This is a guest post from Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe) and New York Times Best Selling author. You can read more about her take on the food industry in her second book, Feeding You Lies!
Sugar is one of the most dangerous ingredients on the market. It’s addictive, added to almost every processed food, and will make you overweight, depressed and sick if you eat too much. In fact, Americans eat close to 130 pounds of the stuff per person per year (4 times more than the recommended daily allowance), likely because it is so addictive.
That’s why it’s exciting to know there are alternative sweeteners made in nature, like “stevia,” that don’t wreak havoc on your health – or do they? That’s what I went on a quest to find out. Here’s what happened…
What Is Stevia?
For those of you that are hearing about stevia for the first time, it is a plant that is typically grown in South America, and while its extract is 200 times sweeter than sugar, it does not raise blood insulin levels. That’s what makes it so popular.
However in 1991 the FDA refused to approve this substance for use due to pressure from makers of artificial sweeteners like Sweet n’ Low and Equal (a one billion dollar industry). But in 2008, the FDA approved the use of rebaudioside compounds that were derived from the stevia plant by Coca-Cola (Cargill) and PepsiCo – hmmm doesn’t that sound suspicious?
Not until a major food company got involved did stevia become legal, and only after it had been highly processed using a patentable chemical-laden process…so processed that Truvia (Coca-Cola’s branded product) goes through about 40 steps to process the extract from the leaf, relying on chemicals like acetone, methanol, ethanol, acetonitrile, and isopropanol. Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens (substances that cause cancer), and none of those ingredients sound like real food, do they?
The whole leaf stevia that you can grow in your backyard (and has been used for centuries in countries like Brazil and Paraguay) remains a non-approved food additive by the FDA.
However, rebaudioside A (the stevia extract) that was approved by the FDA has not been used for centuries and long term human health impacts have not been studied and are still unknown. The sweetener/sugar industry wields powerful influence over what is ultimately approved at the FDA, and this is just another example where they are influencing decisions that don’t make sense.
How can a chemically derived extract be deemed safe in processed food and a plant from mother nature not?
What Kind Of Stevia To Avoid
The 40-step patented process used to make Truvia should make you want to steer clear of this stevia product alone, but there are two other concerning ingredients added (not only to Truvia but other stevia products as well).
First, erythritol is a naturally occurring sugar that is sometimes found in fruit, but food manufacturers don’t actually use the natural stuff. Instead they start with genetically engineered corn and then go through a complex fermentation process to come up with chemically pure erythritol. Check out the manufacturing process below:
“Natural flavors” is another ingredient added to powdered and liquid stevia products, likely due to the fact that once the stevia leaf is processed it can develop a metallic taste. Manufactured natural flavor is contributing to what David Kessler (former head of the FDA) calls a “food carnival” in your mouth. This makes it difficult to stop eating or drinking because the flavors they have synthesized will trick your mind into wanting more and more.
When companies use manufactured flavor, they are literally “hijacking” your taste buds one-by-one; that’s why I recommend putting products that contain “natural flavors” back on the shelf.
“Stevia in the Raw” sounds pure and natural, but when you look at the ingredients the first thing on the label is “dextrose” – so it’s certainly not just stevia in the raw. And Pepsi Co’s “Pure Via,” also pictured above, isn’t exactly pure either with this ingredient being first on the label, too. Dextrose is a sweetener that’s also derived from genetically engineered corn and has a long complicated manufacturing process, just like erythritol.
Even certified organic stevia can have sneaky ingredients added, like this one above which has more organic agave inulin than the stevia extract itself. Agave inulin is a highly processed fiber derivative from the blue agave plant.
Also on the ingredient list is an item you are probably familiar with from those little packets sometimes found in boxed goods – silica (pictured). It is added to improve the flow of powdery substances and is the same ingredient that helps strengthen concrete and creates glass bottles and windowpanes. It may cause irritation of the digestive tract (if eaten) and irritation of the respiratory tract (if accidentally inhaled).
While it is non-toxic and probably won’t kill you in small quantities, it’s definitely not a real food ingredient I would cook with or that I want to be putting in my body.
How To Choose The Right Kind Of Stevia
Luckily there are ways to enjoy this sweet leaf closer to it’s natural state… because let’s be honest, the no-calorie artificial sweeteners out there are really dreadful, and no one should consume them (check this post for the low down on those). So here’s what you can do:
- Buy a stevia plant for your garden (luckily it’s totally legal!) or purchase the pure dried leaves online – you can grind up them up using a spice grinder (or use a mortar and pestle) for your own powdered stevia.
