Advertisement
Is Stevia Safe?

A. Stevia has been touted as a "natural" sweetener and an alternative to sugar, but is it safe for us to consume? 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.

Download a Free Cookbook with Our Best Healthy Dessert Recipes!

COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

In response to one commenter, do not be fooled into thinking Truvia is pure stevia. It is not. It contains erythritol which is a sugar alcohol the company makes from corn and yeast. I found out the hard way on a candida cleansing diet, which allows stevia, but NOT yeast! I was using a variety of stevia product which included erythritol and wondered why I was not getting results. Read labels to be sure you are getting what you expect. SweetLeaf, for one, may be a better choice than either Truvia or PureVia.

Anonymous

11/19/2015 - 9:42pm

We do not require sugar in our diet. Just give it up and you do not have to worry.

vythi

Anonymous

11/07/2015 - 3:15am

I agree with anonymous about what do we do now? I am in the same boat and have problems with IBS and am trying to healthy up my meals also using Stevia in the Raw. I am so tired of trying to do what is right and then finding out I may be poisoning myself by using sweeteners. . But, I will continue using it in my tea and on other things. You can wait until you know what freezes over and the FDA never seems to really give an opinion you can trust on anything. I use my own judgement now and stevia does not seem to bother my health. It is a natural product. I use it a lot. Bea

Anonymous

11/04/2015 - 12:34pm

I use Sweet Leaf stevia in powder form to sweeten tea and homemade lemonade. The taste is slightly different from sugar but not at all unpleasant to me. I can't stand the taste of Truvia and other stevia products containing additives. I'm unaware of any negative side effects which is why I'm surprised that stevia is never mentioned in articles I read about sugar substitutes. Most substitutes taste abominable to me and Splenda actually makes me sick to my stomach.

Anonymous

10/31/2015 - 3:27am

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 - 3:58pm

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 - 3:57pm

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 - 5:38pm

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 - 6:46am

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 - 1:53am

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 - 7:13pm

Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner