Why I quit stevia
Is stevia addictive?
“No it’s not! I use it every day in my very healthy diet and I’m just fine, thankyouverymuch, stevia is not addictive and couldn’t possibly be harmful.”
If that is your gut response to the question I’ve just asked, then consider the fact that reactions speak louder than words. I would know… that was my reaction years ago, when I felt both fear and anger at the suggestion of stevia being harmful.
This is my definition of food addiction, and I believe most practitioners would agree with it: if there is a food which you consume daily, and crave desperately when you do not get a daily dose, then that is a food to which you are addicted.
If, by that definition, you are addicted to stevia, you may reason that it’s not a bad addiction. After all, stevia is a harmless and calorie-free plant extract. You may consider it beneficial to your health, because it supports you in avoiding refined sugar.
In this post, I’m sharing my personal experience as well as the research from The Stevia Deception by naturopath Dr. Bruce Fife. When I received Dr. Fife’s book recently, I read it in one sitting and immediately wanted to share his message.
Years ago, I wrote a post called Why I Quit Stevia. This post went viral, with 22K Facebook shares, and was met with a wide range of heated responses. At the time, I wished I had more sources to support my stance, because I felt it was critical information to share.
Four years later, I still avoid stevia. In this post, I share additional research and viewpoints on why this is a wise choice.
My experience with stevia addiction
In The Stevia Deception, Dr. Fife explains that has seen patients switch their sugar addiction to stevia addiction. He considers sugar addiction sweet addiction, because is simply transferred from sugar to other sweeteners. He offers this as anecdote, later backed up with thorough research, but he is very insightful to start with this observation. I believe there are very few people who, after eliminating sugar, transfer their sweet cravings to stevia. You may have experienced this, as I have.
My first year on a grain free diet, I had a rocky relationship with carbohydrates and sugar. I don’t believe I made “mistakes” in what I ate, I simply needed to experience how best to fuel my body.
I initially went waaay too low carb, by ditching grains and jumping on the anti-candida bandwagon. Without any natural sugars from fruits or starchy veggies, my body became extremely fatigued and weak. I was an emotional wreck and I literally couldn’t handle spilled milk. And then there were the dizzy spells. Every time I stood up or tried to walk up the stairs, I became extremely dizzy and my vision blurred.
I struggled for two weeks and watched my sugar cravings skyrocket. And so I coped with copious amounts of stevia. I could not get through one day without a stevia-sweetened beverage or some horrifying low-carb concoction of cauliflower pudding sweetened with stevia (good Lord, I was truly desperate).
Eventually, I settled into my optimal carb intake without counting carbs, because I don’t want to live my life counting grams of macronutrients. If you want to learn the steps I took, please read my post How To Eat Sugar.
When I reintroduced an optimal amount of carbs to my diet, it coincided with reading a blog post by a nutritionist who suggested that the body responds to stevia the same way it does to sugar: with a release of insulin. I needed no more convincing – it made absolute sense to me. It explained why I felt hooked on stevia the same way I had felt hooked on sugar. I immediately ditched stevia and its unpleasant aftertaste.
Evolution versus the blink of an eye
When it comes to assessing the safety and health properties of food, I place the most trust in the wisdom of human evolution.
The human body evolved for millennia to have a specific biological response when our tongue detects sweetness. Until 60 years ago – a blink of an eye in human evolution – a sweet taste always meant incoming sugar. The human body adapted to use that sugar for energy.
When we taste sweetness, the pancreas release insulin to prepare for the glucose (blood sugar) that will soon be absorbed from the food and released into the bloodstream. The insulin shuttles glucose into cells, allowing our cells to use the glucose for energy.
We know, from scientific studies, that our evolutionary programming kicks into gear when we eat stevia (or erythritol or xylitol or any other sugar-free sweetener). In response to the sweetness of stevia, the body still releases insulin to prepare for sugar. Without the incoming sugar, the insulin pulls too much glucose already in our bloodstream into our cells. This brings blood sugar levels too low.
The result? Overeating and sugar cravings. Dr Fife explains, “when expected calories do not come from the artificially-sweetened foods, feelings of hunger intensify, which promotes overeating to compensate for the missing calories.”
