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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What is stevia?

Stevia - have you tried it? It's a natural sweetener that is sugar free. It comes from an herb that looks something like this:

I tried to grow some this year, and didn't have any luck. 

When I started my sugar fast, I wanted to see if we could replace sugar and other sweeteners with stevia at our house. I knew that I didn't want to use any other artificial sweetener because of possible health risks I've heard about with these "frankensugars".

I'd heard of Stevia and that it comes from an herb and contains no actual sugar. I had tried it in my tea a few times. Once I realized that it's waay sweeter than sugar, and I needed to use a whole lot less, I decided I really liked it.

After I started my sugar fast, I made some freezer jam with it, and it turned out well. I replaced the sugar in my bread recipe with Stevia, and that was a success, too. I thought I had found my new sugar! I even ordered me some more from

But then, Dennis got sick to his stomach. He had the same symptoms I'd heard of people having with other artificial sweeteners, stomach cramping and the like. I had already been kind of wondering why stevia looks like a white powdery substance if it comes from the leaves of a plant.

I did a little research online, and came up with, well, a few confusing facts. (The internet will do that to you.)

 Some people do complain of tummy issues when they first eat Stevia, but they eventually get used to it. Dennis has chosen to avoid it, even though we're not sure if it was even the Stevia that made him sick - it could have been the Taco Bell he ate late Friday night. :)

 Also, I found a little more information about the process of turning those green leaves into a nice white powder.

According to this website, the process goes something like this:

Once stevia plants are dried, they undergo a water extraction process. About half of this crude extract contains Rebaudioside A (Reb A). According to Food, Reb A is the sweetest and most flavorful of the many sugar-like substances (steviol-glycosides) contained in the stevia plant.Reb A is refined through crystallization and with the use of specialized equipment that separates the many glycoside molecules in the stevia extract. This process permits manufacturers to select only pure Reb A for commercial use.

That doesn't sound very natural to me, but I don't know that it sounds dangerous, either. Click here to read more.

I did find out that not all Stevia is made this way. I did some research on the different methods of making Stevia extract, and some brands, including sweetleaf, extract the sweet flavor from the leaves using only water. I think that I'll try that brand next.

As it turns out, you can get stevia in powdered or liquid form and it's a good sign with both if it's still 
got some green coloring to it. This means it's less "messed with."

I even found this recipe for making your own stevia extract with dried stevia leaves and vodka. I may try it.

I also found out that the FDA has not approved stevia as a sugar replacement, it has to be sold as a dietary supplement. These guys say it's all a political move by Monsanto's big shots who also seem to be in cahoots with the FDA. 

The FDA says it's because, in a lab, rats who were given half of their body weight in Stevia showed some mutation in their genes, but that study was later shown to be flawed.

 I honestly don't know what to think anymore. I have found that when it comes to most things, there is good looking info on both sides, and everyone is out to benefit their own cause (often that cause is their pocketbook). I guess you could say I'm getting cynical.

*I started to write about my methods of deciding what food advice to take and what to throw out, but that turned into a post all its own. Tune in next time for that info.*

But and however, stevia has been used for centuries in South American and Asia, with no known negative effects. So, that's a good sign.

For me, I'm going to try out the naturally made Stevia extracts, such as Sweetleaf or homemade. We'll also give it another go with Dennis to see if it was even the stevia that made his stomach hurt.
*Update: It was the tacos. We've had no problem with Stevia since we tried reintroducing it to him. :)

What do you think? Stevia - friend or foe? I'd really like to hear your input on the issue!

This post was shared at fight back friday


  1. I like stevia. It is the only non-sugar, non-honey sweetener I have found that doesn't give me a headache. I think aspartame is terrible for you, only because it gives me such a terrible headache. Saccharin has been proven to cause cancer. There are very few foods in this world that will not have both positive and negative affects. We were not meant to live forever. Our bodies are not capable of perfectly metabolizing anything without the creation of something like free radicals or other toxins that must then be excreted from our systems. I think we have to go with the best choices we have NOW and make adjustments as discoveries are made. Right now, Stevia works for me.

  2. Stevia Plants grow best in rich, loamy soil, same as that of the plants which we grow in our garden. If your soil is sandy, add extra nutrients near their roots.
    See that the roots are not affected with abundant of moisture, therefore avoid over watering them which makes the soil soggy. Most organic fertilizers work well on these plants as they release nitrogen slowly.

    1. Thanks for the advice! I would probably have to grow our stevia in a window indoors, as it is so rainy here!