The stevia plant is known for being 300 times sweeter than cane sugar and has been used for centuries. This natural sweetener has no calories and no glycemic index, making it a popular alternative sweetener for diabetics and health-minded individuals.
But is it actually good for you?!
The few studies which claimed stevia had harmful side effects have been refuted by more recent research and many countries throughout the world (in particular, the very healthy country of Japan) have used stevia for hundreds of years. I have no problem recommending stevia to people who are looking for alternative sweeteners but with two caveats:
First off, as I say with all food, eating the same thing every day is never a good idea so I wouldn’t recommend having stevia daily. But perhaps the most important thing to remember is:
Not All Stevia is Created Equal
For instance, take the mass-marketed stevia product, Truvía® (owned by The Coca Cola Co. and Cargill). Their smooth marketing lines sing at you with: “Truvía® sweetener is natural, great-tasting sweetness born from the leaves of the stevia plant.” They go to great lengths on their website to leave you with images of stereotypical American farmers, green stevia plant leaves, and flowing marketing jargon.
Truth is, Truvía is hardly stevia at all! In fact, it’s first and main ingredient is a man-made artificial sweetener called erythritol. Erythritol, a sugar alcohol created by yeast fermentation, is rapidly absorbed in the small intestine due to its small molecular size and structure (preventing the upsetting gas that most artificial sweeteners produce once they get to your large intestine) and up to 90% is excreted unchanged (i.e. not digested) in the urine. We have studies to show that this man-made ingredient gets pretty busy once we eat it; traveling through our blood, our kidneys, and our urinary tracts before exiting the body in the same shape as when we first ingested it.
Now, I’m not a biologist but I’m going to stick with my go-to rebuttal for all artificial and man-made ingredients: I don’t care if it’s “calorie-free” and will “pass right through me”; if there are umpteen million skewed studies “proving” it safe; if it was made in a lab, my body was not meant to eat it! And furthermore, how much damage is it doing on the way through me?! What about the blood that’s pumping through my vital organs and is now having to shuttle around this foreign additive? Hello cellular disruption — can we say, CANCER?
So yes, I believe stevia is fine to eat but if you’re buying crap products like Truvía or Stevia in the Raw, you’re not really eating stevia. You’re paying exorbitant prices for cheap artificial sugar alcohols or in the case of Stevia in the Raw, even cheaper (GMO) corn-based maltodextrin.
If you do want to try stevia, I will give you the same advice I give for all food shopping: read the labels! I regularly see perplexed shoppers in the aisle of Whole Foods trying to decide which stevia product to buy. I’ll often stop and chat with them, reminding them to stop reading the marketing slogans and turn the freakin’ box around to read the ingredients! Even at your so-called trustworthy Whole Foods, 9 out of 10 stevia products they sell have fillers and artificial ingredients. Instead, find one that is 100% stevia (listed as “Stevia rebaudiana”).
TIP: If you are near Trader Joe’s, they have little jars of pure stevia powder for $5.99 (the exact same jar is $18.99 at Whole Foods!).
My Favorite Stevia Products
Many people say they don’t like the licorice-like taste of stevia or the weird mouth-feel it leaves as an aftertaste. I tend to agree and don’t use stevia in baking, my coffee (bleh!), or anything like that. But I do buy a few products that use stevia:
Remember, don’t believe everything you’re told — do the research for yourself and READ YOUR LABELS!