- When choosing products already sweetened with stevia, look for “whole leaf stevia” on the ingredient label. For example my favorite protein powder is made with “whole stevia leaf” instead of rebaudioside a or stevia extract.
- Add fresh or dried leaves directly to tea or drinks for natural sweetness (note the straight stevia leaves are only 30-40 times sweeter than sugar, vs. 200 times using the extract).
- Make your own liquid stevia extract (see graphic below for recipe).
- If you are not up for getting a stevia plant of your own or making your own extract, remember to look for a stevia extract that is 100% pure without added ingredients (Trader Joe’s has a version in a small bottle).
And when all else fails, choose a suitable alternative and forget stevia altogether.
Lisa uses honey and pure maple syrup, and I personally prefer coconut palm sugar, since it is low glycemic (making it more diabetic friendly) and one of the most natural unprocessed forms of sugar available. It is naturally high in amino acids – has 10,000 times more potassium, 20 times more magnesium and 20 times more iron than conventional sugar. I use it all the time in my baking, from pound cake to muffins to a recent delicious cookie that is low in sugar – check out all those recipes here!
Comments have been closed on this article, which was written by Vani Hari. If you have a question or comment you can reach her at http://FoodBabe.com.
382 thoughts on “Food Babe Investigates Stevia: Good or Bad?”
I have been using stevia for over 30 years w/o a problem. I get the extract in a bottle with an eyedropper and also have used the dried leaf from an all natural source. Recently I found lo han extract from the monk fruit plant and it also is great tasting. Can you comment on this?
@RM Body reactions could be true. I have felt slight adrenaline like symptoms and heart racing after drinking artificially sweetened non-caffeinated drinks/water, but only on an empty stomach. I drink lots of water and add flavors with stevia and on an empty stomach I always add some raw honey. BTW, It seems big manufacturers add other sweeteners to stevia extract because they are made from cheap US crops.
Hello RM. I think your nutritionist is right about the blood sugar science. If you want a response from Food Babe, hop over to her site as guest posts authors generally no longer respond after a few days. :) ~Amy
From doing some research on stevia I know there are “brands” that contain erythritol, xylitol, dextrose, agave inulin etc. and so it’s important to look for a brand that is in its purest form.
My concern is what I’ve read from a nutritonist’s website. She states that “because stevia is sweet on the palate, the body assumes it is receiving sugar and primes itself to do so. Glucose is cleared from the bloodstream and blood sugars drop, but no real sugar/glucose is provided to the body to compensate. When this happens, adrenaline and cortisol surge to mobilize sugar from other sources (liver and muscle glycogen, or protein, or body tissue) to bring blood glucose back up”.
This is quite a stressful issue for the body and its ability to remain healthy overall. So there is much to learn about this natural substance. Maybe as with all things nutritive (or not?), moderation is a key. Any comments? Thanks.
STEVIA IS A PROCCESSED SUGAR ANY TIME THAT ITS CHANGED FROM ITS NATURE FORM.
You mentioned a Trader Joes version, but they do a few. Can you point me to the right one?
Hi Joe. You might need to hop over to Food Babe’s website to get an answer from her but I think she’s referring to the organic liquid drops. ~Amy
Thank you for this information about Stevia. It has been the alternative my doctors told me was best. I hate it when the FDA starts confusing things!
Thank you also for the better alternatives at the bottom of the article. I was told by my Integrative Medicine physician that Raw Agave is a good choice as it is the closest thing to the hypoglycemic index of the body…..in moderation of course. (Checking the ingredients, of course!)
Thank you for taking time to respond.
Hi Jeanie. If you want a specific reply from Vani, hop on over to her Food Babe site and post this question there. From our (100 Days) perspective, agave is not a product we use. I personally avoid it for its very high fructose content. ~Amy
Question….What if the protein shake says naturally sweetened with with organic cane juice and organic stevia with no artificial flavoring?
what about liquid stevia?
I love your site. I am so grateful for this article on Stevia, since I couldn’t find the info anywhere else and Pyure wasn’t returning my calls. I wanted to make a small donation to your site.
I suggest you put a link and invite readers to donate to support your fine work. We want you to keep cranking out your great articles.
thank you so much for that info!!
