Is Stevia Healthy? What Are the Downsides of Consuming It?

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If stevia is a nonnutritive sweetener with no calories, then how does it affect the human body? Many health and food safety organizations see stevia as a safe sweetener because it’s made from a plant. But so is regular sugar!

However, researchers believe that there’s not enough evidence to show how or if stevia affects our health.

Stevia is 200-400 sweeter than sugar, meaning that it can be used in small quantities. Products like soda or iced tea contain stevia and so do some low sugar products like ice cream or yogurt.

The extracts from the stevia plant are called steviol glycosides. The European Food Safety Authority and the World Health Organization said that these compounds are safe to consume in the amounts used in products on the market.

Stevia Is a Safe Sweetener

Experiments on rodents and bacteria showed that stevia has no effect on DNA and it doesn’t cause cancer, but most of the studies were funded by the food industry. Some investigations on humans showed that stevia does not affect blood glucose or blood pressure.

Initially, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which frowns on sugar substitutes, has also been skeptical about stevia sweeteners in 2008. But in 2014 they reported that stevia is the safest sugar substitute.

Marina Chaparro is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a registered dietitian, recommending stevia for people who have diabetes:

“It has the flavor without adding the extra sugar and affecting your blood sugar.”

It’s Also a Calorie-Free Sweetener

However, being a calorie-free sweetener, it can make people compensate with more food. It’s causing other health issues, explains Meghan Azad, assistant professor of pediatrics and child health (University of Manitoba).

Azad led a review on nonnutritive sweeteners use over long periods, concluding that they don’t help people losing weight. Some studies even associated the intake of nonnutritive sweeteners with a high risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. But Azad and her co-authors couldn’t include information on stevia, because there are no long-term studies on it so far:

“Overall, for nonnutritive sweeteners, we lack evidence, but that’s especially true for stevia. Just blindly assuming that these are a healthy alternative to sugar is probably not a wise move without the evidence to back it up.”

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Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.


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