Stevia – A Safe Sweetener?

I’ve heard of stevia and it’s refined cousins “Truvia”, “PureVia” and “Stevia Extract in the Raw”. But because there is some controversy over it, I lumped it in with the artificial sweeteners – Nutrasweet, Equal and Sweet’n Low and even with another natural sweetener, agave nectar, and just decided to avoid it. I lost all interest when I found out that Truvia was developed by Coca-Cola and Cargill and that Pepsico had their hands in PureVia.

Then last Saturday I sampled a stevia leaf and was quite surprised. It is pretty amazing how sweet it was. Definitely not what I was expecting. The sweet flavor even lingered in my mouth, as you would expect with any herb. I was intrigued, so I bought a few stems to experiment with.

How does it taste (fresh leaves)? The first time I used it I added about four whole leaves to my cup of green tea. I bruised the leaves with my spoon against the side of my cup then let it steep for about five minutes. I was unimpressed. Not that sweet. Next I decided to chop the leaves finely. I also used about three times as many leaves. Big difference. The tea actually increased in sweetness the longer it steeps. By the time I got to the last few sips it was actually too sweet. Some say there is a licorice taste to it, but I didn’t get that at all. It tastes similar to artificial sweetener, which was a slight turn off for me. However, if it’s a safe natural sweetener, I could get used to it.

Is it safe? Most of the controversy appears to be centered around the commercial sweeteners Truvia, PureVia and Stevia Extract in the Raw. The way I understand it, the refining process used to produce these commercial brands is what’s wrong with them – as is the case with nearly all other refined foods and additives, especially sweeteners. They have extracted something called “rebiana” (a.k.a. Reb-A) from the leaf and so they aren’t really stevia, the way high fructose corn syrup isn’t really corn. They are also blended with erythritol, a sugar alcohol (in fact Truvia has more erythritol than rebiana), maltodextrin or dextrose, cellulose powder (huh?) and “natural flavors”. I would also be weary of it’s use in prepackaged foods (which we’ll be seeing more often according to this article). More than likely food manufacturers will be using a refined mixture similar to Truvia, PureVia and Stevia Extract in the Raw.

On the other hand, the whole leaf from the actual stevia plant (fresh or dried) appears to be safe. (Whole foods usually are.)  Stevia (a.k.a. “sweet leaf” or “sugar leaf”) is a plant that’s been around for centuries. There have even been some studies that have shown it may improve glucose absorption (good for blood sugar) and may reduce hypertension. In fact diabetes and high blood pressure often occur together, especially in over weight individuals, and are risk factors for Metabolic Syndrome.  (See my previous post about it here.) If you use an artificial sweetener like the ones I mentioned earlier, this is definitely a better alternative.

How do you use it and where can I get it? I would stay away from the PureVia, Truvia and Stevia Extract in the Raw. You can make your own stevia extract by soaking lots of fresh or dried leaves in grain alcohol (like Everclear) for about a month, or even water (but less effective and less sweet). Dried leaves have more intense sweetness and can be ground into a powder. The whole, fresh leaves (I recommend mincing them first), the extract, dried leaves and powder can all be used as sugar substitutes, but since it can be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar you will only need to use a small fraction of it. Click here for a stevia conversion chart. You would probably find the dried leaves at a health food market or a specialty store. Or you can grow the plant yourself. That’s what I plan to do.

My first attempt at "Stevia Concentrate", a/k/a really, really strong, super concentrated stevia tea. Easy. Steeped for about 10 minutes in hot, not boiling water. Tastes better than it looks.

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About Michele
Wife and Mom of three girls doing her best to lead the family into a healthier lifestyle and evolve gracefully.

3 Responses to Stevia – A Safe Sweetener?

  1. KayleeAnn says:

    Thanks for this article. I have been wondering what the situations with Stevia is and have just been avoiding it until I could really dig in and do some research. When I came across your article, I was super excited to found out some information on it!
    Super informative.
    :: KayleeAnn ::

  2. KayleeAnn says:

    *find out* Whoops!

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