7 Stevia Side Effects – Is the Natural Sweetener Bad for You?

Dieser Artikel basiert auf wissenschaftlichen Studien

Stevia | Good or Bad | Keto | Fasting | Insulin | Sugar | Aspartame | Sucralose | Splenda | Erythritol | Monk Fruit | Truvia | Side Effects | Conclusion | FAQ | Studies

Especially fitness gurus endorse stevia as natural and healthy. According to this, the sweetener is supposed to replace sugar without any side effects.

Moreover, people claim that stevia lowers calorie intake, blood sugar levels and is healthy for diabetics.

Nevertheless, there are concerns about the potential side effects of stevia. In this article, I examine stevia to find out if the plant-based sweetener is bad for you.

Is Stevia Bad for You?

More than 200 years ago, indigenous peoples in South America’s jungles discovered a shrub with leaves that had an incredibly sweet taste.

It was not until 1905 that this shrub, which belongs to the sunflower or Asteraceae family, was named Stevia rebaudiana.

The extract made from the sweet leaves of this plant became known over time as the sweetener stevia.

The indigenous people of South America consumed the calorie-free sugar substitute as a sweetener in tea or chewed the leaves as candy. Therefore, they called it candy leaf.

Due to steviol glycosides, pure stevia extract is about 250-300 times sweeter than the same amount of table sugar (Ashwell 20151).

Although the plant is therefore experiencing its heyday as a sweetener in western countries, it was used primarily for contraception by the indigenous population in Paraguay, where it originated (Schvartzman et al. 19772).

Accordingly, the exotic plant has quite a controversial application as an indigenous medicinal herb.

Is the sweetleaf, therefore, the dream of all those with a sweet tooth? Is it possible that Stevia extract is extremely sweet and healthy at the same time?

What Is in Stevia?

The stevia plant contains the following steviol glycoside compounds that give its leaves the enormous sweetness, which is indicated here as many times that of sugar:

  • Stevioside: 150-300
  • Rebaudioside A to F: 50-400
  • Rubusoside: 110
  • Steviolmonoside: N/A
  • Steviolbioside: 100-125
  • Dulcoside A: 50-120

Of these, you can find rebaudioside A and stevioside in the most significant amounts in stevia leaves.

Refined stevia extract can consist of either one or a mixture of different steviol glycoside compounds that define its sweetness (Ashwell 20153).

The end product of stevia metabolism is steviol. In this process, the metabolized components leave the body (Momtazi-Borojeni et al. 20174).

Although stevia is extracted from a plant, it is not a thoroughly natural product as the food industry sells it to us.

Stevia, as we know it, is a highly-processed industrially-produced sweetener. Therefore, many people view stevia as an artificial sweetener as well.

Moreover, food authorities have only approved industrially isolated forms of steviol glycosides as additives. In contrast, they did not approve stevia plants, leaves, or unrefined natural stevia as sweeteners (FDA 20185).

Since the European Commission has also approved it, you can find the sweetener in numerous processed foods (Denina et al. 20146).

Therefore, you can also find stevia as additive number E960 on the packaging.

In this sense, there is no significant difference compared to table sugar, which is also obtained from the natural sugar beet.

The main difference is that stevia has no calories and carbohydrates. Therefore, the sweetener should hardly increase blood sugar levels, which could be a fundamental advantage.

Due to the following questions that people frequently ask in this context, we will look at blood sugar and insulin levels in more detail.

Stevia leaves can be bad for you

Is Stevia Bad on Keto?

You may be wondering if stevia is so healthy in the end that it doesn’t have any consequences for your diet.

One of the most common questions is whether the intense sweetness of steviol glycosides could throw you out of ketosis on a low-carb, high-fat diet.

Unfortunately, no direct research can answer this question unequivocally, primarily since stevia studies have been conducted mainly on laboratory mice.

In any case, keto exploits the fact that proteins and carbohydrates stimulate insulin, but fat hardly does.

But the storage hormone insulin blocks the enzyme that breaks down body fat (Meijssen et al. 20017).

Consequently, the ketogenic diet aims to keep insulin levels low to allow the body to empty carbohydrate stores.

