Refined sugar is bad for you. Fact. There is no debate there. So when people are looking for a healthier alternative to sweeten their food, stevia appears to be a good option. It has become increasingly popular over the last few years and recently even Coco-Cola has jumped on the bandwagon. Now, I am not condoning Coke in any way, shape or form however you know that when Coca-Cola is doing it, it is a fad that is here to stay. So is Stevia all it is cracked up to be?
Research has showed that stevia is a low allergenic compound. No published reports have shown Stevia to be immunologically active when taken internally. Similarly, studies have shown that there is no evidence to suggest Stevia has any affects or contributions to allergic dermatitis and the likes (3).
One thing to watch out for when using Stevia is the particular brand you are using. Many brands contain much more then just Stevia and so it is worthwhile checking the ingredients and being informed about what you are consuming. It is best to consume stevia in a pure powder form, one that does not contain additives. You can find pure powdered Stevia from most health food stores. If it contains erythritol that is generally fine (it is actually a prebiotic funnily enough (5)).
Whilst, there are currently no documented negative effects of Stevia consumption, it may be worth noting that it may be beneficial to reduce sweetener intake overall. This is important in order to reduce your 'taste' for sweet food. It is possible to train your taste buds to crave less sweetness and thereby making turning down that sugary dessert that much easier! Whilst stevia may contain no actual sugar- it still provides you with a sweet sensation thereby reinforcing that 'sweet tooth' (3). So yes, stevia is definitely a great sweetener alternative to use here and there when you would otherwise have sugar, but I wouldn't be adding it to every meal and starting to eat stevia sweetened desserts every night just because they are 'healthy'.
1. Geuns, J. M. C. (2002). Safety evaluation of Stevia and stevioside. In R. Atta ur (Ed.), Studies in Natural Products Chemistry (Vol. Volume 27, Part H, pp. 299-319): Elsevier.
2. Geuns, J. M. C. (2003). Stevioside. Phytochemistry, 64(5), 913-921. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0031-9422(03)00426-6
3. Goyal, S. K., Samsher, & Goyal, R. K. (2010). Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) a bio-sweetener: a review. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 61(1), 1-10. doi: doi:10.3109/09637480903193049
4. Anton, S. D., Martin, C. K., Han, H., Coulon, S., Cefalu, W. T., Geiselman, P., & Williamson, D. A. (2010). Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. Appetite, 55(1), 37-43. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2010.03.009