Stevia: Good or Bad?

stevia-good-or-badStevia: good or bad?  It’s a burning question that several health bloggers have tackled lately.  So this Trim Healthy Tuesday, I thought I’d jump in and warn my readers of the DANGERS of stevia.  Because really…that’s what these types of posts are all about, right?

I realize that I’ve been remiss in taking advantage of the food fear niche in blogging. So readers, let’s make this one go viral!  Warn your friends!  Stalk your neighbor’s grocery carts…let’s get whipped into a sugar-free froth of frenzy and discover the TRUTH behind the mass marketed white powder.

If I’m understanding this genre right, the first thing I need to do is to PRETEND that stevia might be OK, because it’s an herb with a pretty long history of use.  Stevia extracts are up to 200 times sweeter than sugar, and it has no glycemic impact.  So it’s sounding kind of too good to be true, right?  RIGHT? 

OF COURSE it’s too good to be true!  Now, this is where I abruptly switch over from discussing stevia in general, and I saddle and ride the EVIL corporate food Giants and their product that contains stevia: Truvia.  Because, let’s be honest: this type of post is designed to stir up fear.

<ahem…back at it>

Truvia is NOT an herb!  <duh> It only contains an extract of stevia, commonly called rebiana, rebaudioside A, or reb A on the label. And Truvia is PROCESSED with over 40 steps!  Steps which my research reveals involve such nefarious and heinous processes such as mixing it with water, heating, cooling, drying, etc. How can they sleep at night?

So they are making what for all practical purposes amounts to a tea mash with the herb.  They evaporate the tea, and continue to wash and REFINE the remaining extracts into WHITE POWDER using SOLVENTS.  A-HA!  Solvents, you say?  What solvents?  Primarily, they use ETHENOL.  That would be grain alcohol.  Does that sound evil?  Because it’s exactly what I use to make vanilla beans into vanilla extract.

butwait-there’smore!  Additives…dangerous…blah…blah..hidden…blah…flavorings.

<record screech>

I’m pretty much tired of this now.  Are you?

Now, I’m certainly not going to bat for “the food industry” as a whole.  We have good reason to be skeptical about food handling processes and procedures.  But as a consumer, I don’t want to waste my time digging around for the ‘dirt’ on every little detail of food processing.  I’d like to just get down to making a good decision for my family.  So that’s what we’re going to do here today.

Does Cargill use other not-so-nice solvents in the making of Truvia?  The truth is: I have no idea.  And neither do the other food bloggers.  The majority of the extraction processes are a trade secret with any company that processes stevia.  While it is a rather simple process of extraction, there are a lot of variables, and a lot of icky tasting finished products.  So no one is lining up to give away their trade secrets.

What I DO know is that companies, just like people, come in all different qualities.  I will choose to do business with those that I trust. So let’s get practical, and focus on the key issues with choosing whether to use a new herb or product.

Stevia: What Questions to Ask?

So, what questions do I ask when researching an herb or extract like Stevia?

  1. Is there historic use for the herb being used for the same/similar purpose that I’m planning to use it?  Do they use it in similar quantities?
    I’ve read quite a bit, and as an herb, stevia does have a history of use that I’m comfortable with.  I’ve grown it in my garden, and used it in tea blends.  I enjoy the taste in some things, but it’s not very convenient to use it in baked goods.  The powdered leaf does have a strong flavor and bitter undertones, with a taste that has been compared to licorice.
    As a refined extract, the flavor and sweetness profile *can* be far more palatable.  Stevia was first extracted in the early 1930’s.  It’s been  used in Japan since the 1970’s, and comprises 40% of their sweetener market.  Although the processes of extraction are more than likely continuing to be refined and developed, stevia extract is not brand new to the sweetener scene.
  2. Are there studies that show any problems with the herb, product, or extract?  Are these studies valid as far as the amount of herb/extract used, and can they be replicated?

    I’ve read a BUNCH of studies on stevia and reb A, and I feel comfortable using the extract for myself.  If you are interested in studies, I find that the excerpts on Pubmed’s searchable database are sufficient to fill me in and give me jumping off points for more searching and reading on the topic.  If I find a study that I’d like to research more in depth, I will search and usually find lots of peer review articles out there for more reading.

  3. Why am I considering this herb in the first place?  I think this question is really important to consider.  This is the baby usually gets thrown out with the bathwater.  There are a LOT of really nutritious and natural sweeteners out there that I enjoy, and have a pretty long love affairs with.But the whole reason that I’m considering using stevia is to eliminate the blood sugar spikes that have contributed heavily to my metabolic issues, insulin resistance, and weight gain.  And yes, I was eating primarily healthy sugars: organic maple syrup, raw honey, and organic cane sugar or sucanat.  With the occasional Dr. Pepper thrown in for <ahem> research purposes. And I was a chubby Mama with a laundry list of health problems.I chose to use stevia extract *very effectively* as part of the Trim Healthy Mama plan to dramatically reduce my overall glycemic impact.  It’s my primary sweetener for beverages, yogurt, etc., but it’s not the ONLY sweetener I use in my home.  I also use the natural sweeteners I just mentioned for my growing kids, and for myself in moderation/on occasion now that I’m at goal weight.In retrospect, had I avoided stevia, I would still be 50 pounds overweight with compounding health problems.  So it makes sense to me to evaluate your overall health picture as part of the evaluating risks associated with the sweetener you choose to use.
  4. Are there better alternatives to meet my needs than this herb or extract?The alternatives to stevia that I would consider that are non-glycemic are a non-GMO erythritol, xylitol, or chicory based sweeteners.  But these options are not as budget friendly for me, so stevia stands out as a practical choice. 

So, let’s talk about products, and what to look for.

What about all of the Stevia products on the shelves?

Here are the questions I ask when considering which products to purchase for myself and my family:

  1. Is this products made with GMO source ingredients?  I prefer to use non-GMO sourced products.
  2. Do I trust the manufacturer of this product?  Do they do purity testing, and generally show a high level of care about the quality of their products?  The company website should reflect this, and give you specifics if this is a priority for them.
  3. Do I like the taste?  This is a biggie with stevia products…some of them taste like licking the shoe of the guy who sweeps the aspartame factory.
  4. What are the other ingredients?  With stevia products, ALWAYS check that ingredient label.  Most stevia products in standard grocery stores are going to be the blends, where stevia is cut in with cheaper fillers.  Healthy food or herb type shops will have a better selection of higher quality products, but STILL read the ingredients label.  Are there ingredients that are not clearly labeled (such as ‘natural flavorings’) that I want to know more about?  Will the company answer the questions I have about the product?
  5. Is it affordable and practical for my family to use?  I find the blends to be pricier than the extracts.  The one ounce bottle of NOW stevia can last me for 4-6 weeks, while the large tub of Truvia costs the same, but will *maybe* last a couple of weeks at most, since you use so much more per recipe.

These are questions that I’ll leave to my readers to research on your own, and apply your own tastes and priorities.  I can share with you my conclusions:

What Stevia do I Use?

Updated 1/2016: My favorite is the THM Stevia. I buy the 3 oz bag and it lasts me about a year
You can find the THM stevia here (Amazon affiliate link)
Right now, I am using what I have left of either the old formula of NuNaturals Stevia Extract, which is no longer available on the market, or the NOW Organic Better Stevia Extract powder.

Click to open my affiliate link on Amazon. 

I really like both of these products a lot, and they are both highly concentrated, so a large container will last a very long time. *Update: See my review of the THM Stevia here.

One Last Question about Stevia

There is one final question that I would recommend you ask if you choose to use a stevia extract product: Is this herb a good fit for me?

I’ve learned over the years that with pretty much any food, herb, or spice, there will be some people who just don’t react well to it.  So it’s always wise to reflect on how your body is responding.  Headaches are a common complaint for those who don’t do well with stevia.  Some people do experience a feeling of low blood sugar with it as their body adjusts to eating lower carb meals.

If you have allergies to plants in the <massive> sunflower/ragweed family, then you may want to use extra caution with trying stevia products.  That being said, I know many ladies who are allergic to ragweed, and who do just fine with stevia.  So having a ragweed allergy does not make it a given that you won’t tolerate stevia.

I recommend buying the small 1 ounce shaker bottle first, for whatever brand you choose.  This gives you a chance to test out flavors and see if it’s a good fit for you and your family.  And the cute little shaker bottle is great to refill later if you do buy the economical bulk sized jar.

In Conclusion-Stevia: Good or Bad?

In closing, I’ve found a good quality stevia extract to be a VERY good addition to my kitchen, my waistline, and my health.

While I enjoy fruits, and other natural sweeteners, I really love having the option of sweetening a drink without spiking my blood sugar.  I enjoy food, and I prefer to continue to enjoy sweet tastes as part of my daily food.  Stevia makes it possible for me to really enjoy certain sweet foods and drinks, while keeping my blood sugar nice and stable.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments:

What types of questions do you ask in looking for a great quality product? 

Do you use stevia in your home?  What is your favorite brand?

