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Is Stevia Safe?

A. Stevia has been touted as a "natural" sweetener and an alternative to sugar, but is it safe for us? Though it seems this non-caloric sweetener just made its name recently, the stevia plant has a long history of use as a sweetener in South America. These newer stevia sweeteners—sold under brand names like Truvia, Stevia in the Raw or OnlySweet, and in blends with sugar, such as PureVia or Born Sweet Zing (at 8 to 10 calories per teaspoon)—include a highly purified extract of stevia called Rebaudioside A (a.k.a. Rebiana or Reb A). Reb A is 200 times sweeter than sugar and does not raise blood sugar.

Until December 2008, stevia and its derivatives could be sold in the U.S. only as dietary supplements, due to safety concerns. In the 1980s, animal studies linked stevia with adverse effects on fertility and reproductive development and possible genetic mutations. But in 2008, the makers of Truvia and PureVia submitted research to the Food and Drug Administration regarding Reb A's safety and petitioned for it to become a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) ingredient.

The FDA affirmed, and still maintains, the GRAS status only for highly purified stevia extracts (Rebaudioside A, or Reb A). Whole stevia leafs, including products containing "crude stevia extract" or "whole leaf stevia," are not classified as GRAS because data is lacking on their effects on the cardiovascular, urinary and reproductive systems.

However, some consumer advocacy groups, like The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), criticize the quality of the studies (which are often done by the manufacturers themselves) and think the Reb A's GRAS status was granted prematurely. "In the past, FDA protocol required repeated testing in two separate animal species prior to approval, but in this case it didn't," says David Schardt, nutrition expert with CSPI. "We are not warning people to avoid Reb A, but the public should be aware that the FDA did not follow all the usual safeguards."

Despite being "natural," sugar substitutes like Stevia that earn the GRAS status usually don't have as much safety data as approved additives, meaning it's worth using Stevia sparingly—the daily acceptable dietary intake, or ADI, for Stevia is 9 packets.

Bottom Line: The FDA considers Reb A a safe sugar substitute, but has not approved other forms of stevia. If you want to use stevia, we suggest sticking with Reb A (look for it on the ingredient label), and using it sparingly.

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COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

I just started taking an all-natural supplement powder sweetened with stevia leaf extract. This is the second all-natural product I have had with this stuff, both of which left a taste like something left behind on a lab table after a chemistry class. And both products were also way too sweet. Could anyone please tell me how I could kill the taste of this stuff in my supplement? Outside of that, I think I'll take my chances with sugar, since I use so little of it anyway. Thanks.

Anonymous

10/27/2015 - 4:58pm

My Hubby uses Stevia Extract from Trader Joe's. Just a tiny amt a day in coffee. But does consume those horrible diet sodas. The Stevia is 100% no additives. It is REB A as well. Cost about 10 bucks.

Anonymous

10/26/2015 - 4:57pm

For those noting a bad taste, pure stevia does not have a bad taste. Its the additives. Sweet Leaf makes Sweet Drops, no additives, just pure stevia. It works fabulously, and there is not a bad aftertaste.

Anonymous

10/08/2015 - 6:38pm

If even Stevia has FDA cautionary factors, why does it not classify refined cane sugar - which contributes to 100+ medical conditions - as one of the most damaging food additives of all?

Anonymous

10/05/2015 - 7:46am

I must have unusual taste buds compared to so many who have posted comments about stevia. I use the Truvia brand, which doesn't have other additives - unlike many store brands, and have found no after taste at all. I have slowly found ways to use it in baking and cooking as well as sweetening beverages. It has helped me rein in my sugar usage unlike other artificial sweeteners that I feel have actually increased my cravings for sweets.

Anonymous

10/02/2015 - 2:53am

I've had a reaction as well to the WW Tescos Mint Humbugs... they say Stevia on the front of the packaging but if you read the ingredients list the first ingredients are Isomalt and Malitol. These two ingredients are Alcohol sugars which create the diarrhea, bloating etc... It's not the Stevia which is at the bottom of the ingredients list... These sweets are mislabeled and misleading!!

Anonymous

10/01/2015 - 8:13pm

I recently started the FODMAP diet and I cannot have most sugars found in my favorite drinks. I found Coca Cola Life and it has changed me incredibly. Low calorie, same taste, and FODMAP friendly. I have lost 6lbs in my first 3 weeks of this! Also, it does not irritate my gut!
Caution: I am not a FODMAP expert. I am new to this. It is quite possible I overlooked an ingredient. Double check.

Anonymous

08/19/2015 - 8:27pm

Folks,

Get a copy of Mark Hyman's Book "The Blood Sugar Solution". It is changing my life as a person with pre-diabetes. It opens your eyes to the truth regarding foods we eat, how your body deal with them, and the health consequences, but most importantly...how to reverse the damage. You will look at all sweeteners much differently.

Anonymous

07/29/2015 - 8:40am

A year ago I heard how bad sugar is for you. It was actually called evil. I heard bad things about aspartame and other sweeteners too. So I gave up sugar and all the other sweeteners. And I started using Splenda, until I started hearing bad things about that to. Everyone was on the Stevia bandwagon. So I started using Stevia. Now after reading this I don't know what to use anymore? In comparing all of the sweetners, do you think that Stevia is still the best choice? This is getting really ridiculous. Nothing is safe anymore and we end up using the wrong thing for lack of a choice. What to do?

Anonymous

07/25/2015 - 4:16pm

The big problem with the Stevia you buy in the stores is that it is not Stevia. For some reason they feel they need to add things they call "all natural" which are not natural at all. Most have added bulking agents made from corn which is the most genetically modified product on Earth. I use a natural product I get from naturamericas.com which comes in a small jar of powder, has no added ingredients, and is so powerful it is 300 times as sweet as processed sugar. It does cost $25 but so far one jar has lasted almost a year for sweeting my coffee. The only problem I had was to learn not to use too much. It does not have the bitter aftertaste of the brand name products and desolves completely. I am a type 1 diabetic and my first attempt at using a store bought brand name product produced hives. Thankfully I did more research and discovered it was the additives that caused the problems.

Anonymous

07/14/2015 - 10:26am

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