe uses dates and I wouldn’t change this up for anything!
3. Stevia Leaf – When buying stevia, green stevia is the best option. Remember, buy stevia without additives and that has been less processed.
If you are looking for a good brand of stevia that tastes great and you can find it in any health food store, try Sweet Leaf Stevia.
If you want to try green stevia powder I recommend Organic Traditions.
4. Coconut nectar – The sap from coconut tree blossoms has become one of my favorite sweeteners. Relatively new on the American market, islanders have been enjoying it for centuries. It has the consistency of honey at room temperature and is an abundant source of minerals, 17 amino acids and broad-spectrum B vitamins. The best part about it is that the sap is not processed. Au naturel!
At the end of the day, no sweetener is perfect, but some are definitely better than others. Remember this, ALL sweeteners should be used in moderation and in certain instances should be eliminated for a time.
As more companies use stevia or some synthetic version of it in their products, you’re probably going to hear more negative press about it.
Make sure that you choose a good brand that includes no harmful fillers, use it only in small amounts, and listen to your body.
What do you think of stevia – Love it? Hate it? Have you used it?
- Robbins O. The dark side of cola-cola’s healthy brands. [Internet]. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ocean-robbins/the-dark-side-of-cocacola_b_4385446.html
- Paul S, et al. Stevioside induced ROS-mediated apoptosis through mitochondrial pathway in human breast cancer cell line MCF-7. Nutr Cancer 2012; 64(7):1087-94.
- Akbarzadeh S, et al. The Effect of Stevia Rebaudiana on Serum Omentin and Visfatin Level in STZ-Induced Diabetic Rats. J Diet Suppl 2014. [Epub ahead of print]
- Komes D, et al. Formulating blackberry leaf mixtures for preparation of infusions with plant derived sources of sweeteners. Food Chem 2014; (15)151:385-93.
- Melis MS Effects of chronic administration of Stevia rebaudiana on fertility in rats Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1999 Nov 67(2): 157-161.