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February 27, 2021

A deeper dive into Stevia!

Is the “all natural” sweetener, Stevia, a safe alternative to “artificial” sweeteners?

Let’s dive into some of the research and chat about some of the current news about Stevia, because frankly - it seems like the news changes on these things annually? Am I right?

Stevia’s real name is stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) and it is an herb native to Paraguay and Brazil. It can grow to be a pretty large plant, here is what it looks like in plant form:


Stevia has actually been around for a very long time. It has been used as a sweetener since the year 1600 and in recent years gaining popularity. Here’s a little list of stevia facts:

  • Stevia is about 250-300 times sweeter than sugar
  • Stevia is stable to heat, making it safe for cooking
  • Stevosides produced in stevia leaves = sweetness
  • Specifically, the sweetness comes from the isosteviols
  • Stevia is non-caloric
  • Stevia doesn’t promote dental caries, as does sugar

So far, so good!

Once harvested the stevia leaves are processed using water and alcohol and then we get stevia extracts.

These extracts are then sold as commercial sweetening agents. Indeed, this process has been used for more than 30 years in Japan and Brazil.

Is Stevia a safe alternative to Splenda or Equal?

Of course, it is: It’s natural - right??..

Now, before coming up with a knee-jerk response – believing that Stevia MUST be better because it’s natural – take a second to think this through.

After all, hallucinogenic mushrooms and poison hemlock all grow in the ground and are completely natural too. And I don’t think too many of you would argue that somehow these organic materials, part of nature’s bounty, are healthy to eat.

So, instead of making up your mind based on the natural vs. artificial debate, let’s actually look into this plant, Stevia, and see what the research has to say about it. Because science!

The USDA was introduced to stevia between 1918 and 1921. And ever since, they continue to greet it with CLOSED arms. Since stevia grows naturally, it requires no patent to produce it. This has led some to believe that the reason it hasn’t been approved for use as a food additive in the U.S. and Canada is based on financial motivations.

As a result, in the U.S. and Canada, stevia is currently considered a dietary supplement.

Okay let’s science:

According to an article from Precision Nutrition - When a chemical is being studied for safety, scientists first do what’s called a LD50 test. If you need a quick refresher on pharmacology, LD50 is the dose of a substance required to kill 50% of the tested population.

For obvious reasons, these studies are done in animal populations – and not in humans.

Much of the stevia in North America is measured out in packets, tinctures or tablets.

  • 1 packet usually contains about 85 mg of stevia extract
  • 4 drops of tincture will usually contain about 40 mg of stevia
  • 1 tablet usually has about 50 mg of stevia

When it comes to stevia, a study back in 1975 reported an LD50 of 15 grams of stevia per kilogram of body weight. For example, if you’re 220lbs - it would take 1500 grams to kill you. And if you’re 110lbs - it would take 750g to kill you.

Uh, that’s a lot! Indeed, that’s about 15,000 to 30,000 tablets!

To provide a little perspective, the LD50 of caffeine in rats is 192mg/kg. So, for a 120 pound human, that would be about 11,500mg or 11.5grams of caffeine. Therefore, relatively speaking, caffeine is much more lethal relative to stevia.

The “no-effect” level for stevia is about 794 mg/kg. That means about 7.94 mg/kg/day would be safe for humans. This 7.94 mg/kg/day value is based on a very conservative safety factor of 100X.

And, technically speaking, this is typically called the ADI (or acceptable daily intake). You could probably get away with quite a bit more. However, I’m not sure I’d be the one signing up to test that theory out. Ha!

Now you know all the things about Stevia right? ;p

All in all, the research seems to show that Stevia is perfectly okay and SAFE to use.

Everything in moderation right?

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