Dr. Fife sees it over and over again: those who eat stevia instead of sugar are hungrier after meals, and experience severe cravings. The cells in their bodies are instinctively trying to get the sugar they expected.
Is stevia safe? Here’s the research:
The following is summarized from a few of the studies outlined in Dr. Fife’s book:
- Research shows that stevia, as well as other sugar-free sweeteners such as aspartame, cause a drop in blood sugar and a release in insulin when taken orally (because the sweet-taste receptors on the tongue are triggered)
- In numerous studies, stevia extract does not cause an insulin release when taken in capsules. This suggests it is the sweet taste, not the actual stevia, that causes a problematic blood sugar reaction.
- Rats given stevia-sweetened water gained more weight than rats given glucose-sweetened water. This suggests the rats overate to compensate for the hunger-inducing effects of stevia.
- Human and animal studies that non-caloric sweeteners stimulate appetite and encourage overeating more than sugar.
Those are merely a few studies on the metabolic effects of stevia. The other research on stevia suggests that, particularly in its extracted form, it may disrupt thyroid hormones and fertility.
Experiencing freedom in my relationship with sugar
Dr. Fife concludes the book with this simple nutrition prescription:
If you want to find success losing excess weight, managing your blood sugar, and improving your overall health, choose a diet build around whole, natural foods. […] A diet that relies on the natural sweetness of fresh foods, without sugar and without sugar substitutes that will free you from the chains of sweet addiction, yet will still allow you to enjoy satisfying, delicious meals.
That’s how I’ve chosen to eat for the last few years. I enjoy occasional treats, such as grain free baked goods or even sugar-sweetened ice cream, but I do not crave sweetness. I only only enjoy it. It was a journey to get here, but I now feel freedom in my relationship with sugar.
Steps to have a healthy relationship with sugar
Here are three steps to get the upper hand on your sweet cravings, whether you crave stevia or sugar:
Eat healthy fats at each meal, to provide sustained energy and slow the absorption of glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream. This helps you maintain sustained energy levels, rather than riding the blood-sugar-rollercoaster. Click here to read my guide to Balance Blood Sugar Levels with healthy fats and protein.
Have a batch of my blood-sugar-balancing buttermints on hand. These have just a couple grams of sugar from raw honey, but are loaded with fat-soluble vitamins and satiating fats to immediately provide satiation and long-burning energy.
UPDATE — Consider intuitive eating. I am constantly progressing and learning on my healing journey, and refining my philosophy of health. I now support my clients with the paradigm of intuitive eating, and help them heal the emotional, mental, and spiritual issues that underly food problems and sugar cravings. You can learn more about that herelearn more about that here!
Something else to consider: many forms of “stevia” on the market now have a form of maltodextrin or dextrose added to them as a filler, and those form of sugar are addictive. Man made sugar can and will spike your blood sugar, causing this addiction. Finding a pure form of stevia that is just the stevia extract can help with this. And those with ragweed allergies should stay away from it too, because stevia is related to ragweed, and sometimes, symptoms like headaches, fatigue and lethargy can be an allergy to stevia.
What do you suggest to use to sweeten coffee then?
I quit sugar years ago due to other people on the internet showing me a ton of science and sources on why sugar was bad for me. I went Keto. I had stevia with my coffee. I even made sure it was the more expensive Xylitol version as I was assured that was better for me than the off-brand Maltodextrin version.
But now you’re saying Stevia will still cause me issues due the lack of calories associated with it.
Frankly, I don’t eat sugar-sweetened anything these days. I either eat fruit for a sweet taste, just because I enjoy fruit tastes, honestly, or I am talking about my morning coffee. I only have one cup a day, and I have used stevia to sweeten it for years.
If Stevia is bad to sweeten it… and honey being out for that purpose as I can’t handle the taste of honey in coffee, what do you suggest?
Is sugar better than Stevia, especially in this small amount daily?
Seems like it’s still a lot of sugar to achieve the sweetness level I like… (I have the bitter gene. Coffee needs to be relatively sweet, though over time I’ve liked less and less sweetner. I use 2 teaspoons of Pyure now instead of the 3 tablespoons I wanted at first.)