 

And now for LOTS more Trim & Healthy Inspiration…

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  1. JoyfulMomof6 says

    Well written and well said.
    It all comes down to trying to make the best choice for our family with the information we have, and also giving others the grace to do the same.

    I have been using dried Stevia leaves in my tea for years. With THM I use Truvia occasionally but mostly Xylitol.
    Sugar, even pure organic sugar, is actually far worse, in my opinion, because of what it does to the immune system, hormones, and it’s addictive properties. And for those of us who suffer from candida, it’s terrible. I am so glad to be done with sugar!

    I too hate the mass hysteria bandwagons.
    That’s why I love THM because it’s so balanced.

  2. Cynthia says

    Thank you for approaching this subject from a “what questions should I ask” perspective. Great way to look at any product.

  3. JenniferSara says

    I have been using different brands of stevia for over 9 years. I will never go back to sugar sweetened iced tea and I am from the South. Sweet tea is a big deal over here. 😀

    • Its_Gwen says

      *high five* We were picky about stevia in baked goods and chocolate recipes, and tea was the first thing were we REALLY loved it!

  4. AnnaB says

    You posed some great questions to reflect on!

    QUESTION: Gwen, do you use stevia extract in baking (brownies, pumpkin pie, etc)? I tried looking through a few of your blogged recipes but couldn’t get a good feel for how you handle that one.

    • Its_Gwen says

      With baking, I will usually use a blend of stevia with GMO free erythritol or xylitol if I feel that the recipe needs that bulking action of sugar.

      However, I do make the “in a mug” recipes, and pumpkin pie…softer things with only stevia by itself.

  5. Leslie Garms Pennington says

    Thank you! I’ve read at least one of the fear mongering blogs you refer to. The writer frequently comes off as a superior being and is part of the reason why I don’t read a certain real food blog any more. It’s also political and thinly veiled at that. I’ll pass thank you. Good job Gwen.

  6. Carolyn Kelleher says

    Thank you, Gwen. I do use stevia as my main sweetener. I use several forms of it, all KAL brand. I love the pure powdered extract for drinks and grinding with non-gmo Erythritol (which I have only recently been able to tolerate and don’t actually like how I feel after consuming it, sort of how I used to feel after consuming sugar.). Other KAL stevia I use is the coconut drops and the NOW stevia glycerite (which is strong and I haven’t quite mastered yet.
    I guess my questions with a food begins with how close is the food to its whole source- I want it as close to that as possible. I also want to know who is producing my food. What kind of reputation does the company have, what is their philosophy of food and their mission statement so to speak. Are they organic and committed to what I would consider healthy, humane and sustainable methods of producing their food. I need what I do food wise to find peace with my spirit that calls me to stewardship and righteous treatment to other living creatures.
    Finally it is a sad fact that bad food has made me obese and sick. If refraining from traditional sweeteners and consuming stevia, a natural plant based food will reverse my bad health then I am so blessed The Lord has provided the means for that. For me then Stevia becomes the healthiest choice… If we are looking for biblical reasons for the food lifestyle we have chosen to follow I would assume stevia is sweet and appeals to us because The Lord would draw us to a food source he considers valuable like he does with fruit.

    • Its_Gwen says

      Hi Carolyn,
      I am a big proponent of listening to your body in response to foods, so if sugar alcohols aren’t sitting well with you, then I’d use something else. They are not well tolerated by all people. ♥

  7. Emily Grace says

    This is an excellent post, Gwen. I’m a farmer’s wife, and I get so, so, so…SOOooo tired of the crazy fear mongering that seems to be spouted off online and in one-on-one conversations without a logical, confident approach to making one’s own decision. I think you just gave a lot of consumers some helpful tools via this post, and I was thrilled to read it!
    As for Stevia itself, I am new to THM and am testing it out in tea tonight, because I typically react very badly to artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. So far so good on this cup of tea. :) Your article was very helpful to me at a personal level.
    I’ve also ordered coconut sugar as an option to use with THM because I do not have a lot of weight to lose, and they mentioned its usefulness for this category of THM’s. I have issues with sugar, I think. The endocrinologist says p.c.o.s. We’ll see….now I’m off to read your health issues post, because you are very bright and helpful, and there’s just no telling what else I may learn tonight.
    Best! eg

  8. says

    Have you ever heard anyone talk about Stevia In the Raw? That’s what we found in my local Kroger, and I’m still trying to find my way around. I really don’t like the idea of having to order so many things online, but I’m wondering if with this new idea of a lifestyle I just cannot get around it.

    • Its_Gwen says

      Check the organic section of your Kroger for the Sweetleaf drops, or look for NOW or Kal stevia extracts at a local herb or health food shop. :)

      Stevia in the Raw has fillers that are not on plan.