Since the carbohydrates stored as glycogen represent the faster usable energy source, the body uses them first.

Only then can the body tap into stored fat for energy production through the process of ketosis.

In the context of stevia, what matters for ketosis is whether the sweetener can influence insulin levels. Moreover, we find a similar constellation in fasting.

Does Stevia Break a Fast?

Although not all people may be aware of this fact, ketosis is also why fasting brings about weight loss.

Accordingly, fasting is the more radical ketogenic diet. If you don’t eat for a long time, your body will have to tap into its fat reserves sooner or later.

But that’s nothing else than a natural survival mechanism. Winter body fat has to have some real purpose, right?

When stevia causes an insulin response, the sweetener has the potential to break a fast. Therefore, our essential storage hormone is also the crux of the matter in this context.

For this reason, we need to take a closer look at stevia and insulin.

Does Stevia Cause a Bad Insulin Response?

In the context of sweeteners, most people only examine the glucose response. But this view is too limited to be meaningful.

Ultimately, insulin production is not only stimulated by blood glucose. And at the end of the day, insulin is crucial as a signaling agent for fat gain.

That’s why researchers can already predict about 75% of the gain and loss in overweight people using insulin levels (Kong et al. 20138).

So with this in mind, it is not enough for a sweetener to have no calories or carbohydrates. On that basis, we cannot determine if stevia is good or bad for you.

With many studies concluding that sweeteners in diet soda are a cause rather than a remedy for the ongoing obesity epidemic, we need to examine stevia in this regard as well (Fowler et al. 20089).

Stevia vs. Sugar – Are Both Bad for You?

Unlike sucrose, stevia extract does not provide carbohydrates.

Therefore, stevia extract cannot raise blood sugar levels as abruptly as sugar. But this does not necessarily mean that the sweetener does not affect blood sugar and insulin levels.

Many people claimed that stevia does not affect blood sugar or insulin levels based on a well-known study.

Sugar indeed causes higher glucose and insulin spikes immediately after consumption.

But even the much-cited study shows that levels change after about 90 minutes. From that point on, blood glucose and insulin levels are higher after stevia than after sugar consumption (Anton et al. 201010).

In contrast, a more recent study came to a different conclusion, examining the period of three rather than two hours after ingestion. Moreover, it involved sweetened beverages – not food.

Although sugar initially caused higher responses, stevia triggered as much insulin over three hours.

Besides, it is perplexing that the stevia and sugar group’s average blood glucose levels were the same (Tey et al. 201711).

But it gets even more interesting, as another study states that steviol glycosides stimulate insulin release directly in the pancreas (Jeppesen et al. 200012).

Furthermore, researchers have recently studied the molecular structure of steviol and stevioside. They concluded that steviol glycosides are confusingly similar to insulin.

Therefore, like insulin, they can signal cells to take up glucose (Bhasker et al. 201513).

For this reason, people like to tout that stevia regulates blood glucose and thus could play a role in fighting diabetes (Mohd-Radzman et al. 201314).

But there is a significant problem since people develop insulin resistance and diabetes due to consistently elevated insulin levels. Therefore, stevia might enhance the risk of developing metabolic disorders.

Aspartame vs. Stevia – Is Natural Not That Bad?

As a decades-old ingredient in diet soda, aspartame or E951 is the best-known synthetic sweetener. That’s why it sets the bar for its plant-based competitor.

One study compared blood sugar and insulin levels after consuming stevia, sugar, and aspartame during a meal.

In the process, the synthetic aspartame was able to increase insulin levels even more than table sugar.

Thirty minutes after consumption, the meal sweetened by aspartame caused an absolute peak level that conventional sugar could not reach.

Also, blood sugar was highest with aspartame after 30 minutes, although it did not initially rise as steeply as after sugar consumption.

In contrast, people who consumed stevia showed the weakest responses during the short period (Anton et al. 201015).

A more recent study, as previously addressed, showed no significant differences among the three sweeteners over three hours after consumption of a sweetened beverage (Tey et al. 201716).

In summary, aspartame is about as unhealthy as sugar.

Stevia performs better in direct comparison to aspartame and sugar due to its lower peak levels.

