Stevia: Sweetness Without The Side Effects

staz-lindes-by-thomaas-mist-mag

Stevia is, as far as I can tell, the best no-cal sugar substitute. It's organic (just a crushed up leaf, actually!), it's cheap because it's almost 300x sweeter than sugar and easier to manufacture, and the current science suggests stevia is actively good for you. Here's a list of therapeutic effects attributable to stevia leaf extract according to Pharmacology & Therapeutics (world's sexiest peer-reviewed journal for three straight publication cycles running!): "Stevioside is anti-hyperglycemic, anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-diarrheal, diuretic, and immunomodulatory." Fun!

So why aren't we naming our collective firstborns Stevia and putting it in all the things? Well, people outside the US already are—and have been for literally thousands of years in much of South America. In fact, stevia is the traditional way to sweeten yerba mate. And our friends across the isthmus of Panama aren't the only ones having a non-nutritive sweetener party we thus far have not been invited to attend. In Japan, stevia's been the most popular fake sugar since the 1970s.

The US is behind the curve because years ago our FDA actually banned stevia. A few early rodent studies suggested massive doses might have mutagenic (aka mutation-causing, like the X-Men!) effects, and the government—the same government, btw, that let Four Loko become available at every Walgreens—got protective. Later studies debunked the idea that stevia caused mutations, and a World Health Organization committee even concluded definitively that stevia wasn't genotoxic, but the damage was done.

Which is too bad, because I adore stevia. I carry a little dropper bottle of extract around with me (the USDA-certified organic vanilla flavored tincture from Whole Foods makes everything taste like sweet, sweet ice cream and has a ton of antioxidants—similar here), and I get really excited when I see it in a little packet stuffed next to the Splenda and Sweet'N Low at a restaurant.

Also, Americans are consuming plenty of stevia at this point whether they realize it or not. A few years back the FDA approved Truvia, a highly processed version of stevia, and since then both Coke and Pepsi have begun adding it into their formulations to cut sugar calories without adding aspartame (aka Equal) to any more of their products. In some places, it's been added to Sprite already, and in the US, Truvia's now in Vitamin Water, which has to mean it's 50 Cent-approved. He has 21 Questions, but none of them are about the safety and reliability of stevia!

The only downside of Truvia is that it's so distilled that it's not even really considered stevia anymore. Instead, the active ingredient is one of stevia's glycosides, Reb A, which may not have all the health benefits you'd get from leaf powder or the pure, boiled down extract. In other words: it's not bad for you, but it might not do anything useful, either.

I know many people are against using fake sweeteners in general—fair enough; I respect your choices! But for the rest of us, I'd say that pure stevia powder or extract is a great, sustainable option that might actually help prevent insulin resistance and a host of other glucose-related problems. Plus, you know, it's delicious.

This article completely glossed over a lot of important points about stevia, and sweeteners in general, to avoid being a majillion words long and boring you all to death, but I've done a lot of research on the subject and have a ton of study links/would love to talk about it below with anyone who's interested.

—Lacey Gattis

Staz Lindes photographed by Thomaas for Mist Magazine.

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  • Angella

    wow let me get into some of that stevia action!

  • Samantha Bei

    Artificial sugar has always had a bad connotation for me. It has a fake sugar taste that I hate and leave my mouth feeling weird so I stay far away from it and will just use honey or normal sugar to sweeten anything. I've just always associated stevia with those attributes and never gave it a shot. After reading this and a few other articles, I guess I have to give stevia a shot. You know what they say when you assume...

  • Stephanie

    I tried to use stevia many times, but it actually makes me nauseous and I feel like vomiting after I use it. I googled it and found that a lot of people get sick from stevia. Too bad for me.

  • ANGIE

    I've never used Stevia before..but I just can't stop associating it with Breaking Bad. :x

    • ITGLacey

      Hahahahahahaha! Stevia: The Only Walter White-Approved Sugar Substitute

    • http://www.ludicrousinlondon.wordpress.com/ Aleona Krechetova

      "We're going to make lots of money together." Oh Lydia, Lydia...

      (.=^・ェ・^=)

      • ITGLacey

        That is precisely why I never develop regular habits, ya know?

  • http://cosmoslyn.blogspot.com.au/ Ailyn Koay

    I have tried the leaf itself, it is really sweet and 2 small leaves can sweeten a cup of tea..

  • kathS

    Lacey, are you my spirit animal sand have you read The Body Ecology Diet? That book introduced me to stevia.

  • Lauren

    Be careful though!

    • eyeamwon

      Brilliant!

  • Michelle

    For those important points Lacey glossed over check out this NY Times article printed back in January

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/magazine/the-quest-for-a-natural-sugar-substitute.html

  • http://procrastinatingpretty.blogspot.com/ TheProcrastinator

    I typically use honey over sugar replacements -- they always leave a weird taste/feeling in my mouth. Agave's good too! I'd totally be down to try actual stevia leaves

  • Geraldine

    Great post!!! Thank you!

    xx,

    G

  • Alice

    Can you please post the links for your research? I am really interested. :)

  • http://www.clevergirlreviews.com/ Clever Girl Reviews

    Stevia isn't too bad. I just prefer using organic sugar in smaller amounts.You can avoid a whole lot of added sugar by limiting processed foods. Once you do that the real thing occasionally isn't too risky!

  • http://www.abeautymark.com/ NazNYC

    ick. can't deal with the aftertaste. I'd rather thin long strands of honey as a replacement.

  • Kaitlin Brunsden

    I know this has been said but I just CANNOT with Stevia because of Lydia... Ughhhhhhhhh

  • Aubrey Green

    I don't like Truvia, but love their commercials. Stevia is good, but I typically use raw cane sugar in my coffee - which I'm sure isn't any healthier.

  • lillylilacs

    The only issue I have had with stevia is the few times that I have used it even one pack was far too sweet for me, but I guess I just need to test how much I like. Artificial sweeteners generally bother my stomach so I try to stay away from them, but now I am curious if I could handle stevia.

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