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Stevia: Natural Miracle Sweetener or Dangerous Supplement?

July 17, 2013

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Stevia is an all-natural sweetener derived from a plant in the sunflower family that is native to North and South America. The plant has been used for decades in some places such as Japan as an alternative to sugar or honey as a sweetener. However, until recently it was banned in the United States unless labeled as a “dietary supplement.”

In 2008, stevia was approved for use as an alternative sweetener in the United States, under the brand names Truvia and PureVia, but neither product contains whole stevia leaves. They are instead made up of a highly purified product derived from stevia. Whole stevia leaves remain banned in the United States, making any stevia product highly controversial.

Many people swear by the non-caloric sweeteners Truvia and PureVia, using them in everything from baking to sweetening their morning cup of coffee. On the other hand, some researchers have advised people to limit their use of stevia due to  potentially dangerous side effects. Before you decide to introduce Stevia into your diet, consider these pros and cons:

Stevia Benefits

  • Stevia is 250-300 times sweeter than regular cane sugar, meaning you can use much less to get the desired level of sweetness.
  • Truvia and PureVia are both low calorie sweeteners and do not affect blood glucose levels.
  • Stevia products can be used in place of white sugar in baking and cooking.
  • Some research suggests that taking a stevia supplement of 750-1500 mg per day can significantly reduce high blood pressure and can be particularly effective for people with Type 2 Diabetes.

Stevia Concerns

  • After eating stevia, some people experience unpleasant side effects that include bloating, nausea, dizziness, muscle pain and numbness.
  • Since stevia is derived from a plant close to the ragweed, it may cause an allergic reaction in those sensitive to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies.
  • If you have low blood pressure, stevia could be potentially dangerous as it could lower your blood pressure more.
  • While some research suggests stevia could aid in managing diabetes, some research proves the opposite. It is best to consult a doctor if you have diabetes before using stevia.

Of course when introducing a new food or supplement into your diet, it is important to listen to your body and do what feels right. Do you use stevia instead of sugar? What do you like or dislike about it?