But is there another difference between the plant-based and artificial sweeteners?

Sucralose vs. Stevia – What’s the Bad Option?

Besides aspartame, there is another prominent and globally used artificial sweetener called sucralose. You can identify it among additives as E number 955.

It, too, has no carbohydrates, proteins, or calories.

A study published in the journal Diabetes Care compared drinking water with and without sucralose.

It found that drinking the sweetener increased glucose and insulin levels in the subjects (Pepino et al. 201317).

In particular, the significant effect on blood glucose makes sucralose probably the worse option than stevia when it comes to losing weight.

Splenda vs. Stevia

Splenda is nothing more than a widely used sweetener based primarily on sucralose.

It is available in the form of yellow packets that resemble conventional sugar. Due to the reasons mentioned above, stevia is probably the better option for weight loss.

However, the manufacturer Splenda also recognized the hype surrounding the natural sweetener. For this reason, it has launched Splenda Naturals.

Ultimately, this sweetener veteran also wants to profit from stevia’s plant-based and healthy image. But it is interesting to note that Splenda Naturals consists only partially of stevia extract.

The lion’s share, on the other hand, is the sugar alcohol erythritol.

Erythritol vs. Stevia – Are Sugar Alcohols Better?

Erythritol, like stevia, is sold as a natural sugar substitute. Nevertheless, it is produced from carbohydrates through industrial processes.

Sugar alcohols differ significantly from steviol glycosides in that they are not calorie-free. Instead, they represent dietary fiber and are labeled as such on the packaging.

The human body cannot absorb these anti-nutrients. However, intestinal bacteria can feed on them to a small extent.

Therefore, about 90% of the sweetener leaves the body unchanged (Noda et al. 199418).

Also, no significant increase in glucose and insulin levels has yet been observed with erythritol over a more extended period after ingestion (Bornet et al. 199619).

At first glance, this makes erythritol the better choice concerning the insulin response.

However, since very few researchers have studied erythritol, you should handle this information with care.

Monk Fruit vs. Stevia – Are Both Bad for You?

Monk fruit has a similar effect to stevia. As for the green leaves, monk fruit is extremely sweet and adds about 200 times the sweetness to beverages compared to sugar.

It also performed similarly in a recent study.

Over three hours after their ingestion, researchers could not find significant differences in glucose and insulin concentrations between beverages sweetened with monk fruit extract, stevia, and sugar (Tey et al. 201720).

Like stevia-, monk fruit extract can also cause cravings due to its intense sweetness (Yang 201021).

The bottom line is that the two natural sweeteners are equally healthy when it comes to weight loss.

Truvia vs. Stevia – What’s the Difference?

Truvia is nothing more than the name of a stevia product manufactured by an international soda pop giant.

The composition of the sweetener sold as natural is similar to that of Splenda Naturals. In addition to stevia extract, erythritol represents a significant portion of the sweetener.

For this reason, Truvia is not a zero-calorie sweetener, as its nutritional claims already indicate.

If we trust the low review of erythritol, Truvia may be the better option than stevia when it comes to insulin production and weight loss.

Since steviol glycosides are similar to insulin in chemical structure, they may dock directly to insulin receptors.

They may also increase insulin secretion, especially when blood glucose levels are high (Jeppesen et al. 200022).

While this helps to lower blood glucose again, it can promote fat gain.

For these reasons, stevia is not as well suited for ketogenic diets as its proponents claim.

Thus, the insulinotropic properties of steviol glycosides may kick you out of ketosis (Bhasker et al. 201523).

A sweetened beverage may not be enough for this. When used in a meal, this effect is more likely.

In my opinion, stevia might, therefore, also be able to break a fast. For this reason, I would stick with unsweetened tea during a fasting period.

Like other sweeteners, stevia is therefore not healthy for weight loss, which we will see in detail in a moment in the context of potential side effects.

Stevia is bad for fasting

Side Effects of Stevia

In connection with insulin, we have already found out that steviol glycosides have a hormone structure. That’s a property calling for a prescription rather than free availability in the supermarket.

Nevertheless, the majority of toxicological studies state that stevia is safe (Momtazi-Borojeni et al. 201724).

