Is Stevia Natural?

Stevia is a non-caloric sweetener that is relatively new on the international market. It originates in the leaves of a South American plant. Because of that it’s marketed as a “100% natural” alternative to other non-caloric sweeteners.

There’s been some discussion about how natural it really is, as it’s extracted from the leaves using different solvents and goes through further chemical processes before it emerges as a white sweet powder.

Personally I’m no fan of sweeteners, regardless of their origin. They tend to maintain an addiction to sweets. I’ve never seen Stevia as “natural”. It’s purified from leaves and thus it’s no more natural than snorting cocaine (which is also purified from leaves).

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89 Comments

Top Comments

  1. DoragonMama
    I am very disappointed in this article, it isn't based on any real science, it seems to be just a rant about a sweetener for the sake of ranting against sweeteners.

    If stevia is processed with chemicals then you need to rethink your position on chemicals, not all are bad. Like vanilla extracts stevia is extracted with food grade alcohol, are you saying we shouldn't eat extracts?

    And what about organic stevia, how is that bad? Where is the danger in having an organic sweetener that doesn't have any downside.

    I think you are confusing different types of addiction, as others have pointed out. I do not have an addiction to sweets, I have a preference for a bit of sweetener in my coffee and other foods. That doesn't mean I am addicted.

    I do in fact grow stevia on my patio, and I do in fact use it right off the plant in salads and tea. There are instructions on the internet on how to make extracts at home using food grade alcohol OR water as well.

    Again, I am very disappointed in this article, I expect better from you and until now I have always gotten it.

    Reply: #87
    Read more →
  2. Chris,
    The problem is that using Stevia maintains an addiction to sweets.

    Possibly this abnormally sweet taste and its effect in the brain also messes up body weight regulation / hunger / cravings / insulin in other more discreet ways but that's speculative.

    Read more →
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All Comments

  1. Zepp
    I do think the whole question do boils down to.. should we realy proced and have the old taste of sugar to everything?

    Isnt that one the problems.. that we do have become adicted to that a lot of thing must taste a lot sugary?

    Nowadays, as an odd exampel I do feel that vipped cream taste sweet and thats good for me.

    Befor LCHF I did feel that beries tasted sour, now I feel they taste sweet.. without sugar or swetener.

  2. DoragonMama
    It saddens me that something like stevia is compared to cocaine and poisonous mushrooms.

    That's reaching very far for a point and it frankly makes no sense.

    @Janknitz I have tasted some that had a very bitter aftertaste, they were of course sweet but the aftertaste ruined it for me. Not until I researched the different types of stevia did I learn enough to find a type that has zero bitterness in it, I have a liquid and a powder form that have never been bitter.

    If I hadn't kept searching for information I would have given up on stevia, but I am glad I found the good stuff and have something for my coffee now.

    I also found that when I make lemonade I cannot sweeten the whole pitcher or it will become bitter after a while, so I just sweeten each glass and I have no problems at all.

  3. I love all the information on diet doctor, and I frequently share it on my own face book page. I am an author in Australia with exactly the same message. My latest book is called The Fat Revolution. However, I have to disagree on this point. If someone is highly addicted to sweets, then yes, it can be hugely beneficial to cut all sweetness out to overcome the problem, but the fact is, it is natural for us to have a sweet tooth. In fact, we used this as a guide to avoid bitter plants, which were often poisonous when we were hunting and gathering. Stevia is a wonderful sweetener, because it isn't a sugar, and it contains no fructose.

    A lot of people list it with the artificial sweeteners, but it is a natural product. If you can purchase a stevia plant in an organic nursery, you can grow it in the back yard, and grind up the leaves. In fact, when stevia first became available to chefs, they received the product as fresh leaves. Of course, it is now more readily available as a white powder. If it is a good brand, it has been minimally processed, and the bitter component has been removed. And, only a tiny amount is needed to sweeten. 1/2 tsp is equivalent to one cup of sugar.

