Stevia extract comes from Stevia rebaudiana, a plant native to Brazil and Argentina, though it is now grown in other countries. 1
What Is Stevia Extract?
Stevia extract is commonly used as a natural sweetener and sugar replacement that is created by boiling the leaves, extracting steviol glycosides, and then “re-crystallizing” it for use in Stevia-sweetened products or direct-to-consumer sugar substitutes. (Glycosides are the compounds responsible for Stevia’s sweet taste.) 2
Is Stevia Extract Bad For You?
The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes Stevia extract as “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) for use in foods and beverages. However, they have not approved whole leaf Stevia as GRAS because of concerns over their potentially negative health effects and therefore this form can only be found in supplements. 3
Stevia extract is generally well tolerated by most people. However, side effects such as nausea , bloating, or dizziness have been reported. 4
Is Stevia Extract Really Healthy?
Yes. Rather than being “bad” for you, Stevia extract may be beneficial for your health according to several research studies.
Studies suggest Stevia extract may:
Lower blood glucose levels, which could help with diabetes management 5
Lower blood pressure 6, 7
Reduce inflammation 8, 9
Lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels 10
Plus, the body does not metabolize the glycosides in Stevia making it calorie free, so it may help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight when used as a replacement for regular sugar. (Regular granulated sugar contains about 45 calories per tablespoon.) This is a great benefit, as being overweight or obese can lead to many health issues and diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.
Why Was Stevia Banned?
In 1991the FDA banned Stevia in the U.S. due to studies indicating it may cause cancer. In 1995, the FDA reversed its ban after reviewing other studies showing Stevia consumption did not appear to lead to cancer and in 2008, approved high-purity stevia glycoside extracts for use in foods and beverages. 11, 12
The BEST Way to Use Stevia Extract
Stevia extract is a very versatile natural sweetener. It is heat- and freezer-stable and can be used for baking or to sweeten your beverages, cereals, or anything else that needs a little low-calorie “sweetness.” Stevia is about 100 to 300 times sweeter than regular sugar, though. One teaspoon of sugar equals ⅛ teaspoon of Stevia powder, so keep that in mind as you’re swapping sugar for Stevia in your favorite dessert recipe. 13, 14
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5- Philippaert K, Pironet A, Mesuere M, Sones W, Vermeiren L, Kerselaers S, Pinto S, Segal A, Antoine N, Gysemans C, Laureys J, Lemaire K, Gilon P, Cuypers E, Tytgat J, Mathieu C, Schuit F, Rorsman P, Talavera K, Voets T, Vennekens R. Steviol glycosides enhance pancreatic beta-cell function and taste sensation by potentiation of TRPM5 channel activity. Nature Communications, 2017; 8: 14733 DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS14733
6- Chan, P., et al., A double-blind placebo-controlled study of the effectiveness and tolerability of oral stevioside in human hypertension. Br J Clin Pharmacol 2000; 50(3):215-20.
7- Hsieh, M.H., et al., Efficacy and tolerability of oral stevioside in patients with mild essential hypertension: a two-year, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Clin Ther 2003; 25(11): 2797-808.
8- Boonkaewwan C, Toskulkao C, Vongsakul M. Anti-Inflammatory and Immunomodulatory Activities of Stevioside and Its Metabolite Steviol on THP-1 Cells. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Feb 8;54(3):785-9. doi: 10.1021/jf0523465. PMID: 16448183.
9- Boonkaewwan C, Burodom A. Anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory activities of stevioside and steviol on colonic epithelial cells. J Sci Food Agric. 2013 Dec;93(15):3820-5. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.6287. Epub 2013 Jul 25. PMID: 23794454.
10- Ilias N, Hamzah H, Ismail IS, Mokrish A. Stevia: limiting cholesterol synthesis in Hep-G2 cells. Asia Pacific Journal of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. Apr 10, 2020. DOI: 10.35118/apjmbb.2020.028.1.11.