Food Babe Investigates Stevia: Good or Bad?

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…

Stevia

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

Truvia

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:

E Manu process
Credit: Cargill
All Natural Stevia

“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.

SteviaIntheRaw
PureVia
OrganicStevia

“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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. Make your own liquid stevia extract (see graphic below for recipe).
    SteviaExtract
  5. 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.

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382 thoughts on “Food Babe Investigates Stevia: Good or Bad?”

  1. I am so confused,I have been using coconut sugar just to find it still has fructose in it, so if its in all sugars and maple syrup,what can we use to bake with?

  2. I started looking for a replacement for stevia, when Walmart quit carrying it in their supplement aisle. Everything I tried caused stomach upset, so now I’m going to try coconut palm sugar. Great information.8

    1. I use organic coconut palm sugar all the time now. I hope I don’t find out anything bad about this now. Every time I think I’m doing good (like using Xylitol) I find out it’s bad for you.

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  4. I know I’m late to the party but THANK YOU SO MUCH!! I planted a stevia plant last year, but had no idea how to use it. I tried to muddle the leaves like I do a mint leave, and if anyone want to know that doesn’t work. I’m going to try it again this year!!

  5. The best option is to sweeten your own drinks and foods with sugar, not too much. Maple syrup is a nice alternative, and has actual flavor. Again, not too much.

  6. I am at such a loss when it comes to stevia. I purchased the “Skinny Girl” Organic Stevia which is 0 calories and is USDA organic. However, the only two ingredients are organic dextrose and organic stevia. You listed dextrose as a no-no because it generally comes from genetically modified corn… but what if its organic? I would love to hear others weigh in on this and see what others think about this product (one packet is CRAZY sweet to me by the way). I’ve also heard people recommend agave syrup? Any thoughts???

  7. coconut palm sugar is not a sustainable crop. The coconut tree cannot produce the palm sugar and coconuts. The new studies show that coconut palm sugar is not as healthy as it was once thought to be just like the Agave was once the darling of the health food world and has since been proven not that much better then sugar at all.

  8. How healthy (or not healthy) is xylitol? I heard it’s wood alcohol sugar, but it doesn’t do the work that sugar does.

  9. I should have several new Stevia plants in the spring. I am trying to find or develop a strain that can withstand the winters here. Of all my herbs, Stevia is the first to die in the fall with the first mild cold snap.
    So I am looking for different strains to experiment with so that I might come up with a hybrid that is cold resistant. I do have a strain of Rosemary that so far survives without a greenhouse when it is not supposed to here in zone 6B. Neighbors can’t make it survive through the winter.

  10. I use stevia to bypass sugar/insulin spikes so the options of honey or pure maple syrup are not an option. I appreciate your research tho…

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  12. Foodbabe Thank you for all you do.Help me to eat healthy please.Send me all the information on eating healthy.

  13. zarathustra (Derek O'Brien)

    As most people have access to only Stevia extracts, and since Stevia is intensely sweet, it needs to be “bulked out” to make use easy and controllable. There are a number of bulking agents, but only erythritol has no blood-sugar spiking effects; dextrose, maltodextrin and others that are metabolised in the body cause large insulin spikes that lead to weight-gain problems. Of course, the liquid form can be used, where water is the bulking agent; it can be bought as such or you can make your own using dried leaves.

  14. Hi Food Babe–I have recently discovered your blogs and really like them. Just wondering about coconut palm sugar. I have used it and liked the flavor but recently read an article from Tropical Traditions explaining why they won’t sell the sugar. It was an interesting read and really made me think–here’s the link to the article: http://www.tropicaltraditions.com/coconut_palm_sugar.htm

    Thanks again for your work and writings!

  15. Great work with the Subway chem!

    I have a bad feeling about the ingredients in the K-cup coffees (Tully’s etc.) and Green Mountain natural teas. The box says made with or from coffee/not 100 percent coffee, but when I call them, they assure me that the cups contain only coffee. If so, wouldn’t it be labeled as 100 percent?

