Is Stevia Dangerous?

Everybody is looking for ways to cut calories these days.  And, while we could go on and on about why drastically reducing calories isn’t a great thing (yes, we’re serious), there are some good ways to do it.  You can cut out soda pop, skip dessert once in a while, or – according to the new trend – switch sweeteners.  And, people are particularly talking about stevia, a sweetener that comes from a plant in the Asteracae family.  But, is stevia dangerous?  It seems that no matter who you ask, you’ll get a different answer.  So, what’s the truth?

Is Stevia Dangerous?: Sweeter Than Sugar

If you ever travel to a place famous for growing sugar cane, you may get the chance to suck on a piece of the sugar cane plant.  And, you’ll notice that it’s very sweet.  White sugar that we use commonly today comes from sugar cane, which grows in tropical regions.  Countries like Barbados became financial centers almost entirely on the colonial sugar trade, on the backs of slaves.  And, the popularization of sugar changed people’s taste across the world, as sweetening food no longer required hunting for honey.  But, as sweet as sugar is, stevia is actually 300 times sweeter.  Is stevia dangerous though?

Is Stevia Dangerous?: Natural Alternative

Stevia is a natural sugar substitute, which is actually already a huge step in the right direction.  It’s sweet directly on the plant, earning the name “sugar leaf” in certain areas.  So, it’s unlike aspartame, which is artificial and crops up very often in diet versions of colas.  However, does that mean it’s healthy?  Actually, yes.  Stevia, unlike sugar, doesn’t have calories.  Instead of putting a teaspoon of sugar in your tea (about 4.2 grams, and approximately 16 calories), you could just put a fresh stevia leaf (0 calories).  And, while 16 calories doesn’t seem like much to worry about, consider how many cups of sugar you put in a batch of cookies.  Even a can of Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar (more than 9 teaspoons).  Replacing sugary sodas with stevia-sweetened ice tea or cutting the sugar in your baking with processed stevia could help you save a lot of calories from sugar.

Is Stevia Dangerous?: Side Effects

Anyone will tell you that “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean safe.  (There are a lot of “natural” plants out there which could easily kill you.)  But, in this case, the stevia side effects are quite minimal.  The leaf has no glycemic index and does not raise the blood sugar at all.  However, this can be a blessing and a curse – stevia can be great for diabetics, but it can also trick your body into eating more.  This is because, when you eat something sweet, your body expects calories, and stevia doesn’t provide any.  And, stevia may also lower blood pressure, making it a risky treat for people with low blood pressure problems.  All that being said, it may be worth incorporating stevia into your diet in moderate amounts.  And, just be aware that the FDA has only approved purified stevia (stevioside).  Whole stevia leaves aren’t regulated, so unless you grow them yourself, stick to what comes in the bag at the supermarket.

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