Stevia

Everything you need to know about stevia

Stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener with several health benefits. This article covers everything you need to know about stevia.

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This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
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What is stevia?

Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana).

As it has zero calories but is 200 times sweeter than table sugar, it’s a popular choice for many people looking to lose weight and decrease sugar intake.

This sweetener has also been associated with several health benefits, including lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Nevertheless, commercial stevia products vary in quality.

Many varieties on the market are highly refined and combined with other sweeteners — such as erythritol, dextrose, and maltodextrin — which may alter its potential health effects.

Meanwhile, less processed forms may be lacking in safety research.

Forms of stevia

Stevia is available in several varieties, each differing in its processing method and ingredients.

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For instance, several popular products are stevia blends, which are one of the most heavily processed forms of stevia.

They’re made using rebaudioside A (Reb-A) — a type of refined stevia extract, alongside other sweeteners like maltodextrin and erythritol.

During processing, the leaves are soaked in water and passed through a filter with alcohol to isolate Reb-A. Later, the extract is dried, crystallized, and combined with other sweeteners and fillers.

Pure extracts made only from Reb A are also available as both liquids and powders.

Compared to stevia blends, pure extracts undergo many of the same processing methods — but are not combined with other sweeteners or sugar alcohols.

Meanwhile, green leaf stevia is the least processed form. It’s made from whole stevia leaves that have been dried and ground.

Although the green leaf product is typically considered the purest form, it’s not as thoroughly studied as pure extracts and Reb A. As such, research is lacking on its safety.

Summary: Stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener. Commercial varieties are often highly processed and mixed with other sweeteners.

Is stevia safe?

Stevia is often touted as a safe and healthy sugar substitute that can sweeten up foods without the negative health effects linked to refined sugar.

It’s also associated with several impressive health benefits, such as reduced calorie intake, blood sugar levels, and risk of cavities.

However, some concerns exist surrounding stevia’s safety — especially for certain people who may be more sensitive to its effects.

Stevia safety and dosing

Steviol glycosides, which are refined extracts of stevia like Reb A, are recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meaning that they can be used in food products and marketed in the United States.

On the other hand, whole-leaf varieties and raw stevia extracts are currently not approved by the FDA for use in food products due to a lack of research.

Regulatory agencies like the FDA, the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF), and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) defines the acceptable daily intake of steviol glycosides as up to 1.8 mg per pound of body weight (4 mg per kg).

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Stevia safety in certain populations

Although many stevia products are generally recognized as safe, some research indicates that this zero-calorie sweetener may impact certain people differently.

Due to health conditions or age, various groups may want to be especially mindful of their intake.

Diabetes

You may find stevia helpful if you have diabetes — but be careful about which type to choose.

Some research indicates that stevia may be a safe and effective way to help manage blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

One small study in 12 people with this condition showed that consuming this sweetener alongside a meal led to greater decreases in blood sugar levels compared to a control group given an equal amount of corn starch.

Similarly, an 8-week study in rats with diabetes noted that stevia extract decreased levels of blood sugar and hemoglobin A1C — a marker of long-term blood sugar control — by over 5% compared to rats fed a control diet.

Keep in mind that certain stevia blends may contain other types of sweeteners — including dextrose and maltodextrin — that can increase blood sugar levels.

Using these products in moderation or opting for pure stevia extract can help maintain normal blood sugar levels if you have diabetes.

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Is stevia safe to use during pregnancy?

Stevia made with Reb-A is safe to use in moderation during pregnancy. If you’re sensitive to sugar alcohols, choose a brand that doesn’t contain erythritol.

Whole-leaf stevia and crude stevia extract, including stevia you’ve grown at home, are not safe to use if you’re pregnant.

It may seem strange that a highly refined product is considered safer than a natural one. This is a common mystery with herbal products.

In this case, Reb-A has been evaluated for safety during pregnancy and otherwise. Stevia in its natural form hasn’t. Currently, there isn’t enough evidence that whole-leaf stevia or crude stevia extract won’t harm your pregnancy.

