Proven Benefits of Stevia, Side Effects and Safety (Science Based)

Stevia: Is it safe, Proven Benefits, Side Effects (Science Based)

Stevia is a small perennial plant that is very sweet and is a natural zero-calorie replacement for sugar. Stevia leaves are a good sugar alternative if you have diabetes, want to lose weight, or reduce your sugar intake. You can use a stevia leaf to sweeten tea, coffee, and other beverages, or use stevia tincture in baked goods.

Although stevia leaf isn’t an artificial sweetener, stevia leaf extract in its powdered form is classed as an artificial sweetener. Commercially produced stevia that you can buy in the store has gone through many chemical processes. Dried stevia leaves are better for you than sugar, but many wonder if stevia powder is safe to use.

In this article, I will examine if stevia is better for you than sugar. You will also find out about the many benefits to your health of using stevia leaf in place of sugar. I will also discuss if there are reasons why stevia could be bad for you.

At the end of the article you will also find how to make your own stevia tincture.

What is Stevia?

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a small green leafy plant or herb that is native to South America. For centuries, natives in South America used stevia leaves to sweeten tea, medicines, and other beverages.

The journal Nutrition Today reports that stevia is a natural sweetener due to the sweet compounds in the stevia leaf. Stevia leaves contain sweet-tasting compounds called steviol glycosides which can be extracted to make sweeteners. The most abundant of the sweet compounds is rebaudioside A (or, Reb-A). (1)

Scientists say that stevia extracts can be between 250 and 300 times sweeter than sugar.

Stevia plant leaves and commercially-produced stevia extracts contain zero calories. (2)

Knowing if stevia is bad for you or not can be confusing because stevia can refer to the naturally-growing stevia herb or stevia extracts that look like a white powder. In this article, I will focus on the health benefits of stevia leaf.

Interestingly, because commercial stevia goes through so many chemical processes, stevia extracts are classed as an artificial sweetener. (3) However, there is nothing “artificial” about putting a stevia leaf in tea or coffee as a healthy sugar substitute. Natural stevia leaf is not an artificial sweetener.

Stevia – Nutrition Facts

Many people view natural stevia leaves as one of the best and healthiest substitutes for sugar.

The naturally sweet leaves of the stevia plant contain vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients. Research has shown that stevia leaf contains minerals such as potassium, iron, and calcium. (4)

Other studies have revealed that dried stevia leaf powder is a good source of iron and fiber. Also, the fact that stevia has no calories and is nutritious means that it is a good sugar substitute for diabetics. (5)

Stevia plant leaves are healthy because they are also a good source of polyphenols (plant-based antioxidants). One study commented that stevia is a healthy sugar substitute for coffee because of the combined antioxidant content. (6)

However rebaudioside-A is not the same as pure stevia. Reb-A is the main extract from the stevia leaf that is then used to make commercial stevia. (7)

Stevia as a Sugar Substitute (Stevia vs. Sugar)

When it comes to finding the healthiest substitute for sugar, how does stevia compare to other sweeteners? Can stevia be viewed as one of the healthiest sugar replacements?

Stevia is now a popular sweetener that is used to replace sugar. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes stevia sweeteners, which mainly composed of reb-A and stevioside, as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for use in foods and beverages.

However, the FDA has not approved as GRAS the use of whole leaf stevia or crude stevia extracts as sweeteners. The last ones have insufficient safety information and remain under review. Therefore whole leaf and crude extracts of stevia can only be sold as dietary supplements in the US. (8)

Does this mean that stevia leaves are bad for you? No. Research published in the Journal of Food and Science Technology found that dried stevia leaf has a high nutrition value, polyphenol concentration and antioxidant activity. (6)

Research has shown that compounds in stevia leaf (stevioside and rebaudioside) can be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. (9) One study found that 1 gram of raw stevia leaf extract is between 100 and 150 times sweeter than sucrose. (11) So, gram for gram, stevia is much sweeter than sugar.