I am a big believer in pure stevia as a sweetener. I have an awful sweet tooth and natural 100% stevia extract has worked wonders for me for the last 7 years. Unfortunately, it takes time and a whole lot of effort to find an upstanding stevia brand that doesn’t ruin the natural stevia by adding additives, fillers, natural flavors, sugar alcohols and artificial ingredients. Then once you find a pure stevia product you can actually enjoy, it takes time to learn how much (or how little) of the product to use. This was something I couldn’t do – bake with stevia and have my finished products taste good. But I found a specialty bakery that uses a pure stevia product for all its baked goods and they are delicious! Bakery’s name is Mind Your Muffin and they are awesome – all sorts of good stuff – organic, vegan, gluten-free, paleo, low carb, sugar-free, no preservatives, soy-free – and ships directly to my office. Definitely check them out – mindyourmuffin.com – they send great gifts too (especially if you have diabetic friends/relatives).
My husband made me tea with stevia extract and I had a reaction to it. I became very dizzy, nauseous, vomiting, chills, amazingly voluminous gas…..I looked to see what else had stevia that I was using…Vega and a ca-mg supplement. I had experienced stomach problems after Vega but just thought it was the greens. No more for me. Sugar alcohol gives me stomach problems as well.
The Stevia “movement” has me slightly worried. I’m INCREDIBLY allergic to erythritol, which shown above is in most “stevia” products. I can’t have anything “sugar free” without knowing what type of sweetener they use, it’s pretty frustrating. Now I see Coca-Cola products plan on making a stevia sweetened soda. And McDonald’s sugar free syrups (in coffees) use erythritol. (Which is how I found out how allergic I was, two small sips from my husbands coffee, and nearly instant head to toe hives and tongue tingling.)
I don’t get it, why doesn’t someone make this product 100% natural?!? Can you not buy it in little packets but 100% natural?!?
Hi Nick. You can find pure drops but all of them are processed in order to extract sweetness from the plant. ~Amy
Hi..I appreciate the time and effort you put into helping others…I found a fairly new company called “Essante Organics”. It appears Essante’ is looking to give Aubrey Organics a run for their money (only Essante has added various food concentrates/powders to their arsenal) Essante is claiming they use no harmful ingredients/components in any of their products. For me, whenever I see any product/company etal…The first thing I do is check their sweetener. Stevia seems to be their choice of sweetener and not all sweeteners are equal (pun intended)..So I wrote Essante about their stevia and their response was….we use organic stevia, which of course did not not answer my question about the multi processing of stevia in it’s extraction. So already I suspect Essante for evading my queation and was wondering if you or your readers have had any experience with Essante Organics. Thank You and continued success all in great health……Bo
That is good to know Bo. The consumer has to go to great lengths these days to know what they are buying. So, if a company is not forthright (and even eager) to disclose all the ingredients and processes that go into their product, that is all the red flag I need to move on. Either they will figure that out or market to a different customer. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of consumers willing to accept marketing for face value. I’m not one of them.
I found this product that says it’s whole leaf. http://www.vitacost.com/wisdom-natural-sweet-leaf-whole-leaf-stevia-concentrate-2-fl-oz-1
Is this one safe?
Hi Pamela. It looks like the only ingredient is stevia and water. As stevia products go, it looks like a good one. ~Amy
Erythritol is not a sugar it is a sugar alcohol. When you make simple mistakes like this you are helping the big food industry paint those of us who are concerned about our food supply look like misinformed fools. Please correct the article and please try to be more accurate in the future.
Ugh Eric read this about your “sugar alcohol” product….I am totally not misinformed and this is another atrocity by “the big food industry” and the FDA! http://www.naturalnews.com/045450_truvia_erythritol_natural_pesticide.html
And another good one Eric…..http://articles.philly.com/2014-06-06/news/50362563_1_fruit-flies-truvia-pure-via
I have a large glass of fresh squeezed lemonade made with stevia almost every night to “get me through” the night time hungries. It really helps hold me to my diet, but I did not realize the stevia packet I used had extraneous ingredients. I am going to buy the bulk pure stevia next time. Thank you for your excellent, informative article!
I mean to type Cargill instead of ConAgre – but support NO products by either of those two companies.
Our stove ran out of Stevita for a few days, so I bougth some StweeLeaf ™ stevia, and – for me – it is NOT equal to the sweet taste of Stevita. NuStevia is pretty close also.
I believe that stevia affects people differently, so it makes sense to experiment. Will be glad when Stevita is back on the shelves in our next village.
The best stevia extract I’ve found is Stevita Supreme. It has two simples ingredients: stevia extract (extracted using water and only water) and xylitol (extracted from birch tree bark). It doesn’t give me any gatrointestinal discomfort unlike Truvia, PureVia, or Stevia Extract In The Raw. (I don’t have a Whole Foods where I live so I cannot comment on any experiences with their stevia product.)
