What Is Stevia – Is It Healthy and Safe To Use?

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Stevia Plant at FearlessFatLoss.comDo you feel addicted to sugar and you are committed to eliminating it from your daily diet? This could be because you want to lose weight and you know you will eliminate sugar cravings (and therefore, overeating) by eliminating the refined sugar, or you just want to have peace in your life around food. At the same time, you would like to have an alternative, just something to use if you want to sweeten your food. The problem is that you’ve been educating yourself about the dangers of artificial sweeteners, so you also want to stay away from them in addition to all of the different forms of sugar that are out there! You’re feeling a little frustrated because even though you know that you’ll still be having sweets in your life in the form of fresh fruits, you were hoping to have some kind of alternate sweetener to use once in a while. Well, here’s a question for you, the same question that I’ve received most often from the smart readers of Fearless Fat Loss: “Have you heard of Stevia?” It might just be exactly what you’ve been looking for. Stevia is an herbal sweetener derived from a shrub indigenous to South America. The shrub is a member of the chrysanthemum family and a leaf from it is called Stevia rebaundiana bertoni. It’s from the leaves that the sweetener commonly known as Stevia is derived. You can purchase it in either a granulated white powder form or as a liquid, and that extract (stevioside) is 100 – 300 times sweeter than sugar. Therefore, a little goes a long way. What’s interesting to me is that many people haven’t heard of Stevia. Why? Because even though it’s been used by humans for 100’s of years and is currently being used as a sweetener in South America (since the 1500’s they’ve used the leaf to sweeten their tea), Japan (since 1970), South Korea, China, Thailand, and New Zealand, the FDA doesn’t allow it to be sold in America as a sweetener, only as a dietary supplement (since 1995). They claim that there has not been sufficient evidence provided to demonstrate its safety even though there are no health complaints or health detriments reported from all of those people who are regularly using Stevia as a sweetener in the countries I listed above. What is even more interesting is that there have been so many claims of health dangers associated with the use of Aspartame (Nutra Sweet) and even Sucralose (Splenda), as well as refined sugar, but the FDA sanctions all of these products. This leads into another topic that I want to get into, but for now, let’s stick to what I’ve learned about Stevia:

  • It is used in other industrialized countries outside of America as a sweetener in place of non-nutritional, addictive sugar, or artificial sweeteners and no harmful effects have been reported.
  • Japan has been importing Stevia from Paraguay since 1970, using it to sweeten beverages and other processed foods with the same regularity that high fructose corn syrup, crystalline fructose, and refined sugar are used to sweeten beverages and processed foods in America.
  • Stevia isn’t giving the Japanese (or the other people using it) the health problems that the corn sugars, refined sugars, and artificial sweeteners are giving their consumers.
  • Stevia has been successfully grown in the U.S. (no excuses then, we wouldn’t have to import it) and besides China is also being grown in Malaysia and South Korea, where it is also used as a sweetener.
  • Stevia is an herb, a plant, it is not an artificial, man-made sweetener, however it does go through processing to create the powder or liquid form.
  • Stevia is currently only allowed to be sold in America as a food supplement but not as a sweetener (since 1995).
  • On the other end you can find the argument that Stevia causes male reproductive problems, cancer, and metabolic issues in laboratory animals, however these issues have not been proven or reported in humans.

Furthermore, I find it very interesting that the FDA has been petitioned regarding Stevia 3 times since 1989, and according to the CSPI (Center For Science In The Public Interest), none of these documents are posted on the FDA’s website. I searched the FDA site myself for “Stevia petition” and didn’t find the petition that the CSPI linked to from their site, however I did find something on the FDA’s site re: Stevia which is even more interesting: An Open Statement Concerning The Artificial Sweetener, Aspartame by Arthur M. Evangelista, a former FDA Investigator. In this statement, the former FDA investigator states that Aspartame is a neurotoxin and that the only reason Stevia was outlawed was to keep the artificial sweeteners in business. Here is an excerpt:

….Stevia which got outlawed for no reason except to keep consumers using the toxin aspartame. There are at least 500 studies on Stevia showing safety and you can contact the Stevita Company in Dallas, Texas, Oscar Rodes (petro |at| mindspring.com). The actual consumption by humans without a single report of undesired side effects over a long period of time (30 years in Japan, 15 years in Brazil in the extract form, and centuries in Paraguay and Brazil on the leaves form) demonstrates that the product is safe for its intended use – that is as a sweetener.