However, unlike other non-caloric sweeteners, studies suggest that stevia is biologically active (Ruiz-Ruiz et al. 201725).

From a pharmacological perspective, steviol glycosides are said to have numerous benefits. Accordingly, they may have the following effects (Momtazi-Borojeni et al. 201726):

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anticancer
  • Antidiabetic
  • Antimicrobial
  • Antioxidant
  • Blood pressure-lowering

However, the caveat is that further studies are needed to prove these potential effects and their magnitude.

Nevertheless, there are two sides to this coin as well. The stevia plant’s bioactive substances can not only be healthy but also induce dangers.

For this reason, legitimate questions arise regarding the potential side effects of stevia.

1. Stevia and Cancer – How Bad Is It?

Most toxicological studies state that stevia does not cause carcinogenic or malignant effects (Momtazi-Borojeni et al. 201727).

Nevertheless, isolated studies suggest that stevia extract may cause genetic mutations and increase cancer risk, even when high doses were used (Terai et al 200228).

In summary, the cancer risk from stevia appears to be relatively low compared to other artificial sweeteners.

2. Can Stevia’s Side Effects Affect the Kidneys?

Stevia is known to be a diuretic. Accordingly, it promotes the excretion of water and electrolytes through urine.

Although concerns have been repeatedly raised that stevia could be potentially harmful to the kidneys, a study came to a controversial conclusion.

According to the researchers, stevia is instead a legitimate candidate for a drug to treat kidney disease because it can reduce cyst growth in kidney cells (Yuajit et al. 201329).

3. Stevia and Diabetes – Is It a Good Option?

Even supposedly natural sweeteners can affect metabolism.

When sweet taste stimulates the reward center, the brain expects glucose, but this does not enter the bloodstream with a calorie-free sweetener. As a result, sweeteners induce cravings for sweets (Yang 201030).

For this reason, long-term consumption of intense zero-calorie sweeteners like stevia can cause metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes (Swithers 201331).

But isn’t stevia the sweetener said to help with diabetes?

This claim may be valid, but the devil is in the details here. According to studies, stevia consumption directly affects beta cells of the pancreas and thus on insulin secretion (Jeppesen et al. 200032).

Accordingly, depending on the current blood glucose level, steviol glycosides enhance insulin secretion (Abudula et al. 200833).

For this reason, stevia has a blood glucose-lowering effect similar to exogenous insulin injection in type 2 diabetics. Since people with type 1 diabetes lack beta cells due to the disease, stevia cannot affect them.

Thus, stevia alleviates a significant symptom of type 2 diabetes. However, the cause of type 2 diabetes and the pre-disease insulin resistance is high insulin levels.

For this reason, permanent consumption of stevia can aggravate type 2 diabetes. In contrast, only permanent lifestyle and dietary changes can reverse the disease.

4. Stevia and Weight Gain – Is It Bad?

Since steviol and stevioside have a similar molecular structure to insulin, they might promote fat gain (Bhasker et al. 201534).

Finally, the storage hormone insulin signals not only muscle cells to consume glucose from the bloodstream but also fat cells to store it as energy reserves.

And fat cells, of all things, cannot become insulin resistant. Therefore, stevia could support weight gain, especially for people who already suffer from pre-diabetes.

That stevia stimulates insulin secretion, especially when blood sugar is already high, is also not conducive to weight loss (Jeppesen et al. 200035).

Since stevia is often used as a sugar substitute in baking, the sweetener usually enters the body in the company of large amounts of carbohydrates.

Due to the insulin spike, this use supports storage as body fat, which might significantly affect insulin resistance cases.

5. Can Stevia Affect Fertility and Pregnancy?

Indigenous peoples of South America traditionally use stevia not as a sweetener but as contraceptives (Schvartzman et al. 197736).

As early as 1968, researchers found that an aqueous solution prepared by decocting stevia leaves significantly reduced fertility in female rats.

In this regard, the reduction in fertility persisted for at least 50 to 60 days after ingesting the stevia water without affecting the animals’ health (Planas et al. 196837).

Although a recent study found no significant impairment of pregnancies and births in rats that consumed stevia over an extended time, the above concerns arguably argue against continued consumption of the sweetener (Saenphet et al. 200638).

