Stevia: Good or Bad?

Reprinted with permission from

Sugar is one of the most dangerous ingredients on the market. It’s addictive, added to almost every processed food, and will make you overweight, depressed and sick if you eat too much. In fact, Americans eat close to 130 pounds of the stuff per person per year (4 times more than the recommended daily allowance), likely because it is so addictive. That’s why it’s exciting to know there are alternative sweeteners made in nature, like “stevia,” that don’t wreak havoc on your health – or do they? That’s what I went on a quest to find out. Here’s what happened…

What Is Stevia?

Stevia Plant

For those of you that are hearing about stevia for the first time, it is a plant that is typically grown in South America, and while its extract is 200 times sweeter than sugar, it does not raise blood insulin levels. That’s what makes it so popular. However in 1991 the FDA refused to approve this substance for use due to pressure from makers of artificial sweeteners like Sweet n’ Low and Equal (a one billion dollar industry). But in 2008, the FDA approved the use of rebaudioside compounds that were derived from the stevia plant by Coca-Cola (Cargill) and PepsiCo – hmmm doesn’t that sound suspicious? Not until a major food company got involved did stevia become legal, and only after it had been highly processed using a patentable chemical-laden process…so processed that Truvia (Coca-Cola’s branded product) goes through about 40 steps to process the extract from the leaf, relying on chemicals like acetone, methanol, ethanol, acetonitrile, and isopropanol. Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens (substances that cause cancer), and none of those ingredients sound like real food, do they?

The whole leaf stevia that you can grow in your backyard (and has been used for centuries in countries like Brazil and Paraguay) remains a non-approved food additive by the FDA. However, rebaudioside A (the stevia extract) that was approved by the FDA has not been used for centuries and long term human health impacts have not been studied and are still unknown. The sweetener/sugar industry wields powerful influence over what is ultimately approved at the FDA, and this is just another example where they are influencing decisions that don’t make sense. How can a chemically derived extract be deemed safe in processed food and a plant from mother nature not?

What Kind Of  Stevia To Avoid

The 40-step patented process used to make Truvia should make you want to steer clear of this stevia product alone, but there are two other concerning ingredients added (not only to Truvia but other stevia products as well). First, erythritol is a naturally occurring sugar that is sometimes found in fruit, but food manufacturers don’t actually use the natural stuff. Instead they start with genetically engineered corn and then go through a complex fermentation process to come up with chemically pure erythritol. Check out the manufacturing process below:
Stevia Manufacturing


All Natural Stevia
“Natural flavors” is another ingredient added to powdered and liquid stevia products, likely due to the fact that once the stevia leaf is processed it can develop a metallic taste. Manufactured natural flavor is contributing to what David Kessler (former head of the FDA) calls a “food carnival” in your mouth. This makes it difficult to stop eating or drinking because the flavors they have synthesized will trick your mind into wanting more and more. When companies use manufactured flavor, they are literally “hijacking” your taste buds one-by-one; that’s why I recommend putting products that contain “natural flavors” back on the shelf.
“Stevia in the Raw” sounds pure and natural, but when you look at the ingredients the first thing on the label is “dextrose” – so it’s certainly not just stevia in the raw. And Pepsi Co’s “Pure Via,” also pictured above, isn’t exactly pure either with this ingredient being first on the label, too. Dextrose is a sweetener that’s also derived from genetically engineered corn and has a long complicated manufacturing process, just like erythritol.

silica gel do not eatEven certified organic stevia can have sneaky ingredients added, like this one above which has more organic agave inulin than the stevia extract itself. Agave inulin is a highly processed fiber derivative from the blue agave plant. Also on the ingredient list is an item you are probably familiar with from those little packets sometimes found in boxed goods – silica (pictured). It is added to improve the flow of powdery substances and is the same ingredient that helps strengthen concrete and creates glass bottles and windowpanes. It may cause irritation of the digestive tract (if eaten) and irritation of the respiratory tract (if accidentally inhaled). While it is non-toxic and probably won’t kill you in small quantities, it’s definitely not a real food ingredient I would cook with or that I want to be putting in my body.

