Is stevia bad for you?
As you know, the transition to real food is a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight. There are bumps in the road. It’s a learning process. One bump in my road toward healing? Stevia.
I’ll be honest… I previously used stevia with abandon, before I came to the conclusion that stevia does not support health. I added stevia to sweeten my tea and I occasionally I used it in desserts or baking, like my Coconut Flour and Stevia Zucchini Muffins.
I found that stevia was very convenient. It dissolves instantly and works well in beverages or liquids. Further, because a little goes a long way, it is less expensive than many other sweeteners. But , for me, the cons outweigh the pros, and so I have quit stevia for good.
1. Stevia Taxes the Adrenals
Our bodies are not designed or evolved to handle calorie-free sweeteners – be it natural or artificial. Experiencing a sweet taste from a food that is not going to provide glucose confounds our body’s sugar-handling process. Kate, from one of my favorite health blogs Nutrition By Nature, explains how eating a sugar-free sweetener like stevia can trick the body into a state of hypoglycemia:
Stevia is “sweet” on the palate, so 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. (Source)
The frequent release of the stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) in response to the stevia-induced hypoglycemia is damaging to our adrenal glands and overall health. These stress hormones are designed to be utilized when we need to be in a flight-or-fight response–not when we are eating a meal. The consequences of excess stress hormones means a suppressed immune system, increased inflammation, and lower thyroid function… just to name a few!
Stevia isn’t going to affect everyone’s blood sugar in the same way or to the same degree. I’ve heard from more than one of my colleagues that their clients react with poor blood sugar levels to stevia. Some folks can eat stevia without a blood sugar drop, but some people will experience this blood sugar drop and correlated stress hormone surge. If you want to check, buy a glucose meter and test your blood sugar before and after eating stevia. Plus, if you are eating stevia with another source of sugar or carbohydrate the blood sugar concerns will not be as harmful, since you are providing cells with some glucose in response to the sweet taste. But blood sugar isn’t the only issue I have with this sweetener.
2. Stevia often contains other ingredients
The issue of other additives exists because we use processed stevia, not pure stevia leaves. Obviously, if you have a pot of stevia leaves growing in your garden, you can ignore this point.
- Glycerine: This is often found in liquid stevia extracts. Recently, I switched from my “natural” toothpaste to a homemade version to avoid glycerine. This solvent coats teeth and prevents the remineralizing process.
- Natural flavors: a.k.a “this could be anything.”
- Xylitol: Truvia is a popular sweetener made with stevia and xylitol. Although proponents bestow the title “natural” to this sweetener, I’ve never eaten Truvia because I’m not a fan of this uber-processed ingredient. Read this xylitol article at The Healthy Home Economist for more information.
- Dextrose: On the SCD/GAPS diet, I can’t eat typical powdered stevia because it often contains dextrose which is usually corn-based. But even if you can eat corn, dextrose most likely contains GMO corn… not good for you or our planet.
3. Stevia has an aftertaste
If you eat stevia, you know it has an aftertaste… and you do your best to convince yourself of the contrary. Raw honey (or pure maple syrup or sucanut or coconut sugar) tastes exorbitantly better. Period.
4. I’m not afraid of false Candida myths!
Many people favor stevia as a primary sweetener, because they are afraid of feeding Candida overgrowth. Stevia may not feed Candida, but going sugar free to address Candida overgrowth is a big mistake because it can lead to systemic candida overgrowth and severely impaired metabolism.
What is so wrong with the popular Candida Diet, a sugar-free diet that uses only stevia as a sweetener? I recently debunked candida myths and offered a safer, healthier alternative to the Candida Diet in my post Busted: Candida Myths.
5. Stevia doesn’t support glycogen synthesis
Many people choose stevia over natural sweeteners like fruit and honey, but this is not a good choice. Fruit and raw honey, in particular, are excellently balanced sources of glucose and fructose, providing the liver with building blocks to create glycogen (glucose stores). Stevia, however, does not support glycogen formation.
Why is glycogen so important? When blood sugar is low, glycogen is broken down and released as glucose in the bloodstream. When the diet lacks sufficient glucose, there will be inadequate glycogen stored. If sugar is not immediately ingested to raise blood sugar levels, the body releases extra adrenaline and cortisol to convert muscle protein and fat into glucose. If this pattern is repeated, the frequent release of these stress hormone takes a toll on the body… and one of the most manifest symptoms of excess cortisol is abdominal weight gain.
Additionally, the body cannot convert convert inactive thyroid hormone T4 into active thyroid hormone T3 without adequate glycogen. The resulting hypothyroidism leads to slowed metabolism–and that means a host of symptoms such as weight gain, hair loss and lack of energy. Without adequate dietary sugars, the body cannot create and store glycogen.
I love giving my body some fuel in the form of raw, unfiltered honey instead of nutrient-void stevia. I believe that a sugar-free diet is detrimental (and by “sugar free” I mean free of healthy sugars… there is nothing wrong with eliminating white sugar, agave nectar, and corn syrup from the diet!). See my post Sugar: Why Your Body Needs It to learn why natural sources of sugar are important to metabolism and healthy hormones.
6. Stevia molecules have a hormone structure
I’m not a scientist, but one nutrition scientist whom I greatly admire – Sarah Ballantyne – is strongly apprehensive of the hormonal structure of stevia molecules. According to Sarah,
Steviol glycosides are synthesized in the same pathway and end up being structurally very similar to the plant hormones gibberellin and kaurene. This means that steviol glycosides have a hormone structure… There is evidence that steviol glycosides have contraceptive effects in both males and females. In particular, one specific steviol glycoside, called stevioside, has been shown to have potent contraceptive properties in female rats, implying that stevia may have an impact on estrogen, progesterone or both.