    Also, I called Green Mountain (same company actually — they are all owned by a larger company) to find out what the natural flavors are in their apple cider. (I am allergic to many “natural” things.) They would/could not tell me. Stevia also used to be on their label but it is not now and they told me that they did not put Stevia in their cider. So I asked her if they changed the ingredients and she said no. Seems ultra-fishy to me. Any insight?

    Thanks!

  16. Thanx Food Babe! Great article. Have you seen this? These people are a small ‘mom & pop’ company in FL that make the best, purest stevia i’ve ever had! No bitter taste or anything. A 1/2 kilo at $102-ish lasts us over 3 years (2 of us). I’m on my 2nd 1/2 Kilo. Best ever! Check em out. Nice people too. You’ll actually talk to them if you call. =)
    Janet
    http://emperorsherbologist.com/stevioside.php

  17. So I was reading all your arguments and comments all good and well. But I think the only thing you need to know who’s your farmer. Buy as close to the earth as possible. Buy the best you can for the money you have. Grow some of your own vegetables if possible. Grow all your own culinary herbs in pots. Don’t buy processed food if at all possible… Remember before ww2 that is the way we ate, try to get back. Not everything is going to be correct or right all the time or perfect. Always remember moderation in all things.

  18. Thank you Maryanne, Becky, and Ashley. I am a third year biology major, and as such, I have taken several courses pertaining to human physiology and nutrition, the most informative with respect to this blog being biochemistry. As Ashley stated, to sell stevia in powdered form, there had to exist a secondary ingredient, or the amount sold for the price would be confusing, not to mention people would be measuring out microscopic amounts to use. To make this point a little clearer, think of pills, or toothpaste, or deodorant…the “active ingredient” in these products is such a small amount it would be practically impossible to use without a “base.” I encourage everyone to do their own research. We are taught in college to not mistake anything for truth until we’ve reviewed a series of reliable, credible, un-biased published scientific articles.

  19. I just read that rampant harvesting of coconut palm sugar endangers the coconut trees and,thus, other great coconut products — flour, oil,etc. You can either get coconut sugar from the sap of the tree or leave it to produce the coconut. You cannot have both. Many coconut farmers are now taking the fast big bucks that comes with taking the sap from the tree and allowing the coconuts to die. I would much prefer to leave the sap alone in the tree while the coconuts mature. I do appreciate this article and the author’s intent to enlighten. She made a lot of valid points about sugar substitutes. Unfortunately, there always seems to be more to the story which is why, as intelligent, empathic beings, we don’t just read and agree.

  20. I’m more confused now than when I started reading all the so-called expert information. Have no idea what to buy!

  21. Hi,

    You give several examples of which stevia NOT to buy so which ones are safe?

    Thanks in advance!

  22. I’ll bet you can trace Maryanne , Ashley, & Karin’s ip address info right back to their source, big business who pays them to seek out helpful blogs like this to discredit it’s content. Well here’s a thought going out to you three little piggies……Enjoy your income, congrats on lying for profit, I’m sure you sleep well at night as a paid pawn of the big ag machine. I’ll bet after reading food Babes delightful insights however , you don’t feed this garbage to your kids. My god , when did being ethical become so out of fashion?