      • says

        Thanks. If I do end up going with drops over a powdered source how do I figure out ratios and such? I’ve been looking at so many recipes that say Stevia to taste, and without consistent trial and error I haven’t a clue to figure out what to do.

        • Its_Gwen says

          It’s a little tricky starting out. Not only because sweeteners differ, but because taste buds differ quite a bit too. Try what you’ve got in your coffee, starting small…just a couple of drops, and then adjust to your taste.

  9. Jacie says

    Quick question for ya Gwen- Do you recall which dates were the old (good) batches of the NuNuNaturals Stevia…..cuz I think I found them at our grocery store and I spent $50 to buy all 3 :)

  10. SweetP says

    This is good information.

    I do have one caution to add about stevia though. It is relative to ragweed and marigolds. Anyone with a sensitivity/allergy to these should use stevia with care.

    • Its_Gwen says

      Hi SweetP,
      Stevia is in the Asteraceae (aster or sunflower) family, which is a HUGE plant family of over 23,000 species.

      Typically, people are not allergic to everything in that family, so people who do have ragweed allergies have a good chance of not reacting. But it is a good thing to keep in mind. As with any plant or food, there will always be a small part of the population that it doesn’t agree with.

  11. apkinney says

    I’m still confused. I bought Truvia and my husband who is a sugar addict has gotten used to it. Is it bad or good? We have tried several Stevia products that are bitter (sweetleaf, etc.). Should I try xylitol?

  12. Michelle Marvian says

    Wow, what a wealth of information and encouragement here Gwen! I don’t how I got this link, but now I remember it was what initially inspired me to buy the book. I am already thin, but it’s really so much more. It is finally a place to reside for me and I’m really getting over my fear of food. I was wondering though about black strap molasses in your homemade brown sugar. Is there any sugar in it? I have gotten to the point where I am like an alcoholic. I cannot have any, at least for now.

    • Its_Gwen says

      Hi Michelle,
      So great to hear that you’re loving THM! Me too. :) It’s a whole new way of understanding food that finally makes sense!

      The molasses is a source of sugar, but only about 3 grams of carbs per cup. But definitely go with your own body’s response to foods. :)

  13. Julie K says

    Growing my own plants again this year to use in smoothies for the summer, they will grow back each year like Marjoram and Oregano too….

  14. Tina says

    I have used stevia pure extract for 3 years. Unfortunately I had to stop. I had developed terrible pain, legs, feet, hands, and general body aches. I have been to 3 doctors, and had many tests, Spine and brain MRI, a very tortuous EMG test. I did not want to go to the pain clinic I was referred to, so I started looking at what I put in my body. …..Stevia, all day…coffee…Ice tea. So I stopped. a lot of my pain stopped, but not all of it. I am diagnosed with fibromalygia. I don’t know what happened, why I could drink it for so long, and then this happened. But I spent hours on the net, I found many articles reporting that stevia can cause pain. I am not saying it’s bad for everyone, I LOVED my stevia, and I miss it.

    • Its_Gwen says

      Just like gluten or milk, some people cannot tolerate foods and others can with no problems.

      It stinks when you have to give up something that you enjoy, but it’s SO smart of you to listen to your body and omit the foods that are causing inflammation. Thank you for sharing!

    • Janis Potts says

      /Tina, Did you have leg and feet cramps also??? Would be interested because I am trying to figure out why I am having them every night. I drink water, take magnesium and calcium and B complex. Still having them for the last 10 months and wondering about the truvia and stevia Im using. Dr. did say my magnesium was low. Wondering is your pain was cramping? Trying to track down what is causing it. Never had them before starting Thm.

      • Gwen says

        Janice, if it were me, I’d take a break from the stevia and see if your symptoms resolve. The form of magnesium that you’re using may be part of the problem. If it’s the oxide or a form that encourages bowel movements then it’s not absorbing into your cells. Check out the magnesium post on my blog here for a DIY recipe for a well absorbed form. :)

  15. Elizabeth says

    what do you thik of buying stevia from Bolivia that is 90%steviosideo and 5% fructuosa. is this a reliable brend the name is eco-stevia and can be both in bolivia thank you for your time

    • Gwen says

      It sounds like they’re blending in a bit of fruit sugar with the stevia? It would work so long as you’re keeping an eye on the carbs…you want to keep them very low, like less than 1 gram per serving if possible for your sweeteners just to allow you to have a lot of versatility in when you can use them. :)

  16. says

    I personally use Stevia as long as it is NonGMO verified and preferably organic. I also use Erythritol as long as it is NonGMO and organic. I find there is less aftertaste with the Erythritol. What do you think?