When comparing stevia sweetness to sugar, it is easy to see why stevia is better than sugar. Scientists have revealed that stevia leaf has many therapeutic benefits that sugar doesn’t have. For example, unlike sugar, stevia leaf helps lower blood glucose, is anti-hypertensive, and can boost your immune system. Also, stevia won’t rot your teeth as sugar does. (9)

Is Stevia Safe?

Many people look for healthier alternatives to sugar are wary of using artificial sweeteners in their diet. Some people claim that stevia is bad for you and that stevia could even cause cancer.

Even though stevia leaf is not an artificial sweetener, is it safe to use in teas, sauces, and baking?

The Journal of Nutrition in 2018 stated that many food regulatory bodies around the world have affirmed the safety of stevia. (10)

It seems that much of the controversy if stevia is safe or not is connected with the highly processed type of commercial stevia. Also experiments on rats in laboratory settings have used extremely large doses of stevia extract.

Scientific research into stevia leaf and stevia extracts have found that steviol glycosides don’t cause diseases like cancer and are not toxic. In fact, in lab experiments, high doses of reb-A (stevia extract used in commercial stevia) up to 1,000 times the typical amount a human would be exposed to did not have a toxic effect. (11)

Other studies have shown that an acceptable stevioside dose of 5 mg/kg of body weight a day does not cause cancerous cells to develop or cell mutation. Scientists have only found adverse effects on health when taking doses higher than 1250 mg/kg. (12)

Studies into leaves from the stevia plant have found that crude stevia leaf extracts have beneficial properties that can protect a person from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. (11)

So, rather than sweeten your beverage with commercial stevia which is highly processed, why not put in some crushed, dried stevia leaf to get all of the health benefits?

Is stevia safe during pregnancy?

Are there any health risks of using stevia while you are pregnant? There have only been limited studies done on the effects of using stevia during pregnancy.

The journal Canadian Family Physician reported that animal studies on stevia have not shown the extracts to be toxic on rat embryos. (27) However, there have not been any studies on humans.

Does Stevia Cause Cancer?

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that using stevia leaves as a natural sweetener causes cancer.

Many studies have shown that, rather than being carcinogenic, stevia has anticancer properties. Compounds in stevia leaf have an anti-tumor effect and an anti-inflammatory effect on cells that could become cancerous. (12)

For example, one study found that steviol can help to kill off breast cancer cells. (13)

Other studies have shown that steviol has a protective effect against gastrointestinal cancer. In fact, steviol could have potential use as chemotherapy cancer treatment. (14)

Another research performed at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas and published in the Journal of Surgical Research in 2008 found that one component of stevia called kaempferol (which can also be found in moringa) was able to halt the growth and spread of deadly pancreatic cancer. (2930)

However, one study found that steviol can be converted into a compound that could cause cell mutation. (15) However, this is only in a lab setting and there is no evidence that stevia extracts cause cancer in humans.

Stevia has cancer-fighting properties

Research performed at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas and published in the Journal of Surgical Research in 2008 found that one component of stevia called kaempferol (which can also be found in moringa) was able to halt the growth and spread of deadly pancreatic cancer.

If no other reason to use stevia instead of other sweeteners wins you over, this one should!

While other sweeteners have been linked to increasing the risk for developing cancer (read my article on the research about the connection between sugar consumption and cancer), stevia has been linked to halting it in its tracks. For other foods that can fight cancer – read my article about the top 14 foods that protect against cancer development.

Benefits of Stevia

One of the best ways of using stevia to sweeten your drinks is using fresh or dried leaf. You can also make your own or buy stevia tincture to use when baking.

Let’s look in more detail as some of the many benefits of natural stevia plant leaf.

Stevia Has Antimicrobial Properties

It is safe to use stevia leaf as a sugar substitute because stevia has antibacterial properties.