I got chills reading this document and even though it is lengthy, I strongly suggest that you read it. I cannot quote the entire document and it does get into another topic (Aspartame), however the statement by the former FDA Investigator Arthur M. Evangelista can give you immense motivation to get off of Aspartame even if you’re not motivated to use Stevia. I started this article with the intention that I wanted to give you the benefits of Stevia and the fact that there aren’t any known health issues related to it, at least there haven’t been any in 30 years of use in Japan, or since the 1500′s in Paraguay (LOL!!). However, after finding that statement from the former FDA Investigator, this reinforces one of my main messages that I wish to convey here at Fearless Fat Loss: those tasty boxed, bagged, and/or frozen convenience foods are full of stuff (uh, crap IMHO) that the body wasn’t built to ingest and they are not going to help you either lose weight or live in optimum health. You just cannot rely on the FDA or the government to take care of you, you must educate yourself and also listen to your own body. Your body will tell you that corn sugars, refined sugars, and Aspartame aren’t good for you if you give it a chance to. Simply read all of the Ingredients Labels of all of the food in your home and for the next 60 days eliminate ALL artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, anything and everything that you cannot pronounce or do not understand. Your body will tell you how it feels! (You’ll need to wait until the first 2 weeks pass because during that time you’ll be detoxing) Just because the refined sugars and other chemicals don’t kill you immediately doesn’t mean that they aren’t wreaking havoc with your system and your health, not to mention your weight. Learn more about the dangers of artificial sweeteners and advantages of Stevia in Dr. Mercola’s book, Sweet Deception: Sweet Deception on Amazon Learn more about the dangers of refined sugar in the books Sugar Shock! (contains info on advantages of Stevia, too) and Sugar Blues: Sugar Shock on AmazonSugar Shock! Amazon - Sugar BluesAmazon

Photo Credit: hebam3000
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  • http://just-a-mom-thats-more-than-enough.blogspot.com/ JanB

    I love stevia. I use it in my oatmeal. When I was really out of control with my eating and really heavy (272 pounds) I would make a gallon of iced tea with 5 tea bags and 2 cups of sugar. That’s over 1500 calories just right there. I can tell you that it’s sugar that is toxic, not the stevia. I have about 2-4 packets a day with my bowl of oatmeal and other that that, I use no sweetener at all. Nothing. I hate splenda. It makes me dizzy when I have used it for about two weeks in a row. I literally fell over when bathing my daughter and could not sit back up. The dizziness went away in about two days and I have never used it again.

    I am 164 pounds now. I am off of the 5 medicines that I was on. I was really sick and dying from being overweight. Exercise, eating right and getting off of sugar has made all the difference. Well, make that getting off of sugar AND flour. In my opinion, flour is just as bad as sugar.

  • http://emperorsherbologist.com Allen

    JoLynn,

    This was a very informative post. It should be read by everyone. So many of the posts and web sites talking about stevia and stevioside and blogs for that matter are not well thought out. They are simply copies of everyone else’s.

    This post of yours however, is unique.

    It is thoughtful and proves your point very well.

    People must take personal responsibility for the foods they eat. No one is watching out for you. So as a consumer, it is imperative you read the labels, avoid artificial ingredients including sucralose, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, and the rest. Buy organic meats (no rGBH — linked to breast cancer and prostate cancer), eggs (not fed diets high in antibiotics and other potentially harmful ingredients), and milk (no rGBH), whenever possible, and no farmed fish (especially salmon which is extremely hazardous to your health if farmed). Yeah, it might be a bit more expensive for now, but it’s cheaper than the inevitable suffering from cancer and other diseases and the costs of treating them when you use those chemically laced products.

    The government agencies are only interested in protecting their future jobs when they retire with (in the case of the FDA and department of Agriculture) Big Pharma, and big Agra (corporate farms and their suppliers like Monsanto).

    And just so you and any of your other readers know my credibility, we were one of the very first companies to sell stevia and stevioside on the internet and have been continuously since 1996.

    By the way, thanks for the link to the FDA. I never found that one before.

    Excellent Post! Excellent!

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    @Jan, you’re so right that sugar is toxic! Thank you for sharing your experience, I didn’t know that you had lost so much weight. You’ve really accomplished a lot, and I agree with you on flour. I feel so much better when I not only abstain from refined sugar but also refined flour. I sometimes make recipes with oat flour (I grind the regular oatmeal in my blender) but that’s nothing like white flour.