How To Choose The Right Kind Of Stevia

Luckily there are ways to enjoy this sweet leaf closer to it’s natural state… because let’s be honest, the no-calorie artificial sweeteners out there are really dreadful, and no one should consume them (check this post for the low down on those). So here’s what you can do:

  1. Buy a stevia plant for your garden (luckily it’s totally legal!) or purchase the pure dried leaves online – you can grind up them up using a spice grinder (or use a mortar and pestle) for your own powdered stevia.
  2. When choosing products already sweetened with stevia, look for “whole leaf stevia” on the ingredient label. For example my favorite protein powder is made with “whole stevia leaf” instead of rebaudioside a or stevia extract.
  3. Add fresh or dried leaves directly to tea or drinks for natural sweetness (note the straight stevia leaves are only 30-40 times sweeter than sugar, vs. 200 times using the extract).
  4. Make your own liquid stevia extract (see graphic below for recipe).
  5. If you are not up for getting a stevia plant of your own or making your own extract, remember to look for a stevia extract that is 100% pure without added ingredients (Trader Joe’s has a version in a small bottle).

And when all else fails, choose a suitable alternative and forget stevia altogether. Lisa uses honey and pure maple syrup, and I personally prefer coconut palm sugar, since it is low glycemic (making it more diabetic friendly) and one of the most natural unprocessed forms of sugar available. It is naturally high in amino acids – has 10,000 times more potassium, 20 times more magnesium and 20 times more iron than conventional sugar. I use it all the time in my baking, from pound cake to muffins to a recent delicious cookie that is low in sugar  – check out all those recipes here!

Reprinted with permission from

  • Loryn

    What about using Xylitol? It has the same sweetness as sucrose, doesn’t cause blood sugar dysregulation, or make you continuously crave more sweets.

  • Anonymous

    As you mention xylitol can be a great sugar alternative. Our experience is that because xylitol is a sugar alcohol some people do not tolerate it that well and notice some digestive upset. however, if you like it and feel great after eating it, then go ahead. -Katrine, Be Well Team

  • lea

    What NuStevia ?

  • Anonymous

    I see you don’t mention pure stevia extracts like NuNaturals liquid stevia or other brands that use suspensions in either glycerin or alcohol base. What is your opinion of those? They don’t have additives like Truvia or Purevia.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Ricki,
    Vani does mentions: “remember to look for a stevia extract that is 100% pure without added ingredients (Trader Joe’s has a version in a small bottle).
    I think small amounts of liquid stevia that doesn’t have any other additives would be OK – just listen to your own body and how it makes you feel. I personally use the liquid stevia from time to time without any problems, and prefer it to the powders.
    – Katrine, Be Well Team

  • Anonymous

    Must have missed that line–thank you! :)

  • Thank you for this article. You mention at the end that one of you uses coconut palm sugar. I used to think this would be a good option (I choose honey and maple syrup now), but then I read something that made me change my mind. I wonder what comments you might have about this article from a coconut oil producer stating that coconut trees are only harvested for either coconut palm sugar or coconut oil. So, if we continue to expand our use of coconut sugar, we risk not having enough plants to also produce the oil as sugar is such a huge commodity. It is much better explained here:

  • Great article team Frank!

  • Just goes to show you must always read labels and do your homework when buying any food that comes in a package. Another stevia brand to avoid – Trader Joe’s stevia contains silica (sand).

  • D

    The bottle of Stevia I have is from Trader Joes however it is not made from the whole leaf. The ingredients are as follows: de-ionized water, certified organic stevia extract (stevia rebaudina) (leaf) and 11% organic alcohol. Is this the one you recommend??

  • Anonymous

    ideally you want an extract without any added ingredients, but if you’re OK with a small amount of alcohol (especially considering how little stevia you use per serving) then this should be a fine option.

  • Anonymous

    Sweet Leaf is a great brand of Stevia – it only contains Organic Stevia & a soluble fiber. Trader Joe’s also has a great powdered Stevia which contains Organic Stevia, Rice Maltodextrin and Silica.

  • Cyndee Szymkowicz

    Homemade Liquid Stevia (NOT a real extract). 50 – 150 gr fresh or dried stevia leaves (about a cup of fresh leaves, less dried). Put them in a saucepan. Pour 2 cups of boiling water over them. Simmer for 10 minutes on low heat, then turn the heat off and let them simmer another 30 minutes. Put the liquid through a coffee filter. The liquid will be somewhat green in color. It will keep in the refrigerator about 2 weeks. You need to taste and test to get the amount you need. I sprinkle about a tablespoon over fruit, put about a teaspoon into a cup of tea. Tastes/strength of leaves vary.

  • Judy

    What about Thorne’s vegalite protein powder. It is the least grainy of any I have tried.

  • Kelsea

    Or people could just use sugar.

  • eclectic_lavender

    @Kelsea…people could use sugar if they enjoy a teaspoon of poison in the coffee or something pure/natural. Choose your poison, but do it wisely.

  • Kelsea

    Sugar is pretty natural if you ask me.