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Is Stevia Harmful to the Body? Sugar Substitutes

is stevia harmful to the body
Research so far has shown that stevia is safe for human consumption, but it's best to exercise caution and consume it in moderation

Stevia contains chemicals such as stevioside and rebaudioside A. While research conducted so far has shown that stevia is safe for human consumption, more studies are needed to better understand the effects of stevia, stevioside, and rebaudioside A on humans.

Stevia is a popular sugar substitute due its sweet taste. However, given the lack of long-term data regarding this plant extract, it’s best to exercise caution and consume it in moderation.

What is stevia?

Stevia is a natural sweetener extracted from the leaves of stevia of an herbal shrub Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) native to South America. 

Stevia leaves contain active ingredients called steviol glycosides, which are 30-150 times sweeter than sugar, and it contains no calories. Because it is plant-based and natural, it can replace sugar in tea, coffee, smoothies, and other foods.

It is believed that stevia may reduce blood sugar levels and blood pressure levels in individuals. However, further studies are needed to confirm these claims.

What products contain stevia?

Refined stevia preparations Pure Via (PepsiCo and Whole Earth Sweetener Company), Truvia (Coca-Cola and agricultural giant Cargill), and SweetLeaf (Wisdom Natural Brands) are considered nonnutritive sweeteners and have almost no calories, making them appealing to dieters. These three sweeteners are fundamentally the same, varying slightly only in the amounts of rebaudioside A and stevioside in each. 

Stevia is now found in a variety of foods and beverages, including Gatorade G2, VitaminWater Zero, SoBe Lifewater Zero, Crystal Light, and Sprite Green.

While refined stevia products are very popular, there is little evidence that they provide a weight loss benefit over other nonnutritive sweeteners. Furthermore, these highly refined stevia extracts may produce minor adverse effects, such as nausea or a sense of being full.

What is the status of stevia as a food additive according to the FDA?

Stevia is used as a food additive, but its legal status differs from one country to another. Despite being readily accessible across the globe, stevia was prohibited in the United States in 1991 because early studies suggested that it may cause cancer.

High-purity stevia glycoside extracts are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) in the United States and have been permitted in food items since 2008. However, stevia leaf and crude extracts do not have GRAS or FDA approval as food additives because they may have potential health implications. The FDA is particularly concerned about the effects of whole-leaf or crude stevia on blood sugar regulation, renal function, and the cardiovascular and reproductive systems.

What to keep in mind with stevia and other sugar substitutes

Several health benefits are associated with stevia, but it's important to remember that research on the extract is still in its early stages. Long-term consequences remain unknown, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPlate guidelines.

While sugar replacements, such as refined stevia preparations, can aid in weight loss, they are not a magic bullet and should only be consumed in moderation. If you eat too many sugar-free meals, you may still be at risk of gaining weight if the items contain other calorie-containing components.

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