Stevia Sweetener: Safety And Side Effects Examined

One of the most commonly used unhealthy foods is refined sugar.

Type II diabetes is the most common disease of modern times; the high-calorie intake from refined sugar is largely responsible for this disease.

Most of us are forced to look for safe alternatives to refined sugar for health reasons.

Many companies have come out with low-calorie sweeteners, both natural and artificial.

Despite the many varieties of sweeteners available, only a few natural sweeteners are safe for health and taste good.

One of the most popular natural sweeteners out there is Stevia.

What Is Stevia Sweetener?

‘Stevia is a sweetener and sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana.’

This sweetener is 100% natural. Most importantly, this sweetener has zero calories in it, and it has some health benefits as well.

Stevia rebaudiana plant is mostly found in the South American continent. This plant is also well-known for its medicinal qualities for many centuries.

It is since only a few decades since this plant became popular as the best source of calorie-free natural sugar. The sugar extract from this plant has a strong sweet flavor and excellent taste.

This sweetener is available in whole or crushed stevia leaves/liquid form or as a refined sweet compound.

The refined stevia sweetener looks just like the normal refined sugar usually procured from sugarcane and sugar beet, with no resemblance to the stevia plant.

Stevia is the plant’s name, and the refined sugar compound from this plant is stevioside. Normal Stevia contains stevioside (pure sugar) in about 10% of its total weight.

Health Benefits Of Stevia Sweetener

Millions of people worldwide with Type II diabetes will benefit a lot from stevia sweeteners.

Type II diabetes occurs due to the fluctuation of sugar levels in the blood due to a lack of insulin production or insulin resistance prevalent in the body.

Most studies on the effects of this natural sweetener on diabetic patients have shown good benefits in stabilizing healthy sugar levels in the blood.

In one of the studies, the diabetes patients who took 1 gram of stevioside with a meal indicated an impressive reduction in blood sugar level by 18% compared to others who had 1 gram of maize starch.

Another study found that people who took Stevia experienced lower insulin and blood sugar levels after the meals compared to the patients who took regular sugar or aspartame.

This natural calorie-free sweetener is also good for increasing insulin production, as per the tests done in animal studies. This helps in quickly transporting the blood sugar into the body cells for various energy requirements, thereby lowering the blood sugar levels.

Another stevia benefit is its ability to lower blood pressure to healthy levels, especially in patients with high blood pressure.

Maintaining a healthy blood pressure level is important for preventing stroke, heart disease, and even kidney failure.

One of the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials in 174 Chinese patients showed that the patients taking 500 mg stevioside daily had experienced a reduction in elevated blood pressure.

This same study also indicated that stevioside patients had a lower risk of Left Ventricular Hypertrophy (blood pressure caused by enlarging the heart).

The European Food Safety Authority and the World Health Organization say steviol glycoside compounds in Stevia are safe in the amounts typically used. Various human studies also suggest that Stevia doesn’t cause damage to DNA or cancer.

Several other studies on humans and animals also categorically proved the efficiency of stevioside in reducing blood pressure to a healthy level.

However, the researchers who tested stevioside are still trying to specifically point out the exact mechanism that works toward reducing blood pressure in people who use this natural sweetener. The most accepted reason behind this mechanism is stevioside’s ability to block calcium ion channels in cell membranes.

However, it is not practical to consume large daily doses of this sweetener regularly to reduce blood pressure.

Just using a little amount of Stevia as a sweetener in beverages and sweetened food preparations would not significantly lower blood pressure.

Is Stevia Safe For Health, Or Side Effects Exist?

Humans have used it for centuries in medicines and its leaves as a sweetener.

Major studies on this natural sweetener do not show any side effects on health.

However, certain claims on a couple of side effects can develop out of the constant use of this natural sweetener. Of course, the studies conducted on animals showed certain adverse health effects that may not apply to humans at all.

In a few animal studies, impaired memory was retrieved when high doses of stevia extract were fed to scopolamine-treated rats.

One study found an anti-amnesic effect of stevioside in scopolamine-treated rats. Researchers impaired mice’s memory through scopolamine and gave them a 250mg/kg dose of oral stevioside and then checked for memory retention.

The study’s results indicated memory retention recovery and oral stevioside even reduced oxidative brain damage caused by scopolamine.

The findings of these studies countered and refuted the common argument that regular usage of stevioside could cause gradual memory loss, but it is the other way.

People allergic to chrysanthemums, marigolds, ragweed, or daisies could develop anaphylaxis using stevia plant leaves as a sweetener. In the case of an allergy attack, the users may develop dizziness, pale skin, shortness of breath, wheezing, and weakness.

In some individuals, the consumption of stevioside may result in stomach upsets with nausea or bloating.

In some of the studies on animals, it was found large doses of stevioside consumption lead to the suppression of healthy metabolism. It would hinder the proper absorption of nutrients and vitamins.

In isolated cases, certain individuals experience stevia side effects like numbness, body aches, or dizziness after a few minutes of consuming it.

Overall, there are no severe side effects associated with Stevia that can seriously jeopardize health safety.

Which Stevia Should You Buy?

All stevia varieties available for buying are different; some of them even taste quite bad.

It is important to make the right choice; all different varieties of this sweetener are of poor quality and taste.

Most people prefer Stevia in powder or cube form as they taste better than liquid. It is the presence of alcohol content in the liquid Stevia that adds a bad aftertaste to it.

There are also many brands of stevia products sold online and in shops. One of the best ways to identify and buy the right brand of this sweetener is to look at the reviews and ratings added by the actual users; in fact, the Amazon online shop has several reviews on different sweetener brands.

If you are buying it online, you should also ensure that the product is made up of pure and organic Stevia with no added ingredients.

How to Use Stevia Safely?

There are many ways you can use stevia sweeteners.

The best method is used as a substitute for natural sugar. Mix it in your coffee, tea, smoothies, beverages, and yogurt.

Stevia comes in both powder and liquid form. Some do not like the taste of the liquid Stevia as it could contain some alcohol; the powder has a bitter aftertaste.

Stevia is a good sugar substitute for baking. In baking, most people prefer to mix it with erythritol sweetener, which adds bulkiness.

Pure and refined Stevia is 300% sweeter than normal sugar; roughly one teaspoon will give one cup of sugar sweetness. So you must get used to the right measure of this sweetener to be added to your beverages and refreshments.

Final Thoughts

There is NO other 100% natural sugar like Stevia that has zero calories and, at the same time, provides many health benefits.

This is an ideal substitute for regular sugar, which is very high in calories.

It has medicinal qualities that can help in preventing/curing diseases like Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and stroke.

Stevia is undoubtedly the best natural sweetener.