Stevia is an FDA-approved sweetener derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant in South America. It’s a popular sweetener because, unlike many of the traditional sweeteners on the market, it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels and it doesn’t contain any calories.
Many people use stevia for desserts and to sweeten beverages. It is a very convenient sweetener; it dissolves quickly to instantly sweeten any liquid or beverage.
It is also not as expensive as other sweeteners on the market.
Not All Stevia Is Created Equally
Stevia can be grouped into three main categories:
1. Green leaf stevia: Of the various types of stevia, this is the least-processed, as the leaves have been dried up and ground into powder form. This form of stevia has been used throughout Japan and South America for centuries as a natural sweetener and health remedy. This type of stevia is sweet, but is not as potent as other stevia products (it’s still about 30 to 40 times sweeter than sugar.)
2. Stevia extracts: Some stevia brands that are made today extract the sweeter part of stevia and not as much from the bitter side of the stevia leaf. Although stevia extract may seem like a better option than other types of stevia, there is not enough research yet to show its effects. This type of stevia is 200 times sweeter than sugar.
3. Processed/altered stevia and truvia: Truvia or rebaudioside products are 400 times sweeter than sugar—but this is the type of stevia that you should avoid. The problem with this type of stevia is how it’s processed; in fact, there are 42 steps to make this processed sweetener. Rebaudioside is extracted from the stevia leaf, and then chemical solvents are added, including acetonitrile (a carcinogen that is toxic to the liver). Also, several stevia products contain GMO ingredients made from GMO corn.
On the ingredient packages, look out for maltodextrin. This is typically a genetically modified starch derived from corn. Also look out for dextrose—this is another name for glucose and is typically made from GMO corn.
Stevia Side Effects
1. Upset stomach: Stevia contains the compound stevioside, which is common for causing upset stomachs, bloating, or nausea. It may also decrease your appetite. The reactions are usually mild and should eventually disappear, but if the symptoms don’t go away, then you should contact your doctor.
2. Allergic reactions: Stevia rarely causes an allergic reaction, but an allergic reaction is not uncommon for people who are already sensitive to daisies or ragweed. If you have developed an allergic reaction to stevia, you may experience dizziness, difficulty swallowing, wheezing, etc. If you experience any of these symptoms after you consume stevia, you should immediately stop consumption and seek medical treatment.
3. Metabolism change: Tests on animal subjects have shown that ingesting large amounts of stevioside can interfere with the way the blood absorbs carbohydrates. This could limit your body’s ability to convert food into energy.
4. Additional side effects: Other side effects that you might experience when consuming stevia are dizziness, numbness, and body aches. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor to ensure that you do not require any immediate medical attention or treatment.
1. Pregnancy and breastfeeding: Not a lot of research has been conducted to determine how stevia could affect women who are pregnant or breastfeeding; until more research is conducted, pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding are advised to avoid stevia.
2. Recommended dosage: Although there is not enough information to state what the recommended dose for stevia is, your age and state of health could contribute to your dosage intake. Make sure to consult your pharmacist or doctor first.
3. Allergic to ragweed and related plants: People who are allergic to plants in the Composite or Asteraceae families could get an allergic reaction if they consume stevia. Plants such as daises, ragweed, or marigolds could trigger the reaction.
4. Lowers blood pressure to dangerous levels: Some research suggests that regular consumption of stevia could lower blood pressure—although this research is not conclusive. People who already have low blood pressure and who consume large amounts of stevia might see their blood pressure drop to a dangerous point. Speak to your doctor first about how much stevia you should consume if you have low blood pressure.
5. Medication interactions: There are certain medications that interact in a negative way with stevia, including:
- Lithium: Stevia can often act as a diuretic and prevent the body’s ability to rid itself of lithium.
- Diabetes medications: Some diabetes medications interact in a negative way with stevia, since both can lower the body’s blood sugar levels. If the blood sugar drops too low, it can become dangerous.
- Medications for high blood pressure: Since both are used to lower the body’s blood pressure levels, it can cause the blood sugar to drop to a dangerous level.
Make sure to contact your doctor or health care practitioner if you have concerns or questions about consuming stevia.
“Stevia Side Effects,” NewHealthGuide.org; http://www.newhealthguide.org/Stevia-Side-Effects.html, last accessed July 31, 2015.
Geiger, S., “Is Stevia Safe?” EatingWell web site; http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/nutrition_news_information/is_stevia_safe, last accessed July 31, 2015.