Research has found that stevia leaf extract has antibacterial activity against pathogens that cause tooth decay. Stevia tincture was able to inhibit the spread of bacteria that are associated with dental caries. (16)

Switching to stevia as a healthy alternative to sugar will not just prevent sugar causing your teeth to rot, but could help protect your teeth against the formation of plaque.

Find out about other ways to remove dental plaque naturally and keep your gums free from disease.

Stevia Contains Antioxidants

Fresh stevia leaf or dried stevia leaf powder is good for you because stevia contains many antioxidants.

Research published in the journal Diseases in 2016 found that stevia increases the number of antioxidant enzymes in the body. This has the effect of helping to reduce oxidative stress damage and also improve insulin sensitivity. (17)

Learn more about glutathione which is one of the most powerful antioxidants for a strong immune system.

Stevia Can Lower Blood Pressure

If you want to reduce your blood pressure naturally, you will be pleased to know that stevia may have a positive impact on your blood pressure.

In a study published in Clinical Therapeutics in 2003, researchers at Taipei Medical University found that when people with high blood pressure used stevia extract over the course of two years, their blood pressure got lower. (18)

Find out how to keep your heart healthy and lower your blood pressure naturally.

Stevia Helps Reduce Energy Intake

Stevia leaf is much sweeter than sugar without any of the calories that come with sugar (which is also called the white poison).

Stevia is an excellent sugar substitute if you want to lose weight and help keep off body fat. Researchers say that switching to zero-calorie sweeteners such as stevia in place of sugar helps to reduce energy intake which can help you lose weight quicker. (19)

It is important to remember that stevia will help with weight loss most effectively when used in connection with diet and regular exercise.

If you need to get rid of body fat, find out about 12 simple tweaks that will help you lose weight.

Stevia Can Help Improve Heart Health

Using stevia as a healthy sugar substitute is also good to keep your heart healthy and prevent cardiovascular diseases.

A review of the health benefits of stevia in 2017 found that stevia has compounds that help to protect your cardio health. Phytochemicals, phenols, and flavonoids (antioxidants) help to reduce inflammation and help prevent obesity and complication of metabolic syndrome. (20)

Learn how you can dramatically reduce your risk of a heart attack by making simple lifestyle changes.

Stevia Improves Insulin Production

One of the benefits of stevia is that it is a good, healthy sweetener if you have diabetes. Stevia doesn’t just prevent an increase in blood glucose levels, but it can actually improve insulin sensitivity and stimulate insulin production in your body.

One study on the anti-diabetic effect of stevia on mice found that compounds in stevia (stevioside and steviol) increase insulin production. Researchers said that stevia extracts have an insulin mimetic effect. The antioxidant potential of stevia also has a positive effect in managing symptoms of diabetes. (21, 22)

Do you know how to spot the early signs of diabetes? Find out what you can eat to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Diabetic People Can Use Stevia

A study published in the journal Planta Medica in 2005 found that stevioside (the sweet taste of the stevia is mainly produced by stevioside) can lower blood glucose levels and decrease insulin resistance in rats with diabetes. When administered twice daily, stevioside was also found to have an effect on blood glucose levels during glucose tolerance testing. (28)

According to an Italian study published in the European Food Safety Authority Journal in 2010, stevia is well-tolerated by diabetic people and non-diabetic people alike, making it an ideal alternative sweetener. (29)

Stevia May Protect Against Lyme Disease

The antibiotic effect of stevia extracts means that it may be useful in helping to treat the effects of Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is transmitted to humans by tick bites and can cause long-term effects on the body.

Researchers have found that using stevia extracts had a similar effect on destroying Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria (which causes Lyme disease) as many antibiotics. This opens the way for stevia extracts to help treat Lyme disease and treat antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. (23)

Stevia May Be Good for Your Liver Health

Using stevia instead of sugar can also help to protect the health of your liver in a number of ways.