While small and occasional consumption of stevia likely has little to no impact on general health, it should not be consumed on a regular basis especially by those with altered hormone balance and dysfunctional immune systems. (Read more)
Since I have an autoimmune disease and hormonal imbalance, I’ve given stevia the boot for good. I stick with my raw honey and whole fruits!
How do you feel about stevia? Do you love it, hate it or are you on the fence?
I would like to point out the main ingredients in the “stevia” products sold on store shelves:
Truvia – 99.1% erythritol (extracted from parent company Cargill’s GMO corn), .06% rebiana (extracted from stevia leaves…using ethanol and methanol which are found in jet fuel), and .03% “natural flavors” (industry code for “chemical flavors”)
PureVia – same as Truvia
Stevia Extract In The Raw – dextrose (sugar), stevia extract, maltodextrin
Now the “Stevita Supreme” which I use contains 95% stevia extract (extracted from organic stevia leaves using water and only water) and 5% xylitol (extracted from organic birch tree bark)
With Truvia, PureVia, and Stevia Extract In The Raw, I got gastrointestinal distress including “leakage”. Plus, they made me feel sluggish and caused weight gain.
With Stevita Supreme, I don’t feel sluggish, and I have actually lost weight. I add a packet of Stevita Supreme to my freshly-made green juices, and that juice keeps me going throughout the day.
Not all stevias are alike. The ones you see in the store should be avoided. But you can search on sites like Amazon for good stevia products. I found Stevita Supreme on Amazon, and four boxes of Stevita Supreme bought on Amazon – shipping included – costs roughly the same as four boxes of Stevia Extract In The Raw bought at my local Kroger.
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Interesting article Lauren. I love following your blog!
Stevia is better tasting and I need less of it to sweeten cold drinks, sugar and honey sit in cold drinks without sweetening while stevia mixes into my iced tea nicely. Sugar is in nearly everything else people eat and adding it to drinks has no effect on the diet in general
Your analysis on Stevia is based on the assumption that you (or whomever) is on a sugar based diet or your body burns sugar (carbs) and you would not be a person who is fat based. If your body was a fat burning body not reliant on sugar (carbs), you would not need to worry about low blood sugar. Yes it has an aftertaste, but if you body is no longer reliant on carbs for processing, a majority of your points are no longer a point. As an endurance athlete, I do still eat carbs after long runs for replacing glycogen in the muscles, but I don’t need carbs or sugar to run, just fats. I don’t need to worry about blood sugar levels (it is monitored by the Doc as is the other important levels like fat in the blood etc). Honey (which is high in fructose) is not amazingly bad, but if you don’t need sugar, why would you not use something that isn’t artificial (which is a key here, you don’t mention that pure stevia is fully natural – folks do add stuff to try and kill the aftertaste, but processed foods are worse than making your own stuff with pure natural sweetners meaning pure stevia,, pure monk fruit extract or honey)….
I have “rheumatoid arthritis” (but only if I eat gluten and/or oxalates). I’m no chemist, but I can tell you for certain that each time I eat stevia, inflammation will follow.
Interesting read! What are your thoughts on those with fructose malabsorption? Honey and fruits knock me out for a few days and Stevia has become my new friend…
Interesting read! What are your thoughts on those with fructose malabsorption? Honey and other high fructose sweeteners knock me out for days…
Thank you so much for this article I came here because I have successfully used protein whey powders before when trying to eat properly and lose weight. However I bought one with stevia and to me experienced weight gain and now I know it is not my imagination. My belly weight gain was embarassing.
I also checked out the link on xylitol very interesting
Truly appreciated the wide range of information available here on your sight and you explain your pros and cons very well
If you want to have an easy, no fuss, no counting calories, no confusing intake/outake, no measurements, etc……then you just need to eat whatever the hell you want….why would you want to refuse your tastebuds from that big lovely brownie with icing on it? Why torture yourself at a party while everyone is eating cake & ice cream? just go for it…I will tell you my typical day of eating, then go over the pros & cons- Morning- 1st pop my diet pill (phentermine) that my nutritionist gives me (I swear!) then either a salt bagel loaded with the new philadelphia chocolate flavored cream cheese on it & a glass of OJ…or sometimes I just toast an Eggo Thick & Fluffy waffle & load on Haagens daaz Gelato (either cherry amaretto flavor or salted caramel) & top it off with chocolate magic shell & liquid Hersheys choc syrup (or the cherry topping that I bought from DQ since Magic Shell doesnt sell cherry anymore)….(12 pints of water throughout the day) OK, Lunchtime!- This varies, sometimes a piece of cake or brownie, large ofcourse, the 1/4 left of gelato from the morning…… Dinner time!- Big bowl of raw veggies with spices galore…. then right to dessert- maybe a large milk choc Dove bar, or one of my creations is choc marshmallow ice-cream, then I take broken up graham crackers & pour them on top, then the magic shell covers them, OR Reeses peanut butter cups broken up in ice cream with choc syrup….& No I’m not fat, ……..OKAY now for the PROS & CONS of this pattern………..I will list CONS first- .I often have mood swings, I get dizzy often, nasty PMS, “crashes” during the day, over $10,000 in dental work, & will probably die of a heart attack, diabetes, & the list of diseases go on…..PROS- My body wont out live my brain (like my Grandma the health nut who lived with no health issues to the age of 88 but didnt know who she was), you will enjoy every bite of what you eat, you only live once so why deprive yourself, chocolate is a substitute for sex, everything is yummy to ur tummy, & u will still have energy 7 not get fat from the diet pill….which may be bad for your heart, but does work the muscles double time! Enjoy