Children

Stevia can help cut down on added sugar consumption, which could be especially beneficial for children.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a higher intake of added sugar could increase children’s risk of heart disease by altering triglyceride and cholesterol levels and contributing to weight gain.

Swapping added sugar for stevia could potentially minimize these risks.

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Steviol glycosides like Reb A have been approved by the FDA. However, it’s especially important to monitor intake in kids.

This is because it’s much easier for kids to reach the acceptable daily limit for stevia, which is 1.8 mg per pound of body weight (4 mg per kg) for both adults and children.

Limiting your kid’s consumption of foods with stevia and other sweeteners, such as sugar, can help prevent adverse side effects and support overall health.

There’s some evidence to suggest that stevia may help fight or prevent some types of cancer.

According to a 2012 study, a glycoside called stevioside found in stevia plants helps boost cancer cell death in a human breast cancer line. Stevioside may also help decrease some mitochondrial pathways that help cancer grow.

A 2013 study supported these findings. It found that many stevia glycoside derivatives were toxic to specific leukemia, lung, stomach, and breast cancer cell lines.

Summary: Steviol glycosides like Reb A are approved by the FDA — while whole-leaf and raw extracts are not. Stevia may impact certain groups differently, including children, pregnant women, and people with diabetes.

Side effects of stevia

Although generally recognized as safe, stevia may cause adverse effects in some people.

For example, one review noted that zero-calorie sweeteners like stevia could interfere with concentrations of beneficial gut bacteria, which play a central role in disease prevention, digestion, and immunity.

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Another study in 893 people found that variations in gut bacteria could negatively impact body weight, triglycerides, and levels of HDL (good) cholesterol — known risk factors for heart disease.

Some research even suggests that stevia and other zero-calorie sweeteners could lead you to consume more calories throughout the day.

For instance, one study in 30 men determined that drinking a stevia-sweetened beverage caused participants to eat more later in the day, compared to drinking a sugar-sweetened beverage.

What’s more, a review of seven studies discovered that routine consumption of zero-calorie sweeteners like stevia may contribute to increased body weight and waist circumference over time.

Additionally, certain products with stevia may harbor sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol, which are sweeteners sometimes associated with digestive issues in sensitive individuals.

Stevia may also reduce blood pressure and blood sugar levels, potentially interfering with medications used to treat these conditions.

For best results, moderate your intake and consider reducing consumption if you experience any negative side effects.

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Summary: Stevia may disrupt your levels of healthy gut bacteria. Counterintuitively, some evidence even suggests that it could increase food intake and contribute to higher body weight over time.

Benefits of stevia

Stevia is a nonnutritive sweetener. This means it has almost no calories. If you’re trying to lose weight, this aspect may be appealing.

However, to date, research is inconclusive. The impact of nonnutritive sweeteners on an individual’s health may depend on the amount that is consumed, as well as the time of day it’s consumed.

If you have diabetes, stevia may help keep your blood sugar levels in check.

One 2010 study of 19 healthy, lean participants and 12 obese participants found that stevia significantly lowered insulin and glucose levels. It also left study participants satisfied and full after eating, despite the lower calorie intake.

However, one noted limitation in this study is that it took place in a laboratory setting, rather than in a real-life situation in a person’s natural environment.

And according to a 2009 study, stevia leaf powder may help manage cholesterol. Study participants consumed 20 milliliters of stevia extract daily for one month.

The study found stevia lowered total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides with no negative side effects. It also increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol. It’s unclear if occasional stevia use in lower amounts would have the same impact.

How to use stevia as a sugar substitute

Stevia may be used in place of table sugar in your favorite foods and beverages. A pinch of stevia powder is equal to about one teaspoon of table sugar.

Tasty ways to use stevia include:

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You can bake with stevia, although it may give cakes and cookies a licorice aftertaste.

You should add extra liquid or a bulking ingredient such as applesauce or mashed bananas to your recipe to make up for the lost sugar. It may take some trial and error to get the texture and level of sweetness you like.

Does stevia break a fast?

Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular diet trends of the last few years.

There are several styles of intermittent fasting, each with its own rules and protocols. These differences can sometimes make the practice confusing for people who are just getting started.

Stevia is a popular sugar substitute that’s often used to reduce sugar intake or promote more balanced blood sugar levels.

Many people wonder whether it’s OK to consume stevia while they’re fasting, or if it should be saved for times when you’re allowed to eat.

It’s unlikely that stevia will break your fast

Stevia is a type of natural sweetener derived from the plant Stevia rebaudiana. It tastes up to 300 times sweeter than regular sugar but contains no calories or carbs.

Weight loss and improved blood sugar regulation are some of the most popular reasons people choose to adopt intermittent fasting practices.

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Early research indicates that stevia does not significantly raise insulin or blood sugar levels and — because it doesn’t contain calories — it may help people who are trying to reduce their calorie intake to lose weight.

Autophagy is a natural bodily process that recycles damaged components within your cells. Some research suggests that short-term fasting may be a good way to stimulate your body’s autophagy processes, although research in humans is limited.

Some people adopt intermittent fasting in hopes of obtaining health benefits associated with autophagy, such as increased energy levels and improved brain health.

Although no research has focused specifically on stevia’s effect on autophagy in humans, some experts assert that a moderate intake of stevia is unlikely to significantly affect that cellular process.

How much stevia is too much during your fast?

Using stevia in moderation is unlikely to break your fast or reduce any of the potential benefits you’re trying to obtain from fasting.

However, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set the acceptable daily limit of stevia extract ingestion at 1.8 mg per pound (4 mg per kg) of body weight. For someone who weighs 150 pounds (68 kg), that equates to about 272 mg per day.

Serving sizes may vary depending on the brand, but a typical serving of pure liquid stevia extract is about 5–7 drops, which contains approximately 20–50 mg of stevia.

For safety purposes, a 150-pound (68-kg) person should limit their intake to no more than five 50-mg servings of liquid stevia per day. This equates to about 25–60 drops depending on the strength of your product.

Since the potency can vary between brands, check the product label or contact the manufacturer directly to find out how much stevia the drops provide per serving.

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Summary: Stevia doesn’t contain any calories and is unlikely to cause significant metabolic changes. Thus, a moderate intake of stevia is likely alright during a fast.

Is stevia vegan?

Stevia is vegan-friendly, but there are other vegan sweetener alternatives if you find you don’t like the aftertaste of stevia.

Stevia alternatives

Here are some of the best stevia alternatives in terms of taste and health benefits:

Erythritol

Erythritol is a vegan-friendly sugar alcohol and natural sweetener that’s become very popular over the last few years. Erythritol is usually made from wheat or cornstarch and this gluten-free sweetener does not contribute to tooth decay like some sugar alternatives.

Like other sugar alcohols, erythritol offers sweetness without causing a spike in blood glucose. As a powder, erythritol can be used in everything from baking to drinks.

Beet sugar

Beet sugar is made from sugar beets and offers a vegan-friendly alternative to people who have an allergy to cane sugar. Beet sugar has no taste difference from cane sugar so it can be used in baking, but it does have calories.

Many vegans prefer beet sugar because they can be sure they’re using a 100% vegan product as long as it’s certified organic and doesn’t come from genetically modified or highly processed beets.

Coconut Palm Sugar

Coconut palm sugar is a wonderful replacement for stevia and sugar with a dark brown color and a nutty but mild flavor. Coconut sugar is less sweet than cane sugar with a much lower glycemic index.

Fructose

Fructose is the primary sugar in fruits and it’s sweeter than sucrose in cane sugar. While it does have calories, you can use about half less fructose than regular sugar in baking and recipes.

Last updated on September 16, 2021, and last reviewed by an expert on September 13, 2021.

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