    For every person trying to address the real problems with what passes as our food supply & inform the public about how the FDA has been bought & sold, there is a professional blogger/ propoganda machine pawn in place to mis inform/ dis credit them. Are we really content to be the world according to monsanto? Please fellow sheeple, we can fight back everyday with our wallets, making good choices with what to buy & not buy. That’s food Babes point. Duh.
    Proposition 37 is a good example. Big Ag spent 46 MILLION to confuse the issue. & defeat our right to know what we’re eating. Food Babe is a Goddess in a sea of corporat snakes ! The big Ag Hags spent 46 million to mis inform us & you know what, they may have won that battle in Ca , but they’re going to lose the war. We are sick of cancers, autism, diabetes, mysterious allergies, etc. ever wonder why type 2 diabetes is epidemic & will stay that way? Monsanto were not only involved in making the insulin , but also the toxic GMO seeds, that is behind the epidemic. You know, that crap corn that is processed to death to make food additives that are in just about everything on the grocery store shelf? Yikes, these genocidal, greedy maniacs get you coming & going.
    We the people are only sheeple till we get tread on, then we wake up & say alright you big ag smucks, we are onto you, how you appointed your own to run the FDA, ( btw- great job DC, another fox to watch the hen house.) guess they are counting on us being really dumb. Carry on the good fight Food Babe.
    Going to grow stevia , find some organic vodka & make my own.

    To the rest of you, PLEASE research what you feed your loved ones, don’t be swayed by the ridiculous comments of paid bloggers with agendas. The food Babe is spot on and has no agenda other than helping us all make safe healthy decisions for our loved ones.
    If you can watch ” the world according to monsanto” you will fully understand how & why we have been kept in the dark and why informed folks trying to help us navigate the maze of mis information surrounding our food supply should be supported, not maligned. We have the potential to be a great nation again but we need to stay informed! Always consider the source. Follow the money for the real story, the big picture.
    A final thought to all you big corporate idiots who just spent 46 million to defeat prop 37 & our right to know about gmo. The boycott is already under way & gathering steam. We’re going to take you down one dollar at a time if we have to, but we will make you accountable for your disgusting abuse of the public trust. Every single time we buy food is an opportunity for us to let YOU know, emphatically, we don’t support you, or your subsidiarys unethical practices. Make good choices fellow sheeple. We can do this!!!
    Thanks food Babe for helping us make intelligent choices.

    Kali

    1. Wow. Seriously?!

      About Silica:
      https://chriskresser.com/nutrition-for-healthy-skin-silica-niacin-vitamin-k2-and-probiotics
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17435951
      http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/544154/silica

      The difference between silica and “silica gel”:

      “Matt Harbowy, Chemist and Biotech Researcher (former PhD student, Chemistry, Cornell University, 1991-1993)
      Most silica gel packets contain only a gram or two. Silica gel dessicants are considered “hazardous” because of its potentially irritating nature, not because of its toxicity.

      Silica gel is manufactured from sodium silicate, acidified to silicon dioxide/silicic acid. It can contain a wide range of “ingredients”.

      Sodium silicate is listed to have an LD50 of about 1.6g/kg.

      Silicon dioxide is listed to have a LD50 of >~5g/kg, more than 3x times less poisonous than sodium silicate.

      If the silica gel in the packet is blue (turns pink), it is doped with cobalt chloride, which is typically used in dessicants such as Drierite at about a 3% level. There are claimed non-toxic (orange) alternatives, but the indicator in the orange silica gel is, if I am reading things right, either Methyl Violet (turns purple) or ferric ammonium sulfate (turns clear/ lt purple/blue-green).

      Cobalt chloride LD50 = 766 mg/kg. So at 3% of the silica, it is no more toxic than the silica gel itself, proportionately, as long as it isn’t more than about 10% or so of the silica. Cobalt compounds are supposed to not be bioavailable, precipitating in physiological concentrations of phosphate and binding strongly to albumin. However, oral administration of 80mg/kg of cobalt chloride was shown to induce chromosomal changes in mice http://oem.bmj.com/content/58/10…, so if the silica gel was blue or pink, I’d probably be very worried if I ate some, even though I wouldn’t expect to feel anything.

      Methyl Violet LD50 = 413mg/kg. More toxic than CoCl2! Again, in proportion, not more toxicity risk than the silica gel itself, as long as it isn’t more than 5% of the silica.

      Ferric Ammonium Sulfate is pretty much nontoxic, so I would expect this is the form used in the packets included with food.