I don’t know what sugar level I’d need to make the same flavor. Stevia packs usually say to use less because it’s sweeter but I’ve never found it to be true with me. I find it *different* but still usually need similar amounts to sugar to make it the same sweet for me.
But assuming it’s not more than like 4 teaspoons a day, well hell that can be up to 16 g of sugar right there.
I honestly would love your input on what to do here.
Try a bullet proof coffee with butter or coconut oil and creme fraiche in it. It will taste sweet enough.
Is stevia still bad for type 1 diabetics? My pancreas doesnt produce insulin so is there any reason for me to avoid stevia?
If you have to sweeten coffee for it to taste good, then you’re either drinking crap coffee or you don’t like the taste of coffee to begin with. The same applies to tea. I own a prosumer espresso machine + coffee grinder pairing, and the shots I get from it have so much flavor that adding any sweetener would ruin them. On top of that, whole milk frothed with the steam wand will have a natural sweetness to it so if I must have something sweet I’ll make a cappuccino or latte.
But you don’t have to go that far. A fresh grind (using a cheap hand grinder or burr grinder) into a french press or a moka pot should be delicious without any additions.
I second your response. I buy good coffee beans, and grind my own every day. It is so delicious, I wouldn’t dream of ruining it with sugar. I sometimes use a splash of heavy organic cream for a touch of creaminess if I’m craving that…otherwise it needs nothing else.
If the stevia caused problems because of the sweet taste, then why wouldn’t honey do the same thing? Your body would notice the sweetness more so from honey, cause honey is super sweet…
The honey actually has some natural sugars in it for the insulin to react with in the blood stream verses a sweet taste with no additional glucose (sugars) being introduced to the body.
” In response to the sweetness of stevia, the body still releases insulin to prepare for sugar.”
Says who? Where has this been demonstrated and by whom? It may not be good for everybody, but it does not increase glucose in the blood, compared with processed, refined sugar. It is increased glucose in the blood that prompts an insulin secretion, not the sweet taste in the mouth. Check your facts first and beware the sugar industry.
This corresponds with my research as well. If there’s alternative research findings, that would be good to know. Need a citation or two. Thanks.
I have low blood sugar and know when I have an imbalance. I have NEVER had a reaction to Stevia and only use one packet of it in my cheap and tasteless morning coffee because I can’t afford expensive good coffee. However, I do not agree that the body produces glucose in the blood stream the minute sweet flavor hits the tongue. I do agree that some sweeteners can cause hunger because they are not supplying what is needed to stop hunger, actual good food. Mostly diet sodas or any sodas cause hunger. They also cause nausea or if you have low blood sugar like I do, it can cause that roller coaster effect of a high followed by the blood sugar sinking to dangerous levels of 30 to 35 which needs a quick dose of something like juice or a sip of soda, followed by a meal with fat and protein. The real danger is that most people eat too much, too fast and eat junky food, fried or full of processed carbs. Just try to eat as if you were a living animal instead of a store window mannequin.
Stevia has been around for ages in kitchens and grocery store shelves, but many are unaware of the fact that Stevia is a plant, not just a brand name. Stevia is a small, leafy herb that was discovered more than 200 years ago. It is 300 times sweeter than natural sugar and adds an equal amount of sweetness to food and beverages and was also used in medical treatments in ancient times.
What about dried stevia leaves from my own plant?
So you are saying Nature got it wrong? Stevia is a plant. I use the dried leaves in my tea. You are completely unconscious about this subject.
Because of my addiction to stevia consuming 12 packs of day to obtain the necessary amount of hydration, I am now laying here sick with a 3mm kidney stone.
I have learned a boatload due to this stone. I have learned how one pack of stevia has 44grams of oxalates. I was consuming 12 packs!!! So a human should only have 100 mg of oxalates for kidney health and prevention of kidney stones.
So two packs would be. The total my body could have!! Ugh…now add in everything you eat with oxalates and the problem compounds.
Stevia powder is DANGEROUS. I have read the liquid is safer… but is worth the risk??
Wow this very enlightening. I was considering starting using Stevia but now I will stay away from it.
We just make sure the stevia is used with fruit or another small amount of natural sugar. Problem solved.