Is stevia safe?

This “all-natural” artificial sweetener has taken over the low-calorie food world, but is it a safe substitute for sugar?  

  • The Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have said stevia is safe to use in certain amounts.
  • There have not been any studies that look at the long-term effects of stevia.

[3 MIN READ]

Do you find yourself reaching for one of those colored sweetener packets at the coffee shop? Everyone has a preference — pink, yellow, blue, brown.

But in the last few years, a new color has jumped into the mix. Sometimes it’s a green or white packet. Sometimes it’s branded as Truvia or Pure Via. In almost every case, it’s called the “all-natural” zero-calorie sweetener — stevia.

Since it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2008, stevia has exploded in popularity. In fact, stevia sales officially surpassed other artificial sweetener sales in 2018. 

But does its popularity mean we should all switch to stevia right away? Read on to learn more about this trendy sugar substitute.

What is stevia?

Stevia is a plant that’s native to South America. To create the sweetener, the leaves of the stevia plant are dried and steeped in water. The water is then purified, so the steviol glycoside compounds from the leaves can be extracted from the liquid. Once that extract is dried, it’s ready to be used as a sugar substitute.

Most people are familiar with stevia in the form of packets you see at the coffee shop. But stevia’s uses go beyond just a coffee sweetener — more companies are using stevia in diet sodas, gum, yogurt and low-calorie ice cream.

Like other alternative sweeteners, stevia is actually much sweeter than sugar — 200 to 400 times sweeter, in fact. That means you’ll need to use a lot less stevia when sweetening your coffee, tea or dessert.

Like other alternative sweeteners, stevia is actually much sweeter than sugar — 200 to 400 times sweeter, in fact. That means you’ll need to use a lot less stevia when sweetening your coffee, tea or dessert. Some people make the mistake of adding the same amount of stevia as they would sugar, but this can cause sugar overload. Stevia also stays sweet at high temperatures, so it can be used as a substitute for sugar in baked goods (1/8 teaspoon of stevia is equal to roughly 1 teaspoon of sugar).

Is stevia safe to eat?

The FDA has deemed stevia “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS. Other artificial sweeteners, like aspartame (Nutrasweet®, sucralose (Splenda®), acesulfame potassium (Sunett®) and saccharin (Sweet and Low®) and others have the same designation.

Aside from the FDA, the World Health Organization and European Food Safety Authority have also said stevia in moderate amounts is safe for everyone, including children and pregnant women. These organizations consider a safe amount to be four milligrams of stevia glycosides per kilogram of body weight per day.

Keep in mind that most forms of stevia you have are not 100 percent stevia glycosides, as companies use other ingredients, like dextrose, to dilute the stevia flavor, which can be very potent. Be aware of the ingredients in your package and be sure you are buying from a reputable manufacturer.

Although there have not been any long-term studies looking at stevia’s health effects on humans, some scientists have raised concerns about its impact on our metabolism and gut health.

Can stevia help me lose weight?

If you’re trying to cut back on your sugar intake to lose weight, stevia and other non-caloric sweeteners may be able to help by providing a sweet flavor without the added calories.

However, research is conflicted on whether stevia and artificial sweeteners actually help with weight loss. Some studies show that they can actually increase calorie intake because people thing they can eat more or they don’t feel full, while another small study indicated that stevia may help lower insulin levels, which can help with weight loss.

If you do decide to use stevia or another type of sugar substitute, use in moderation and know that it won’t be the only tool you’ll need to lose weight. 

If you do decide to use stevia or another type of sugar substitute, use in moderation and know that it won’t be the only tool you’ll need to lose weight. And be sure to look for other healthy ways to replace sugar. For example, try drinking sparkling water instead of soda or swapping in spices (like ginger) instead of a sweetener.

A weight loss plan should also include regular exercise and a healthy, plant-based diet that includes whole grains, lean meats, fruit and vegetables. Your doctor or a dietitian can help you map out a healthy plan that keeps you on track toward your goals.

Find a doctor

If you’re trying to improve your eating habits, make healthier choices, and upgrade your overall health, talk to your doctor. You can find a Providence nutritionist using our provider directory. Or you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.

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#Stevia is the most popular zero-calorie sweetener today, but should we all switch right away? Learn more about this trendy sugar substitute. @psjh #nutrition

Resources:

5 free (and fun) ways to stay fit with your family

10 tips for becoming a healthy meal prep expert

Navigating the 3 whites: Sodium, sugar and refined grains

FDA: Sugar substitutes

My Plate

Nutrition.gov: Weight and obesity

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

We are all about food! The Providence Nutrition Team loves to talk about and share our expertise on how to help you find the right diet, food types and maintenance tactics to help you live life to the fullest...while also enjoying the best foods that mother nature has to offer.

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