    I find that people have much more success converting to a healthy diet if they are able to replace their favourite foods with a healthy alternative. And, I think it is important to eat for pleasure. Delicious natural fats like butter and coconut oil are part of the picture, but as long as you are staying under 15 g of fructose every day (which is similar to the amount some of our hunter gatherer ancestors would have consumed), then a bit of sweetness can be just the ticket to enjoying a healthy, natural diet.

  4. PhilT
    " Agave nectar consists primarily of fructose and glucose. One source gives 92% fructose and 8% glucose; another gives 56% fructose and 20% glucose. " - from Wikipedia, the low GI will be down to the high fructose content and not a reflection of its carb content.
  5. I use liquid Stevia extract to take the edge off of the sourness of the lime juice I use in my salad dressing. Without the Stevia, I would find it too sour to eat. I also use it in my Fat Bombs, which contain cocoa powder. Without the Stevia, the cocoa would be too bitter to eat.

    That being said, the 5 drops I use daily have done nothing to make me crave sweets. I have no desire to eat sweet things, and using Stevia has not made me "maintain an addiction" to sweets.

    That is my experience, anyway.

  6. GehriG
    I don't like Stevia. I haven't had any version that doesn't have a nasty bitter aftertaste.
  7. Ginger
    This is the first post I tend to mostly disagree with.

    What I do agree is that "natural" labelling can be a bit of a stretch and it doesn't necessarily mean you should choose that product. Moose droppings are "natural" but that doesn't mean I want to eat them. The less processed, the better. That's a no-brainer.

    However, stevia maintaining an addiction to sweetness isn't something that I've seen to be proven with real evidence. Anecdotal, maybe. Sorry but that's not enough. This overarching statement is a problem because of how individual our bodies are. For some people, stevia is a great tool for avoiding real sugar and actually curbing cravings this way.

  8. Peggy Holloway
    When Zevia sodas first came out, I drank one in the middle of the day, "unbuffered" with food. I had a distinct reaction similar to when I accidentally ingest sugar (or other "hidden carbs). I don't know what causes the symptoms, but I get a shakiness along with a feeling like my skin is crawling and my stomach begins to gnaw and growl. I have grown to suspect that the cause is an insulin spike. So, I suspect strongly that for me, and probably for many others, just the taste of something sweet can trigger insulin release.
    Over my 13 years of low-carbing, I have gradually reduced my consumption of any sort of sweets or low-carb baked goods. On the rare occasion that I do make something that is better sweetened (like the coconut flour cake I will make for my daughter's birthday this weekend), I use xylitol and stevia, but in much lower quantities than the recipes suggest.
  9. Karen
    Doc, what about the health benefits (yes, "benefits") of using xylitol? For example, xylitol is very low GI and the oral health benefits are well established, with scientific studies behind them.
  10. Karen,
    Compared to sugar, sure. That's like saying that xylitol is much healthier than cancer. ;)
  11. Bill42
    The sweet chemical compound in stevia is steviol glycoside, and has been classified as a food additive with an acceptable daily intake of 4mg/kg bw/day, see:

    http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/1537.htm

    This has been done for a reason; there is insufficient data on the long term effects.

    This article is also interesting:

    http://chemse.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/05/04/chemse.bjs0...

    Personally, I'd treat stevia like any other sweetener; avoid if possible, but don't worry if you eat some occasionally.

    Whether stevia is "natural" or not is irrelevant; aspirin is "natural" in so far as you can get the same active chemical compound from chewing willow bark. The effect of the acetylsalicylic acid, whether from an "artificial" aspirin tablet or "natural" willow bark in your diet, will be the same.

  12. tooticky
    @Peggy: Just a quick note. Your comment jogged my memory and I recalled someone making on study on himself (n=1) monitoring the change in his blood sugar level after consuming stevia compared to another sweetener. Not sure how well Google translate (Fin-Eng) will handle the site but hopefully the figures are self-explanatory...