      Sodium silicate is a strong base, like sodium hydroxide. As such, it is extremely irritating. The recommendation is to not induce vomiting, because of its corrosive nature. If enough sodium silicate begins absorbing water from the lining of your mouth and esophagus, you will experience a soapy sensation and begin to feel a burning as the alkaline nature of the sodium silicate begins to eat away at your skin. It is even more hazardous if the dust gets in your eyes.

      Silica gel is prepared by acidifying sodium silicate, and would not be expected to be alkaline- it is silicon dioxide (same as sand). Even if it were I would expect any remaining alkaline nature is potentially neutralized as soon as it hits your stomach. If it is completely neutralized, there would not be the soapy sensation and there’s just a risk of irritating as it goes down if it absorbs water from your mucosal lining and scratches them up. Dissolved in a glass of water, one could measure the pH to determine the risk of burns, and would render this risk minimal to non-existent in my book.

      That said, a couple of grams in a silica gel packet would not constitute a hazard severe enough that I personally would rush off to the hospital if I accidentally swallowed one. That’s just me- obviously, it says DO NOT EAT clearly on it, and you should NOT EAT.

      I repeat, just because something has a negligible risk of poisoning you does not mean you can “try” eating it.

      Knowing that, what’s the difference between sodium silicate, silica gel, and silicone compounds used in implants?

      Sodium silicate is a polymeric compound of silicon and oxygen, with some of the SiO- groups paired with the Na+ counterion. It absorbs water, changing the crystalline packing of the polymer. It is an excellent dessicant because it can absorb up to 9 molecules of water for every molecule of sodium silicate. In contrast, cobalt chloride can absorb 6 molecules of water per, and calcium sulfate (Drierite) can absorb about 1.5 molecules of water per.

      Silica gel is made by acidifying sodium silicate, and is essentially silicon dioxide. It is capable of absorbing 4 molecules of water to form silicic acid. It can be heated to regenerate its ability to absorb water.

      Silicone or silicone gel is methylated silicon dioxide polymer, dimethyl siloxane, which has a number of polymerized lengths for different applications. The LD50 for dimethyl siloxane polymers is >~ 20g/kg, so over ten times (or more) less poisonous than sodium silicate, and not alkaline, so no risk of burns. Silicones come in many forms, though, with varying levels of irritation or hazard.” (http://www.quora.com/What-happens-if-you-eat-silica-gel)

      All of this to point out a MAJOR fallacy in this article and your distrust of others pointing out the same.

      All of you, do your own research. Seriously. It’s not that hard.

      1. I can assure you I am not paid by ANYONE to discredit blogs. I am a Registered Nurse that does not believe EVERYTHING I read in an article on-line, thus I research things more in-depthly. I am also sure that the Nutrition student whose post I originally commented on, is not paid by “big brother” to post information that is CORRECT.

    2. Thank you Kali for telling it like it is. My husband and I have been following the food path since our first documentary, “Food Inc”. I just wish there were more people like us who cared enough about what we eat. But people just don’t seem to care. They want food fast, cheap & easy that their families won’t balk about. Then like you said, they wonder why the US has the highness percentages of preventable illness like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, etc. We are doing it to ourselves. I try to tell people about this stuff and they look at me like I’m crazy. Yet neither my husband or I have been sick for 8 years. Thanks for helping to get the word out.

  23. Wow! Thank you so much for such an informative investigative blog regarding Stevia & the misrepresentation by Corporate Giants who CONTROLL our Government. While some may conclude that you’ve confused readers by mixing up a couple of points, still, BUYERS BEWARE! That’s the point! The SHEEPLE of the United States of American FOLLOW and then CRITICIZE others for doing what they fail to do, LEAD or INFORM! The other SIGNIFICANT point lost in translation by some of your keyboard critics, is the OVERT CONTROLL THAT CORPORATIONS HAVE OVER GOVERNMENT AGENCIES that exist obstensibly to PROTECT US from this kind of CONSUMER ABUSE, FRAUD & MANIPULATION! What a shame!

