What is Stevia?

We aren't going to sugar-coat it—stevia is a good sweetening option

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Get the facts about stevis, and compare several brands.
Want to cut down on sugar but hate artificial sweeteners? Try stevia in these forms.

Updated Jun 29, 2017 @ 12:38 pm

You likely want to cut down on sugar, but you won’t ingest artificial sweeteners—we won’t, either! Chances are you’ve heard someone mention stevia lately. Here are the basics, plus  our brand comparison.

Stevia is an herb that naturally tastes sweeter than sugar. It’s considered non-caloric, has zero impact on blood sugar levels, and has been used as a sweetener and medicine in its native South America for hundreds of years. Even better, studies suggest it might help reduce blood pressure, be anti-inflammatory, improve immunity and digestion, and fight weight gain.

Yet there are some minuses. The main complaint is that the natural leaf has a bitter aftertaste. That’s why the packets were invented. Companies refine whole leaf stevia into a concentrated extract, “rebaudioside A.” To improve the taste, some add non-caloric sweetening components such as sugar alcohols. The stevia extracts are up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, which experts suggest could trigger cravings for more sweets. They’re processed (sometimes with chemicals, sometimes without), so they don’t have the same benefits as whole leaves. Some people are concerned that the additives could be genetically modified. But used in moderation, they’re a much better choice than artificial sweeteners, and studies show no ill effects. It’s up to you which additives you’re willing to accept, or if you’d prefer the whole leaf form. Here’s the lowdown on the stevia brands:

Truvia

This brand is one of the most popular because of its non-bitter taste. It’s blended with erythritol, a no-calorie sugar alcohol that many people like for its digestibility (read what we wrote about erythritol erythritol). It also contains “natural flavors,” which are blended in a lab (learn about natural flavors natural flavoring).

Stevia in the Raw

In spite of the word “raw” on its label, dextrose is this product’s first ingredient. (“In the Raw” is a brand name.) And while this is listed as calorie-free, dextrose actually has about four calories per gram. Fewer than four calories doesn’t have to be listed on the label, so if you eat enough packets, you will be getting some calories from sugar. Still, if you love the taste, this could be the packet for you.

Pure Via

This product is also blended with dextrose, plus cellulose powder (often used as a thickener or stabilizer that can also boost fiber content) and “natural flavors.” Fans enjoy the non-bitter taste.

Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Stevia

The first ingredient is organic agave inulin, a processed fiber derived from blue agave (see what we’ve written about inulin agave inulin). The stevia extract is also organic and non-GMO. The third ingredient is silica (sand), which is added to prevent clumping. Some users note a laxative effect from the inulin.

SweetLeaf

The only addition to this product is inulin fiber. SweetLeaf prides itself as being the only stevia sweetener on the market for which “no chemicals, solvents, alcohols or additional processes are used at any stage of production,” and it was the first FDA-approved stevia in America. The potential negative is that it may have a bitter aftertaste. If you really want stevia’s benefits and don’t mind or taste the bitterness, you could ask for ground leaves at your local health food store (or grow your own), which are only 30-40 times sweeter than sugar.

We’re sweet on that.