    The first "test" was comparing stevia against to another sweetener (graph 1 and 2)
    http://www.koltta.com/2012/03/stevia.html

    The third and fourth graph depict how subject's blood sugar response to "ordinary sweetener", stevia and not having either of them present.
    http://www.koltta.com/2012/03/stevia-ii.html

    Please note: according to the site this person has (had?) type II diabetes.

    I personally have experienced difficulties when baking with either stevia or xylitol so I add a bit of raw honey if I need anything bit sweeter. I also noticed that a pinch of salt takes the bitterness away from the dark chocolate.

  13. Berit
    Hi all :-)

    Stevia is and was a lifesaver for me when I went LCHF two years ago....
    I was drinking strong, black, far too sweet tea with an amount of sugar of about 1600 Kcal every day !!! You can imagine how little food I ate when I tell you that my weight stood still for 15 years with this misuse of sugar sweetened tea....
    Now I use Stevia in my tea and lemonade and when I'm thirsty I drink water.... So no, Stevia does not make me addicted to sweet drinks or sweet food.....
    The reason that Stevia doesn't make me addicted, I think, is that it doesn't make me satisfied the way sugar does...my body knows the difference between sugar and Stevia and this is a fact....;-)

    I have tried many kinds of Stevia, both nonbitter and bitter. I mix the two so I get the fresh taste of the bitter Stevia and the round taste of the nonbitter Stevia.... You learn as you go along.... :-)))

    Lost 40 kilos (88 pounds) on LCHF and they are still gone... :-)

  14. Justin B
    @Mlecter, Please don't get confused by GI talk when referencing food with loads of fructose in it. Fructose gets away with being low GI because it bypasses the glucose insulin pathways, and instead, goes straight to the liver, which is probably worse, if not just as bad. If you need more info, watch one of the Youtube videos by Dr. Robert Lustig, or listen to a podcast with David Getoff (talking about sweeteners) on it.

    @Peggy, Zevia has more Erythritol, a sugar alcohol, than it does Stevia. That stomach reaction is par for the course with sugar alcohols.

  15. JAUS
    sucralose, erythriol and yacon syrup are the only one that I recommend. Stevia is greatly overrated as a sweetener. Sucralose is not natural but it is the best sweetener out there. Everything natural is not good and everything syntetic is not bad.
  16. DoragonMama
    @Jaus Sucralose is not the best sweetener out there, it's a horrible chemical that does terrible things to your body.

    In me it caused non-alcoholic-fatty-liver disease and caused me to be incontinent.

    Once I removed sucralose from my diet my liver tests were normal and I was no longer incontinent.

    And I am not alone in this.

  17. George I., M.D.
    I use stevia and even sucralose from time to time, but I tend to agree with the Doc's overall message here which is (hope I am not misrepresenting here) avoid sweetening foods and beverages whenever possible. The little things have a tendency to add up and I can picture a scenario where a little sweetened food here or there can lead to increased desire for more sweet foods. when you clear your palate of excessive sweetness you tend to experience flavors in a whole new way.
  18. JAUS
    #66 Sucralose is not a "horrible chemical". Your reaction was problably psychosomatic. Sucralose is by far the safest sweetener. watch the video below:

    http://youtu.be/VUo2XW0z218

  19. DoragonMama
    @Jaus I don't think that word means what you think it means.

    But if you want to think it was all in my head by all means do so, don't let years of my lab tests stop you from believing you are not consuming what was originally designed to be an insecticide.

    Covalent chemicals are not good for the body, which is why they make good insecticides, pesticides and herbacides.

    No one wanted sucralose to be safe more than me, it was my darling sweetener that I used for years, but after the damage to my liver I will never let it pass my lips again.