  24. If none of the products on the market are good enough, where do you buy stevia leaves? I live in an apartment complex, i can’t really grow a garden of stevia..

  25. It really toasts my cookies when someone writes an incomplete article or review of an issue or product. Not only does the information you provided confuse a majority of the public it lacks evidence to back up your claims. I certainly hope you aren’t paid to deliberately confuse and misinform the public. What certifications do you hold that qualifies you to make these claims?

  26. Hi. I read the information you wrote about stevia and found it very informative. I did not realize the FDA has not approved stevia in its natural state, but only the formulation derived from chemical processes.

    I would like to find out if you know whether the stevia used in “Smart Mix” manufactured by Zija is harmful if taken on a daily, long term basis. I appreciate your help with this question.

  27. I am a 3rd year Nutrition student and I find a few issues with you article…while the first is not a real cause for concern, I did want to bring it up… You mention dextrose as an ingredient in “stevia in the raw”, it should be noted that when you want to put something into a powder form, you need a secondary ingredient to do this, dextrose or maltodextrin will do the trick. The most notable difference is that dextrose is a simple carb and will cause a significant GI spike while maltodextrin is a complex carb and will maintain energy levels and a lower GI number.
    Secondly and most concerning to me is how you address the addition of silica in one product…Silica (also known as silicon) is a vital trace mineral that we all require. For you to reference it as identical to silica desiccant gel packs found in packages etc is wrong. Those are not the same and the reason for that is because the gel packs often contain more than just silica, the little balls are usually coated in something toxic like cobalt chloride. I feel your article provides misleading information that would cause unknowing readers to turn away from anything containing silica in fear of poisoning.

    1. Totally agree with your observations about the article. In fact, I looked at my Stevia in the Raw package after reading this, and it clearly states MALTOdextrose as the added ingredient, NOT dextrose. So now I even question the validity of the article because the picture of the Stevia in the Raw ingredients doesn’t even match what is on my package, in my cupboard! Photoshop, perhaps? And I certainly agree with you, regarding the article making the inference that the products contain the same ingredient as the silica desiccant packs have! Total misinformation!

      1. What are you talking about? I am looking at a packet of Stevia in the Raw and it clearly states ingredients as: DEXTROSE, Stevia in the Raw! Read each packet and you will see. All I really needed to know was that it was made by Coca-Cola. I can’t believe I actually purchased this ingredient, but I won’t be fooled again..

        So much for your detective work.

      2. I also use stevia in the raw and the first ingredient is Dextrose then Stevia leaf extract just like the box she pictured

      3. Hmmm. Interesting that the package ingredients vary. Maybe they changed the ingredients, based on feedback about Dextrose? I have the large bag of Stevia in the Raw, not the individual packets. I don’t know why that should make any difference. And that still doesn’t address the info regarding the silica. Stevia does NOT contain the same ingredient as what is in those little packets that come inside products like your new shoes, etc. I’m sorry. I still feel this article is misrepresenting some of the facts.

  28. A word about Stevia/Stevioside/Rebaudioside A/whole leaf extract.
    Stevioside is pure extract with all of its chemical compounds intact. When you separate/remove the different Chemical compounds such as rebaudioside A from stevioside it is no longer stevioside (stevia extract).
    Our Stevioside (stevia extract) is extracted from the whole leaf. It contains “all” the compounds of the leaf. All of our products are 100% whole stevia leaf extract (stevioside). We feel it is important not to take away anything from the whole leaf extract. And we do not add anything. Other brands will add, Natural Flavors, Dextrose, Silica, Sugar Alcohol, etc.
    A word about the extraction Process.
    Our Stevioside is extracted with reverse osmosis purified water. We believe water is the safest method. Many other brands will use chemical extraction. CEO of Nature’s Stevia http://www.NaturesStevia.com

  29. I agree with this article about being careful what type of stevia you use. I have researched a small company called Nature’s Stevia and have found it to be the best tasting stevia I have tried. Their website is naturesstevia.com.

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