    @Allen, thank you so much, I really appreciate your feedback! I try my best to be unique here on my blog by including my own opinion, and at the same time I also love to research and learn more about our modern (albeit unhealthy!) processed food environment. I really believe that it’s at the core of so many people’s health issues, and it makes perfect sense that it is. Besides that I can vouch for how crappy I feel when I eat processed, sugar filled, salt laden foods, and how much better I feel when I’m eating clean!

    This was a good post to write because I learned a lot more about Stevia, too. The first time I heard of it was in 2004. It’s not like it’s in the forefront of the public eye…like it needs to be! :)

    Thanks again!

  • http://www.skillett.com Keiron

    Hi JoLynn,

    I too was a sugar addict and didn’t think I could get away from it – a year on I have done (although not with Stevia), for one reason alone:
    My fear of dentists is far greater than my sugar addiction!!!

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Keiron,

    You’ve been sugar-free for a year? That’s awesome, WTG! ;) You mentioned you don’t use Stevia, do you use any artificial sweeteners or are you enjoying the taste of whole foods cooked up with spices and herbs?

    That’s also some great motivation for getting off sugar….fear of the dentist! I haven’t found any information that Stevia causes cavities, so there’s all the more reason to get off sugar and on to Stevia! ;)

  • http://www.skillett.com Keiron

    Artificial Sweeteners in coffee – and then nothing else!! I can live with that twice a day!

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Keiron,

    I’ve used Splenda myself but am working on making the switch over to Stevia. Many years ago I used to drink a lot of diet coke and diet pepsi and the Nutra Sweet made the top of my head feel very funny each morning, like it was fuzzy. It went away after I stopped using it.

    I don’t have that reaction with Splenda but I also have to advise anyone who reads this about the reports of it being unhealthy for the body. There are people who have bad reactions to it.

  • Aaron

    I finally got a chance to read this, and I must say that this is a DYNAMITE article JoLynn! Your research skills are something to learn from.

    That article on the FDA website is a killer find! Eventually stevia will make itself known again in countries where it has gone relatively unnoticed, but until then, informing people in this fashion is an honorable feat indeed!

    I plan on introducing stevia to my father because he has blood sugar problems for years. If he uses stevia every day to sweeten his tea instead of refined sugar, then maybe it will help! Also, I use honey to sweeten my tea and sometimes my oat-bran for breakfast, and I’ve heard that even honey has similar harmful effects that refined sugars have. Now i wonder if un-refined honey has the same story…

    Anyhow, thank you for the very informative article and I very much look forward to the rest of them.

    I wish you happy and healthy holidays!

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Aaron,

    Your welcome, and thank you for following up with me to remind me to get this article done! :)

    Re: the honey, unless it’s raw, organic, honey, it more than likely contains high fructose corn syrup. In fact I was reading in Sugar Shock! (pg 286) that honey is more concentrated that table sugar, so I’d stick with Stevia. ;)

    Happy holidays to you and your family, too Aaron! I wish you all a very happy and healthy 2008! :)

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  • brenda

    where do you buy stevia? I use splenda only in my hot tea but would like to switch after reading all this but is it availble in the stores like splenda?

  • Aaron

    Best place to get stevia is online. The one brand i found at my local grocery store was “sweet leaf” and comes in a green box with packets.

    heres one website with good prices for stevia:

    http://www.swansonvitamins.com

    The only thing to really watch out for when you buy stevia is that some brands have “fillers” like fiber in them so the companies can save money with the “good for your heart!” claims and others like it.

    The jars that you can buy from swanson have some honey powder in them, but i dont think its that much. but just in case, id buy the packets from them if thats where you end up buying it from, because the packets do not have honey powder in them.

    good luck!

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Brenda,

    I’ve bought it at Meijer, a local health food store, and Whole Foods.

    I haven’t bought it online like Aaron suggested but you can check it out. I personally wouldn’t want any honey powder in mine because that could trigger my sugar addiction.

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Aaron,

    Thanks very much for the suggestion on getting Stevia online. Also…I didn’t forget about that other post on Stevia I told you I’d write, I need to get to it! :)

  • Aaron

    I patiently await that second stevia article JoLynn.

    Also, the reason why its best to get Stevia online is because you will be lucky if you can find a good brand for a good price. The one I found at a local grocery store had the fiber filler in it and of course it was priced a bit high.

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Aaron,

    I’m really glad you are patient (thank you!), I know it was awhile ago that I said I’d write that post (ack!) – I’ve been trying out different brands and forms of Stevia and wanted to have a little bit of experience with it before I posted about it.

    I just stopped using Splenda recently, which is good, because it means I’ve been using Stevia more often. :)

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