  20. love love love this and so true! sugar and carbs are truly addictive.
  21. Jennifer Morris
    I've noticed that real food tastes sweeter. Six or seven fat, fresh blueberries with thick, heavy cream tastes sweet to me now that I've cut out sugar and sweeteners.
  22. I use stevia for my tea and coffee at times.I do not eat sugar or real sweets at all they give me headaches if I do.The amount I use most people could not detect the sweetness because I have not used sugar in years just a touch is extreme in sweet taste to me.If some one has an addiction to sweet things though I can see how using stevia could just keep the addiction strong if it were to be over used and possibly lead to a breaking or giving in point more often to eat real sugary sweets.Like I said I went for years none at all so my taste is very acute for sweet favors to were even a little is too much and the idea of a severe headache kinda makes the ordeal not appealing.
  23. b-nasty
    @DoragonMama

    What, exactly, is a 'Covalent chemical'? If you mean a chemical formed by covalent bonds, you better watch out for the deadly carbon dioxide. There's a reason why your term isn't used commonly in science.

    I wouldn't claim to say your experience is invalid, but when you try to extrapolate to everyone it becomes problematic. Especially so when 'sciency' words are thrown around improperly.

  24. Trina
    This post was rather surprising from Dr. Eenfeldt. I don't believe all stevia is extracted using chemicals?? Either way, we live in the modern world and taking an all or nothing approach is not going to help people. Kris #39 is taking a better approach - would it be better not to have it?? Sure. Is it likely the majority of people will completely give up something sweet?? Not likely. Telling people what the "better" options are is more helpful. I found this podcast featuring Dr. David Getoff very helpful on the subject of sweeteners. http://www.askthelowcarbexperts.com/2012/06/18-the-truth-about-sweete...
  25. Trina,
    I never said the majority of people have to give up everything sweet. Of course not.

    This post was on the fact that using purified Stevia is hardly "natural".

  26. I have been using organic stevia, refined and non refined, as an extract and powder for the entire time I've been doing LCHF. I've lost 23 kilos in 10 months and believe stevia helps rather than hinders controlling my addiction to sweet things. I only use it in tea and my greek yogurt/berrie/linseed concoctions. Beside eating a square or two of 85% dark chocolate once or twice a day these are my only sweet treats.

    I suspect Doc that you have never had an addiction to sugar or even know what it's like from personal experience to be overweight or obese. If stevia helps people give up all or most other sweet treats why this continuous, Unscientific, objection? And Stevia is as natural as many other substances that need processing that we ingest on a regular basis. Do you still have objections to people who grow their own?

  27. Trina
    I understand what you're saying Dr. Eenfeldt - it just may have been a harsh stand to take. If my mother read that for instance, she may just throw in the towel on her efforts and go back to sugar (which she would perceive as natural). I think the term "natural" is deceiving in a lot of ways. Comparing stevia to cocaine was a little sensational (like declaring eggs as bad as smoking).

    In its defence, stevia is derived from a natural source not synthetically created in a lab (ie. aspartame). I believe there are companies that extract it in the most "careful" way (not just with chemicals). SweetLeaf for instance says this, "extracting their naturally sweet taste with only cool, purified water. No chemicals. No alcohols." http://sweetleaf.com/

    What is a natural sweetener? Dr. Getoff goes through that in detail in the podcast I linked. Maple syrup is not "natural" as it must be boiled for hours. "During evaporation, sap is concentrated to the desired sugar content and the chemical changes that occur during the heating process cause the color and flavor of maple syrup to develop." Sugar must be extracted from sugar cane/beets …

    Don't get me wrong, I have huge respect for all you do to help educate people (me included). I just thought this particular post was not well researched (in terms of how stevia is made) and was a little alarmist for people just starting to change the way they eat.

  28. Janne
    Doc, you are right on the mark.
  29. Sandra
    Dr. Eenfeldt I want to show my concern regarding this post and everything related to 'sweet' flavors.

    I'm in a low-carb diet myself but have been using aspartame as a sweetener. Stevia is not quite available in Spain, where I live.