    • Gwen says

      Yep…I agree. The erythritol has less of an aftertaste, but it’s also not as sweet. Which is why I really like a blend…it helps balance the flavors of both. :) You get the sweet boost of the stevia with the smoother sweet of the erythritol.

  17. kari says

    i’m also curious about the answer to whether truvia is not good??? i’m new to the whole THM , and my book didn’t arrive yet.

    • Gwen says

      There are LOTS of ladies who use Truvia…it’s recommended in the book as a good option. (The tub or packets…NOT the baking blend bag). Not everyone loves Truvia though and some ladies look for a more natural option that’s not from a big manufacturer.

  18. Samara says

    Hi Gwen,

    I’m a longtime fan of your site and a THM. I just read today that stevia has been shown (in rats and in large amounts) to have a long lasting effect of miscarriage or infertility. And also that it is traditionally used in South America as birth control?

    Is this true? I didn’t see anything about it in your post under safety concerns?

    Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Samara,
      I’ve done a lot of reading on this, and this article offers what I feel like is a pretty fair summary. I know that rat studies don’t always align with human studies, but my personal take is that stevia is not a concern for most women, and is no where near anything that resembles a reliable birth control method, as I’ve known too many women who have easily conceived using stevia as their sweetener. My main focus in this post was on being aware of how your unique body chemistry responds to stevia, because I think that’s the key issue. :) If you’re not comfortable using stevia, then there are other great non-glycemic sweeteners like lo han (monk fruit extract) and inulin that you may want to experiment with instead.

      HTH!

      • says

        I can find only one reference to a tea made of stevia leaves being used historically by two tribal groups as a means to avoid ovulation. However, I can find no substantiation to the studies that the article says exist on this or any other specifics on how the tribes used it. Although there is more info on it being used historically for diabetes.For now, I’m filing the “stevia as birth control” under “urban legend” since so little actual information exists on it. But if anyone can dig anything up, I’d *love* to read it!

  19. says

    Hello Gwen! When I am using this in THM recipes – how much of the NOW Better Stevia do I use? I think part of my problem is not knowing how much to use in recipes and things just taste nasty to me. THANK YOU!

    • says

      Hi Chris!
      Sometimes, it’s the brand of stevia itself that’s just yucky. It can have a very bad, bitter aftertaste. A couple years back, there was a shift in how the FDA categorized stevia…from a supplement to a food additive. And for some reason related to qualifying for additive status, many brands reformulated their processing for stevia, and the taste profiles really shifted. So brands that were really good a few years back are now not so hot.

      I’ve also found that stevia does not do a good job of sweetening chocolate and other naturally bitter foods.

      Another hardship with stevia is that it’s SO concentrated (and brands do vary according to sweetness) that it’s nigh unto impossible to give a really accurate measurement in recipes. I’ve found that it’s important to add a pinch of salt, and start with the smallest amount called for and go up “to taste” for each recipe. You’ll get the hang of what works for you faster with that method. I offer more tips on working with stevia here.

      To determine if it’s your stevia that’s bitter, try it to sweeten tea or a fruity dessert like the Cheesecake Berry Crunch.

      My favorite stevia brand is the THM Stevia. And I love the recipe they offer for making your own Super Sweet Blend by mixing 1 teaspoon of their stevia with 1 cup of Erythritol. You still get amazing super-sweetening power using very little product, but it’s much easier to measure it accurately this way.

      Hope this helps!

  20. Alison says

    I realize this is an old post, but I’d like to share a few comments:

    1. “Homemade” stevia from ground leaves does not have to be bitter. Like many other plants (lettuce, kale, carrots, radishes), stevia leaves become sweeter as the temperature drops. I recently harvested, dried, and ground up a batch of leaves from plants that had been exposed to 40-degree nighttime temps. WOW! The stuff tasted so much like sugar that my husband thought I’d put sugar in his smoothie! Stevia is so easy to grow that I’d recommend trying it if you can :)

    2. My personal opinion is that store-bought stevia is actually better for sweetening bitter things like coffee and chocolate. For some reason, the bitter aftertaste of many stevia brands seems much less noticeable to me when combined with another bitter taste. Because I’m caffeine-sensitive, my morning drink is a blend of hot water, raw cacao powder, maca powder, stevia powder, and coconut cream. Contrary to popular belief, cacao does not contain caffeine, but theobromine, which provides a gentler life (and fall) than caffeine. For me, stevia is the perfect sweetener for this drink!

    Those are just my personal observations so YMMV. :)

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