Health Benefits of Stevia


Isabel Vasquez RD LDN

Published on May 2, 2024

 Medically reviewed by 

Barbie Cervoni, RD

Wooden bowl and spoon with stevia (sugar-like granules); stevia plant around the bowl on a wooden table

Stevia is a sugar alternative that comes from a plant called Stevia rebaudiana that produces sweet steviol glycosides. As a natural plant source, stevia is neither an artificial sweetener nor a sugar. It’s also free from calories, making it a popular choice for people looking to reduce their sugar intake.1 

Stevia can be helpful for people trying to reduce added sugars or people with diabetes who want a sweetener that won’t spike blood glucose levels. However, there are some potential risks to consuming too much stevia.

May Help Manage Diabetes

Stevia may be helpful for people with diabetes or prediabetes who want to manage their blood sugars. Since it has little to no carbohydrates, stevia doesn’t raise blood sugars like table sugar does, making it a good alternative. 

Along with providing a helpful sugar substitute, which can help manage diabetes, the stevia plant may also have anti-diabetic effects, helping to lower blood sugar and improve insulin levels.2

One research review found that doses of 200–400 milligrams (mg) of stevia leaves per kilogram (kg) of body weight significantly reduced blood sugar levels compared to control groups.3 

Some research—mostly conducted on animals or in test tubes—has found that stevia may help improve insulin levels and insulin sensitivity, which is a key issue for people with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. These studies also found that stevia may help lower fasting blood sugar and randomly taken blood sugar levels compared to control groups.1

Traditional medicine in Brazil and Paraguay has included the stevia plant in treatments for diabetes and high blood sugar for many years.1 However, more human-based research is needed to understand and confirm the antidiabetic effects of stevia.

Reduces Added Sugar Intake

Many Americans consume more added sugars than the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) recommend. The average American consumes 17 teaspoons of sugar daily, but the recommended intake is no more than 12 teaspoons for a 2,000-calorie diet or 10% of your total calories.4

Opting for stevia to add sweetness to beverages or foods instead of sugar won’t contribute added sugar to your diet, but it will still enhance the flavor. If you eat a lot of high-sugar foods, stevia may be a good swap in addition to adding more food sources of natural sugar like fruit or dairy.

May Lower Blood Pressure

Some studies in humans and animals have found that stevia reduces diastolic and systolic blood pressure. For example, one study found that taking 750–1500 mg of stevioside (a chemical compound from the stevia plant) per day modestly reduced blood pressure in people with mild to moderate hypertension.5

A meta-analysis of seven studies also found that stevia significantly decreased diastolic blood pressure. Researchers theorize that stevia helps expand the blood vessels, an effect called vasodilation.5

However, research results are mixed. Some studies have found that stevia has no effect on blood pressure, so more research is needed to further evaluate this connection.1

May Prevent Cavities

Sugar is a primary cause of dental caries (cavities). Bacteria in the mouth metabolize sugar. The sugar produces acid that wears down your tooth enamel.6 Consuming less sugar can help prevent cavities, and swapping sugar for stevia may also help.

One study found the pH of dental plaque was more acidic after rinsing with a sucrose solution compared to a stevia solution. This suggests that stevia doesn’t produce the same acidic conditions that lead to enamel breakdown.7 Also, some studies have found that stevia stops the growth of bacteria that play a role in the development of dental caries (cavities).1

Nutrition of Stevia

Stevia is a non-nutritive sweetener, meaning it doesn’t contribute nutrients or calories to the diet. This sets it apart from sweeteners like table sugar, honey, syrup, brown sugar, or molasses, which do contribute nutrients and calories.

One packet (1 gram) of stevia contains:8

  • Calories: 0
  • Fat: 0 gram (g)
  • Sodium: 0 milligrams (mg)
  • Carbohydrates: 1 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Added sugars: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g

While stevia does have 1 g of carbohydrate per packet, this amount is very minimal and won’t contribute to your total carb intake in a meaningful way.

Risks of Stevia

Steviol glycosides (stevia extracts) are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, be careful about purchasing stevia leaf or crude stevia extracts, as these are not GRAS.9

While stevia can be a good sugar substitute, it’s important to not consume an excess of stevia in place of sugar. The World Health Organization (WHO) has established an acceptable daily intake of stevia extract of 0–4 mg/kg of body weight.10 For reference, a 1 g Stevia packet typically contains 9-12 mg of stevia extract.

A recent research review found that long-term use of stevia did not reduce body fat in adults or children, despite many people believing that non-nutritive sweeteners would aid in weight loss. The results also suggest that long-term use of non-nutritive sweeteners may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mortality.11

Rather than using only stevia to substitute all sugars, try incorporating other natural sources of sugar into your diet. For example, fruit is a natural source of sugar with beneficial nutrients like fiber and antioxidants.

The exception to this recommendation is people who already have diabetes since they may benefit from using stevia in place of sugar to promote balanced blood sugars.3 Still, always consult your healthcare provider before implementing a new sugar substitute for diabetes.

Also, stevia is a part of the Asteraceae plant family, so if you’re allergic to plants like ragweed, chrysanthemums, dandelions, and daisies, you may be sensitive to stevia, too.1 If you think you may be allergic to stevia, talk with a healthcare provider. 

Tips for Consuming Stevia

There are many ways to enjoy stevia as a sugar substitute. However, since stevia is 200–400 times sweeter than sugar, you’ll need a lot less stevia to get the same sweetness as sugar.9

Here are some ways to use stevia:

  • Stir it into beverages like coffee or tea
  • Enjoy premade probiotic drinks sweetened with stevia
  • Add it to unsweetened oatmeal or yogurt
  • Use it in place of sugar for baked goods
  • Use it to make sweet sauces or salad dressings

A Quick Review

Stevia is a natural sugar alternative from the plant Stevia rebaudiana. It has no nutrients or calories and does not contribute added sugars to the diet. For this reason, Stevia can be useful for people with diabetes who want help regulating blood sugars and for people who want to reduce their added sugar intake.

However, be careful about becoming over-reliant on stevia. It’s generally recognized as safe, but the acceptable daily intake is just 4 mg/kg of body weight. It’s still important to consume food sources of natural sugars like fruit and dairy products for their added nutritional value. 

Shared from: Apple News – Health