First, reducing your sugar intake by switching to healthy stevia leaf can prevent damage to your liver caused by too much refined sugar. Doctors on WebMD say that too much sugar can be just as bad for your liver as too much alcohol. (24)

Second, stevia promotes good liver health because it increases enzymes that help protect the liver. Antioxidants in stevia help reduce inflammatory response in the liver and could even help treat acute and chronic liver diseases. (25)

Is Stevia Bad for You? Side Effects of Stevia

For some people, the only disadvantage of stevia is that it doesn’t taste exactly the same as sugar. However, when you compare the many benefits of using stevia as a natural sweetener, it is easy to see why stevia is better for you than sugar.

Using normal amounts of stevia leaf in your tea or coffee or to add sweetness to other drinks will probably not have any adverse effects.

Stevia doesn’t contain aspartame (which is an artificial sweetener) and doesn’t have any of the reported side effects of aspartame. (26)

Research on the effect of artificial sweeteners found that some people could experience some adverse effects when taking commercial stevia. This could be in the form of gastrointestinal upset, bloating, or nausea. (27)

So you have to be careful when you buy commercial stevia as it may contain harmful and unwanted ingredients – read on to find out what to watch for when buying commercial stevia.

Commercial Stevia: What to Watch for

Stevia’s popularity has not come without some very serious drawbacks. Now that many companies are processing and selling stevia extract on supermarket shelves and over the internet, regulation has become a concern.

Not all stevia leaf extracts available commercially are created equal; many of the stevia products you can find online or in markets contain harmful additives that may negate the health benefits of this wonderful little plant.

Know what to watch for, so you can find stevia leaf extract that is safe and healthy. Here is what to look for:

Organic – buy stevia products that are labeled as organic.

Erythritol – this is a separate sweetener added to some commercial stevia products to make them tastier and have a better consistency. However, it often comes from genetically engineered sources and is not well-tolerated by all people, and thus should be avoided when you want pure stevia leaf extract (which you do!).

So-called “natural flavors” – if the manufacturer won’t give you a real name for the specific ingredients, avoid it. Natural flavors could be virtually anything, so avoid these products like the plague.

Dextrose – yet another separate sweetener all-too-often found in stevia leaf extract products available commercially. If you want a pure product, avoid anything listing dextrose on the label.

Silica – even the organic stevia products sometimes have silica in them to prevent caking in the container. However, some people find that silica-containing products irritate their digestive tract, so stevia products containing silica should be avoided.

Agave derivatives – again, this additive can even be found in organic stevia products, so always read labels carefully. Agave derivatives can help with taste, but can also impact blood sugar in a way that the purest forms of stevia does not.

Look for a stevia extract that is 100% pure without added ingredients like this one, or better one – buy dried organic dried stevia leaf like this one.

How to Make your Own Stevia

If you want to avoid the hassle of checking all of the labels of the various commercially available stevia products on the market, you can bypass all this and just make your own! All you’ll need is whole stevia leaves (you can grow the plant right in your own garden or buy dried leaves) and an organic vodka.

  1. Dry the leaves by using a food dehydrator (there are many dehydrators on the market and they are readily available on Amazon) or placing them in direct sunlight for 10-12 hours.
  2. Place the dried leaves into a clear glass container (such as a jar) and add just enough vodka to cover the leaves.
  3. Steep the leaves in the vodka for 24 hours—no more, no less.
  4. Pour the mixture through a strainer to filter out leaves and leaf particles. Discard the leafy leftovers.
  5. Heat the liquid on a low setting for 15-20 minutes to remove the alcohol taste. Note: Do not allow the liquid to boil!
  6. When the liquid has cooled, transfer it to a glass dropper bottle (preferably amber or cobalt) and store it in your fridge for up to three months.

It’s that easy! With the help of your garden and the cost of a bottle of vodka, you can make your own stevia extract—and since you made it yourself, you won’t be left wondering about what steps may have been taken (or missed) during the production process.

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