    Do we really have NO options AT ALL to make coffee/tea taste a little bit sweet? Or in the case of yogurt: it's really hard to find it (at least in Spain) without any sweetener at all.
    I believe honey, even if found organic or 'bio' is not an option, so:

    - what alternatives do we have, if any? If not, do we just need to learn how to live without any sweet flavors apart from those of occasional berries?

    Thank you very much!

  30. K
    Of all things, you turn to aspartame. /facepalm

    If you must have sugar, use something you can take straight from nature like honey or maple syrup. The least processed or refined one you can find.

  31. Zepp
  32. James
    http://www.godshaer.co.uk/stevia.php

    More info on stevia than you wanted, probably!

  33. Natasha
    Hi all! Not all Stevia is stevia. If it is in little packages or large shakers, it has been cut. Sometimes it is cut with inulin...no big deal. More amd more often it is cut with zylitol, eritrtiol or other sugar alcohols. When Stevia is by itself or with gycerin, I enjoy the sweet and have no carb or blood sugar reaction. When it has zylitol, I feel like I have been hit and I have a major blood sugar response. Because, zylitol is sugar. Zevia uses zylitol and I cannot tolerate it. I have bad reactions to honey, agave, rice syrup, maple syrup, cane sugar, and any other sweetener. It doesn't matter if it is natural or non-processed, sugar-sweet is too much for me.

    Stevia, real Stevia, works for me. You just to read labels and look hard... If you are using that is supposedly "sugar free" or "stevia" but it clearly has sugar like crystals....then it is not Stevia.

    Reply: #86
  34. Zen
    Wow I think you've just given me a clue. I've been in moderate ketosis for a couple of weeks now and yet my ketone levels have dropped the last few days even though my diet has been much the same. The only thing I've changed? I'd started adding a small amount of stevia to my coffee. I've also just read your experiment on pepsi max and I reckon the stevia is affecting my insulin levels and hence the ketones. Thanks for the insights.
  35. Juliane
    I disagree with this article. For purposes of health I believe that as long as it doesn't raise blood sugar levels then it's fine. I've been adding stevia to my teas and coffee for years now and it doesn't create any "addictions" in me. I don't see myself frantically rushing my cart through the grocery isles in desperation to get to the bakery section like an addict. Instead I think they are too sweet or taste weird and by knowing what it does to my body I can easily pass them by. If I were addicted as your article suggests, I would not be able to pass them by.

    Do you want to know what's changing my taste buds? I'm slowly moving into eating less carbs during the day and adding more fats. I grilled some sweet peppers and they were sweet for the first time in my life. They had never been sweet before. Hmmm, and I had coffee with stevia this morning as I usually do every day.

    Oh I should probably stop eating sweet peppers now because they'll keep my sugar addiction alive.

    Alright, I'll be nice. I'll just say, try it. If you feel it keeps you addicted to sugar then go ahead and eliminate it. If you are fine, then enjoy your stevia. Not everyone reacts the same to foods. You have to figure out what works for you.

  36. Juliane
    Natasha,

    I've read from another website geared towards diabetics (blood sugar 101) that all sugar alcohols affect your blood sugar with the exception of erythritol (sp?). If the stevia is mixed with this sugar alcohol then you will be ok. You can test it yourself by checking your blood sugar levels before consuming and 1 hr after and 2 hrs after a zero calorie drink sweetened with stevia and the desired sugar alcohol you want to test.

  37. Rostam
    I have been putting stevia in my tea everyday and I like the taste of Stevia 100x better than sugar. After being on LCHF for 4 months, sugar taste like crap. But stevia still tastes good once a day in my tea.
  38. Tere Rodela
    What about honey? or what we call here in Mexico: piloncillo?. Piloncillo is a hard cone shaped made of raw sugar. It is dark brown with a strog taste similar to molasses used in USA. Or definitely I have to quit sweeteners at all?
    Reply: #89
  39. Zepp
    Well sugar are sugar.. even if you name it honey or piloncillo!

    Yes, the thing is that one supose to cut out all sugar.. and limit other carbohydrates to veggies and/or some dairys!

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