When we look at the effects at the hormone level, this might be more obvious.

While stevia boosts the production of the hormone progesterone, it also blocks progesterone receptors.

Thus, the hormone can no longer deliver its message by binding to a receptor.

Therefore, although the sweetener is of natural origin, stevia cannot generally be considered safe, according to the researchers (Shannon et al. 201639).

Progesterone is essential for maintaining pregnancy, regulating the menstrual cycle and fertility.

Thus, stevioside and rebaudioside A are technically progesterone receptor antagonists. These are substances that are used clinically as contraceptives and to terminate a pregnancy.

For this reason, indigenous peoples in Paraguay and Brazil traditionally used the stevia plant as a contraceptive.

6. Do Stevia Side Effects Affect Testosterone?

In the context of insulin and progesterone, we have already learned that stevia can interfere with the hormonal system.

Furthermore, stevia might affect not only female but also male fertility.

Accordingly, a study on male rats records that stevia consumption can negatively affect the development of sexual organs, sperm concentration, and testosterone levels (Melis 199940).

7. Is Stevia Bad for Gut Health?

The antimicrobial properties of stevia are usually hailed as healthy (Momtazi-Borojeni et al. 201741).

However, the bactericidal effects of steviol glycosides may also have drawbacks (Wang et al. 201842).

In this sense, more and more recent studies show that stevia, like some other artificial sweeteners, can alter the gut microbiome (Ruiz-Ojeda et al. 201943).

Furthermore, stevioside and rebaudioside A could dramatically reduce the growth and activity of six Lactobacillus reuteri strains (Denina et al. 201444).

Since these bacteria are essential probiotics, the effects of stevia on gut flora raise significant health concerns.

8. Can Stevia Cause Diarrhea as a Side Effect?

Since many stevia products, such as Splenda Naturals or Truvia, contain sugar alcohols in addition to stevia extract, they can cause digestive problems.

In most cases, the sugar alcohols that can cause diarrhea and bloat are listed either by name or as dietary fiber on the package.

9. How Much Stevia Is Safe and How Much Is Bad?

According to the WHO, 4 milligrams of steviol per kilogram of body weight per day are the safe upper limit for stevia consumption.

Although this may seem like little at first glance, for a person weighing 70 kilograms, that’s about 40 packets of stevia sweetener per day.

Because 12 milligrams of highly concentrated stevia extract are needed to consume 4 milligrams of steviol, the result is pretty high (Ashwell 201545).

Since for the acceptable intake of stevia per day, the WHO didn’t research what we would consider the most significant side effects today, 40 packets of stevia might be more than questionable.

Stevia Can Be Bad for You

Stevia, unlike some artificial sweeteners, can most likely be neither carcinogenic nor harmful to the kidneys.

Nevertheless, one cannot deny the pharmacological effect of stevia.

Therefore, recent studies suggest that stevia may affect the following functions and components of the human body:

  • Hormone balance
  • Fertility
  • Gut microbiome

Ultimately, no human studies examine the full range of stevia’s potential side effects – especially none that address fertility.

Although occasional consumption of small amounts of stevia is unlikely to affect overall health, I would not use the sweetener on an everyday basis.

Stevia Side Effects FAQ ❓

What are the negative effects of stevia?

The main disadvantages of stevia are that the sweetener can affect hormone balance, fertility, and intestinal flora.

Is stevia as bad as artificial sweeteners?

Stevia might be as bad as artificial sweeteners, especially for people who have problems with hormone balance, fertility, or intestinal flora.

Is stevia safer than Splenda?

Stevia is probably safer than Splenda. But for people who have issues with hormone balance, fertility, or gut health, it might be the worse choice.

Is stevia worse than sugar?

A general disadvantage of stevia 🍬 is that it can fuel cravings and alter the gut microbiome. From this point of view, it might be worse than sugar.

Studies

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. N Taylor

    Interesting read!

  2. Mihaela Coman

    Great article ! Thank you for the research that was done to put all this information easily available. I also appreciate that the writer did not have a bias in his opinion of stevia and delivered the information to us so that we could make our own choices. Well done and thank you.

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