What is Stevia?

Stevia leaves next to a pile of stevia

Curious about stevia? You’re not alone. Conflicting information about low- and no-calorie sweeteners seems to be reaching new heights, so we’ve searched high and low for the facts. Here’s the lowdown on stevia.

What is stevia?

The stevia plant is an herbal shrub that is native to South America. It has been used for food and medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. The stevia plant is a source of sweetness that does not contain calories. The primary components responsible for stevia’s sweetness—steviol glycosides—are in their leaves.

Sweeteners extracted from stevia leaves are used as an ingredient to replace sugar in reduced-calorie packaged foods and beverages. They are also used in some brands of tabletop sweetener packets, such as Equal Naturals®, NutraSweet Natural™, Pure Via®, SPLENDA® Naturals Stevia Sweetener, Stevia In The Raw®, SweetLeaf®, Truvia®, Wholesome®, and Whole Earth®.

How is stevia different from sugar?

Both stevia sweeteners and sugar provide a sweet taste in foods and beverages. However, stevia sweeteners do not contain calories or raise blood glucose like sugar does. Stevia sweeteners are 200–350 times sweeter than sugar, so only a tiny amount is needed to provide the same level of sweetness as sugar.

When we consume sugar (sucrose), our body breaks it down into glucose and fructose, uses what it needs, and stores the rest for future use. When we consume stevia sweeteners, in contrast, none of the sweetener components get stored in the body. Instead, gut microbes in the colon use some of the stevia for energy, while the rest gets excreted into our urine.

Is stevia safe?

Yes, stevia sweeteners are safe to consume. They are one of eight types of low- and no-calorie sweeteners permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the U.S. food supply. The first stevia sweetener was recognized as safe by the FDA in 2008.

In addition to the FDA, leading global health authorities such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) have concluded that stevia sweeteners are safe to consume. Stevia sweeteners have also been confirmed as safe by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), Health Canada, and Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Based on the conclusions of global authorities, stevia sweeteners are currently permitted for use in more than 60 countries.

Did you know?

Did you know that the stevia plant is a relative of the sunflower? While the stevia plant may look like a plant from the mint family (Lamiaceae), it’s actually part of the sunflower family (Asteraceae).

Did you know that there is a purpose behind the different colors of common tabletop sweetener packets? For those in the know, differently colored packets make it easier to quickly identify and choose your preferred type of sweetener. You may be most familiar with the color of sugar packets: white packets contain table sugar, and brown packets contain raw sugar. But low- and no-calorie sweetener packets have a consistent color code as well: Green packets contain stevia sweeteners, blue packets contain aspartame, pink packets contain saccharin, and yellow packets contain sucralose.

What’s the bottom line on stevia?

A healthy eating pattern emphasizes mindfulness about portion sizes and the consumption of a variety of foods and beverages. Stevia is not required in a healthy eating pattern, but it’s a safe option for those looking to reduce their consumption of calories from added sugars without having to sacrifice sweetness.

Still looking for more information to leaf through? Check out more of our stevia resources here.