Stevia is promoted as a natural sweetener in a multitude of products. But is it safe? That answer is complex. Let’s explore if stevia is bad for you or if it is a good sugar substitute.
Last Updated November 15, 2020
Let me first say that I am not telling you to not drink or eat products containing artificial sweeteners. You need to decide for yourself.
I am going to tell you my experience with it and some of what science says about it. I encourage you to read more about Stevia, and other low calorie sweeteners, before you make up your mind.
My Experience with Stevia
Recently I had stomach upset and bloating. Now, I have had similar issues like this before and it is usually due to something I have eaten. Usually I tried to eliminate foods that contain ingredients that upset my stomach and have been pretty successful to date. It has been a while since I have had any issues, so I was curious about what set it off this time. I reviewed what I ate in the past few days, checking ingredient lists. Unknowingly, I ate something containing Stevia.
I have never had Stevia before, so was curious about it. Did this upset my stomach? So, as I usually do, I searched information from scientific and medical journals. I found some interesting facts, which I will share with you.
Now, keep in mind, I can’t say with certainty that Stevia caused my problem. My experience is just anecdotal, not scientific. However, the information I read is not well known. I think people should be aware of what they are ingesting. I am all for informed choices.
What is Stevia?
Stevia is a plant originating in South America that is related to the daisy and ragweed. It can be used in its natural form, either fresh or dried. Most often it is heavily processed into powders and extracts, which can include bleaching and chemical alteration.
Stevia has become popular as a sweetener in products because it is viewed as a natural product, tastes sweeter than sugar and doesn’t raise blood sugar when ingested. It is considered to be calorie neutral and is usually promoted as having no calories. It is also a plant and appeals to those on a plant based diet.
Most Stevia Products are Not Pure
It is worth mentioning that Stevia products on the market are not pure. They usually contain other ingredients, such as erythritol from corn, xylitol or other artificial sweeteners. The product I ate that may have upset my stomach contained Stevia extract that also contained xylitol and asparatame.
Not all Forms of Stevia are Safe
The US FDA considers purified Stevia extracts as generally safe for use in food, but does not recognize Stevia leaf or crude extracts as safe. What this means is that commercial foods containing Stevia must contain the processed forms and not the natural forms.
“These high-purity steviol glycosides may be lawfully marketed and added to food products sold in the United States. However, stevia leaf and crude stevia extracts are not considered GRAS [Generally Recognized As Safe] and do not have FDA approval for use in food.” – US FDA –
Stevia was a Folk Remedy
Stevia may help in cases of diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. The leaves from this plant were a folk remedy for stomach problems and there is some science to back this up.
There are new studies emerging that suggest stevia may have other medical benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and fighting cancer. However, these health benefits may be related to other components of stevia not found in the processed forms on the market. It will be interesting to read more of what science discovers about this sweet little plant.
Stevia was also used as a contraceptive in folk medicine. In early studies, mice and rats given very high doses of stevia extract had low litter sizes. However, many scientific studies since show that Stevia is NOT a birth control method and has minimal effect on human fertility. Definitely discuss this with your physician if you have concerns.
Stevia may cause gastrointestinal upset, which may include nausea, vomiting, indigestion, cramping and bloating in some people. It isn’t completely clear why stevia helps in some people and cause problems in others, but it may be due to hypersensitivity or allergy-type reactions to this plant product.
Other problems reported with stevia ingestion can include low blood sugar, low blood pressure, hormone disruption, and kidney problems. Stevia can also interfere with certain medications. If you are on medications and use stevia as a sweetener, you may want to talk with your pharmacist.
Stevia can Prevent Weight Loss
Yes, you read that right. Artificial sweeteners can actually prevent us from losing weight.
When I was trying to lose weight the in prior years, I turned to diet products that contained artificial sweeteners. I struggled to lose weight. After my cancer diagnosis, I eliminated any added sugar to my diet. I started to follow the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, which is less than 30 g per day for an average adult. It was challenging. I suffered cravings for the first 3 or 4 months, which were hard to ignore. Sugar is known to feed breast cancer cells. So, I persisted.
“Free sugars should be less that 10% of total calories in a daily diet. Reducing the intake of free sugars below 5% of total energy intake would provide additional health benefits. ” – World Health Organization guidelines for simple sugars –
After reducing my sugar intake and eliminating artificial sweeteners from my diet, I noticed my weight starting to come off. Curious, I, once again, did a literature search into how diet products and artificial sweeteners affect weight loss.
Any time we just taste sweetness, it triggers hormones that tell our body to store food as fat.
“Recent findings suggest that the sweet taste receptor plays important roles in nutrient sensing and regulating metabolic processes that involve insulin secretion.” – Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care –
It doesn’t matter if that sweetness contains calories or not. It doesn’t matter if it is sugar or an artificial sweetener.
Artificial sweeteners, such as stevia, may also interfere with our gut bacteria. Scientists think that the type of gut bacteria we have is a factor in obesity. It is not clear if this is a good or a bad side effect yet. Scientists are still trying to figure this out.
Some people actually gain weight by consuming artificial sweeteners.
“We found that consumption of nonnutritive sweeteners was associated with modest long-term weight gain.” – Canadian Medical Association Journal –
I was successful in taking 90 pounds off. It wasn’t easy, but it is achievable. There are countless others who have done it this way too. It takes a lifetime commitment, but it is worth it.
If you are struggling to lose weight, consider not using artificial sweeteners.
Have you had any issues with stevia or other artificial sweeteners? Have you lost weight using these products? Please share your experience in the comments below.