Artificial sweeteners have been controversial for decades. In the 1960s, when the idea of low-calorie substitutes for sugar was still fairly new, animal studies suggested that saccharine and cyclamate could be dangerous. While saccharine is still available in the US, cyclamate is not. As each new sugar substitute was introduced, the food industry assured the public that it was safe. Doubts have remained for many artificial sweeteners, so some people are hopeful that a naturally-derived sweetener such as stevia will be better.

How Safe Is Stevia?

Q. Is there any research regarding the safety of stevia? I am concerned about the dangers of artificial sweeteners but don’t want to consume regular sugar.

A. Artificial sweeteners have come under scrutiny because they may not help people lose weight. In addition, sucralose might make inflammatory bowel disease worse (Rodriguez-Palacios et al, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, April 23, 2018).

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a plant native to South America. The compounds in its leaves (including rebaudioside A) are 200 to 400 times sweeter than sugar. A recent review found no toxicity and some potential therapeutic effects (Current Pharmaceutical Design, vol. 23, no. 11, 2017).

How Well Do Artificial Sweeteners Work?

The appeal of sugar substitutes is that they would allow us to have our cake–or our soft drinks!–and still stay slim. Diet soda is supposed to help people lose weight, but recent research suggests that replacing diet drinks with water helps women with type 2 diabetes lose more weight (Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, October 11, 2016).

Does Diet Soda Really Help People Lose Weight?

The study included 81 Iranian women who were trying to lose weight and accustomed to consuming diet drinks. The volunteers were randomly divided into two groups. One group was allowed to drink diet soda after lunch five times a week while the other was asked to switch to water.

They were not allowed diet beverages at any other time of day, and they were asked not to use artificial sweeteners in their tea or coffee. The six-month program gradually increased the exercise of all the participants and held all of them to a reduced calorie diet.

The Results of the Trial:

Both groups lost weight, but at the end of the study, those drinking water instead of diet soda had lost about 2.5 pounds more.

Did Diet Soda Help Diabetes?

Women drinking water also had more improvement in their insulin sensitivity. One researcher noted that these results raise the question of whether diet beverages are truly beneficial for people with diabetes. Until we have a similar study using stevia instead of sugar, we won’t know if this sweetener is truly healthful.

A Response from the Industry:

We received this comment from AmeriBev. We assume that is a representative of the soft drink industry:

“A substantial body of research, including human clinical trials, supports that beverages that contain low- and no-calorie sweeteners are an effective tool as part of an overall weight loss or weight management plan. In fact, the CHOICE study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in January of 2013 confirms that these beverages can be an important tool in helping reduce calories.”

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  1. Mel

    I have been using what I believe to be “pure stevia” extract powder as the label says. No ingredients other than “90% Steviosides Extract powder” One smidgin sweetens my cup of coffee enough for my taste. It does not dissolve as easily but needs a good stirring, then it’s fine. I bought it online. FYI I bought measuring spoons as well that measure from a drop, smidgeon, pinch, dash and tad. I love them.

  2. Tammy

    This is a disappointing article and doesn’t answer the question the title promises. I expect more from you! If you aren’t going to answer the question, please change the title!

    • Terry Graedon

      Tammy, we thought you would want more from us than just “yes”

  3. George M.

    I have taken rutin 500 mg per tablet ever since my first (and only) blood clot. At the onset of a second blood clot (eight years ago) I increased to 2 grams daily and nipped the forming blood clot out of existence. I truly like the quality of rutin at Swanson, great quality, never a let down, and very low price.

  4. Linda

    Stevia is not a “chemical” or an “artificial” sweetener, but a natural sweetener. Sugar may only have 16 calories but few people have only a teaspoon a day! Also diabetes has nothing to do with calories, but rather the insulin response that sugar triggers.

  5. Veronica
    New York

    Didn’t answer the question: How safe is Stevia? Instead talks mostly about artificial sweeteners…..

  6. Marge

    Stevia isn’t an artificial sweetener, and shouldn’t be categorized as such. It’s an herb. I can’t believe how often I’m seeing this misinformation on websites that are meant to “inform” people.

  7. Martha

    I still don’t know from this article whether Stevia is safe or not. What did I miss?

  8. Lynn


    I haven’t read any literature regarding the safety of “processed stevia” – the only literature/study you cite is using stevia leaves.

    Has anyone done a study regarding processed stevia? Processed stevia is a white powder or a beige liquid – either way, it’s still processed as the stevia leaves are green.

  9. Jan

    For what it is worth, for many years I used artificial sweeteners in coffee, tea, and drank diet sodas. Within about a year of stopping all artificial sweeteners and not making any other changes in my diet except drinking water instead of diet soda, I lost 10 pounds.

  10. Lee
    North Carolina

    I began using Stevia as a sugar substitute, thinking it was safe and would help me lose weight. Within two weeks I began having digestive issues that got progressively worse. I suspected the Stevia and stopped using this product. Within 3 days all symptoms were gone. Started doing research on this product and found most of the store brands were not from the Stevia tree leaves at all but a much cheaper chemical byproduct waste from the Oil and Gas industry production with a high sweetness index in the chemical structure. How can the FDA let people market such a sham and hurt unsuspecting consumers? All the time I thought this was a natural product from the leaves of a tree !

  11. Steve
    Everett, WA.

    Many artificial sweeteners do not drive blood sugar but do drive an insulin response. Does Stevia drive an insulin response? If so, that’s bad as that will drive weight gain and potentially insulin resistance over time.

  12. Pat

    What I grow and consume at home is stevia. The crap you purchase is NOT stevia. Even when it says pure or real or whatever, it is still cut, processed, bulked up, what ever they do to it to make a profit.

  13. Chris
    Maple Grove, MN

    I used to work at a job where I mixed the syrup used to make diet sodas. It was just after cyclamates were banned. I remember huge stacks of banned pop stacked up in the plant waiting to be disposed of.

    Weight loss is a big problem for many, but I wish people wouldn’t turn to things promising an easy fix. Some may be worse than the original problem. If you go through more discomfort, you may be more inclined not to backslide in the future and repeat the process. Hunger and exercise won’t kill you. And if you try fasting you may find it gets easier the more you do it. Try a liquid fast to start with and then a day with only water. As you deal with your hunger, keep in mind that your body is not starving; it’s eating up the stored food from the past, and that’s exactly what you want. Just stay hydrated! Good luck!

  14. Diane

    I have had allergic reactions to Stevia, and my dr says that is increasingly common.
    Can you post some information on that now that many kombuchu and other drinks include Stevia?

  15. Jerome H. W.

    As a former diet controlled type 2 diabetic, and now, having had my pancreas removed, I’m a type 1, I can tell you that stevia raises blood sugar substantially.

  16. Kpilgrim

    Daily use of aspartame for several years resulted in my being diagnosed with an extremely low platelet count. After being off of aspartame for three years, upon recommendation of my oncologist, the platelet count has slowly rebounded.

  17. Mary Jane

    When I stopped eating sugar (20 years ago), my taste buds changed, and my desire for anything sweet is almost nonexistent now.

  18. Nora

    Sugar only adds 16 calories/teaspoon, so why use chemicals?

    • Jim

      It’s not so much about the calories, as it’s more about the carbs.

    • Patty

      Nora, I have found that eating sugar, potatoes, or “white” pasta causes my blood sugar to drop more rapidly than normal and I must eat again sooner. I am not diabetic, but insulin resistant. The only treatment for my condition is to eat when my blood sugar drops, so eating sugar causes me to consume more calories sooner, not just the calories from the sugar, but by eating more calories to handle the additonal insulin my body dumps when I do eat sugar.

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