Coconut sugar is not a environmentally sustainable product since coconut trees can either produce the coconut OR the sugar per this article from tropical traditions I much prefer the coconut itself.
What about the stevia that has only stevia plant extract and inulin soluble fiber? It comes in individual packets.
So what about Stevita brand Spoonable Stevia? Just pulled it from the pantry and read “Erythritol, Stevia Rebaudiana” as the ingredients? Should I just switch to the liquid at Trader Joe’s?
A gentleman at Costco advised me not to buy stevia in the packs, but to get the liquid at Trader Joe’s. I did and am grateful to that man. Now my local Richard’s Whole Foods also sells liquid stevia. Works for me! :-)
I grow stevia. In dirt and in hydroponic systems.
A physician started me with stevia extract. Expensive.
I now use stevia in tea and in fruit salads. Cheap.
I am also developing a solar-powered system for commercial production of stevia at the Goshen Outreach Orphanage in the remote village of Kogelo, Kenya. The Goshen orphans need money but there is no work. Not for children, not for teenagers, not for the adults in the village.
However, there are hotels in Nairobi charging tourists hundreds of dollars a night for rooms — perhaps the hotels will buy stevia for the tea and salads of diet-conscious foreigners.
A hydroponic system — in progress — can be seen at YouTube / GreenUrbanIslands. Later this year, I’ll try to upload a video of the progress on the Goshen orphans installation.
I read a book called Skinny Bitch and at the time, before Stevia was on the market, Stevia products could only be found in speciality stores.
I only buy Stevia products that have 100% Stevia plant extract and it’s almost scary to think that corporations try to market ‘healthy’ products that aren’t actually healthy. In a few years, people might have mixed reviews about Stevia because of the ‘side effects’ which can only have come from these corporations labelling Stevia as a ‘healthy alternative’.
Great write, and will watch out for these products, as I do with most products that have been saturated with ‘special’ ingredients.
Concerning your opinion of Truvia. The only thing that really concerns me is the added “natural flavorings.” They should have to list what those are. After a little digging, maybe I can uncover what those are?
But, it seems to me that you are using scare tactics and sensationalism when you demonize erythritol and rebaudioside A (the stevia extract). You say that “Truvia (Coca-Colaâ€™s branded product) goes through about 40 steps to process the extract from the leaf, relying on chemicals like acetone, methanol, ethanol, acetonitrile, and isopropanol. Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens.” Is that a sneaky way of planting the idea in people’s brains that Truvia might actually contain some of these chemicals without coming right out and saying it? If you did spell it out that way, you know that you would have to prove it in a court of law or be sued for telling lies. Any real proof? Any real hard evidence that there is a problem getting erythritol from GMO corn? Are you implying that the finished, processed crystals of erythritol might have some genetically modifed organisms in them or some other danger? Using a process of chromatography, you could easily check all of this out.
There might be monsters under my bed that want to suck my brains out but I will never know unless I look and verify that fact. Have you verified any of your claims about Truvia? By the way, I have no connection with the company or product and I probably use about 10 teaspoons of it every year. I’m just questioning your motives for your seemingly unsubstantiated opinion.
Fascinating post. I always assumed stevia was a better alternative to sugar. Never knew what’s in the store is so modified. Scary…
EXCUSE ME? Sugar in & of Itself is DANGEROUS!??? Oh Man! one loses credibility rapidly with specious statements like that. The incorrect intake levels of sugar or any close to glucose like substances IS DANGEROUS! Sugar itself IS NOT Dangerous…. Geeze, if we want to be credible and therefore EFFECTIVE in Helping People understand Health and Quality of Life Issues…. We had better be circumspect in what we say, write, contend! Blessings, ~anthony Klein
PS: The Rest of this Post had some very helpful information that is accurate and useful, so thank you for that.
Oh, boy… let’s see:
recommending coconut palm sugar as a substitute to white sugar? guess what, coconut palm sugar is… sugar. Sucrose, more accurately. what about maple syrup? sucrose again, what do you know… honey? made equally from the building blocks of sugar – glucose and fructose (yes, the same one from high fructose corn syrup every one likes to hate).
However, I would like to point out another food item that contains dangerous components: E515, E306, E300, E160a, E101, and large quantities of (R)-3,4-dihydroxy-5-((S)-1,2-dihydroxyethyl)furan-2(5H)-one, Pyridoxal phosphate and isoamyl acetate.
The evil banana!
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