What exactly is stevia?
Stevia, also called Stevia rebaudiana, is a plant that is a member of the chrysanthemum family, a subgroup of the Asteraceae family (ragweed family). There’s a big difference between the stevia you buy at the grocery store and the stevia you may grow at home.
Stevia products found on grocery store shelves, such as Truvia and Stevia in the Raw, don’t contain whole stevia leaf. They’re made from a highly refined stevia leaf extract called rebaudioside A (Reb-A).
In fact, many stevia products have very little stevia in them at all. Reb-A is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar.
Sweeteners made with Reb-A are considered “novel sweeteners” because they’re blended with different sweeteners, such as erythritol (a sugar alcohol) and dextrose (glucose).
For example, Truvia is a blend of Reb-A and erythritol, and Stevia in The Raw is a blend of Reb-A and dextrose (packets) or maltodextrin (Bakers Bag).
Some stevia brands also contain natural flavors. The
Still, ingredients that fall under the “natural flavor” umbrella may be highly processed. Many argue that this means there’s nothing natural about them.
You can grow stevia plants at home and use the leaves to sweeten foods and beverages. Reb-A sweeteners are available in liquid, powder, and granulated forms. For purposes of this article, “stevia” refers to Reb-A products.
Are there benefits to using stevia?
Stevia is a nonnutritive sweetener. This means it has almost no calories. If you’re trying to lose weight, this aspect may be appealing.
However, to date, research is inconclusive. The impact of nonnutritive sweetener on an individual’s health may depend on the amount that is consumed, as well as the time of day it’s consumed.
If you have diabetes, stevia may help keep your blood sugar levels in check.
However, one noted limitation in this study is that it took place in a laboratory setting, rather than in a real-life situation in a person’s natural environment.
And according to a 2009 study, stevia leaf powder may help manage cholesterol. Study participants consumed 20 milliliters of stevia extract daily for one month.
The study found stevia lowered total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides with no negative side effects. It also increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol. It’s unclear if occasional stevia use in lower amounts would have the same impact.
Does stevia cause any side effects?
There’s concern that raw stevia herb may harm your kidneys, reproductive system, and cardiovascular system. It may also drop blood pressure too low or interact with medications that lower blood sugar.
Although stevia is considered safe for people with diabetes, brands that contain dextrose or maltodextrin should be treated with caution.
Dextrose is glucose, and maltodextrin is a starch. These ingredients add small amounts of carbs and calories. Sugar alcohols may also slightly tip the carb count.
If you use stevia now and then, it may not be enough to impact your blood sugar. But if you use it throughout the day, the carbs add up.
As with most nonnutritive sweeteners, a major downside is the taste. Stevia has a mild, licorice-like taste that’s slightly bitter. Some people enjoy it, but it’s a turn-off for others.