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Stevia Is Sweet — But Is It Good for You?

Studies and the FDA say this herbaceous alternative is safe in moderation, so go ahead and sprinkle away!

Person pouring packet of sugar subsitute in cup of coffee, cell phone on table, spoon in hand

Do you like tea or coffee but have kicked sugar to the curb? Have you broken up with artificial sweeteners like saccharin (Sweet n’ Low®), aspartame (Equal®) and sucralose (Splenda®)?


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You still want to keep your sweet tooth satisfied. But how?

An herb called stevia might become your new best friend, and make treats sweet again.

“Stevia is my favorite calorie-free sweetener,” says registered dietitian Natalie Crtalic, RD, LD. “It’s a good alternative for people who don’t want to use sugars or other chemical sweeteners. In my opinion, using stevia is more natural than using other low-calorie, chemically processed sweeteners, like aspartame.”

What is stevia?

The food industry uses the leaves of the stevia plant to make zero-calorie, zero-carb sugar substitutes. In the rainbow of packets in the grocery aisle or on the restaurant table, you’ll typically find stevia in the green ones.

But using sweet stevia isn’t new. People in South America have used this bushy, shrub-like herb’s leaves for centuries. Its history in the U.S. is a lot more recent, though. It received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval as an additive in 2008.

Stevia’s sweetness comes from something called steviol glycoside found in the leaves. And it’s up to 400 times sweeter than the main ingredient of refined sugar, sucrose. This means you’ll need a lot less stevia than sugar in your beverages or sprinkled on fruit.

Intensity of sweeteners compared to table sugar

Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K)
Examples of brand names
Sweet One®, Sunett®
Times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose)
200 times sweeter.
Examples of brand names
Times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose)
20,000 times sweeter.
Examples of brand names
Nutrasweet®, Equal®, Sugar Twin®
Times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose)
200 times sweeter.
Luo Han Guo
Examples of brand names
Nectresse®, Monk Fruit in the Raw®, PureLo®
Times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose)
100 to 250 times sweeter.
Examples of brand names
Times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose)
7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter.
Examples of brand names
Sweet and Low®, Sweet Twin®, Sweet'N Low®, Necta Sweet®
Times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose)
200 to 700 times sweeter.
Steviol Glycosides (Stevia)
Examples of brand names
Truvia®, PureVia®, Enliten®
Times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose)
200 to 400 times sweeter.
Examples of brand names
Times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose)
600 times sweeter.
Examples of brand names
Times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose)
2,000 to 3,000 times sweeter.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration Text Version of Sweetness Intensity of Sweeteners Compared to Table Sugar

How stevia sweeteners are made

Making stevia extract is like brewing tea. The goal? Get the steviol glycosides out of the leaves in the cleanest, purest form possible — an extraction. Processors steep stevia leaves in water and filter the solids from the liquid. After this, they filter solids and residues from the extract to get pure glycosides. These turn into a powder or granules through a special drying process.

Is stevia safe?

The FDA has approved stevia as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) — but as a 95% pure extract. Some approved sweeteners made from this extract include:

  • Enliten®.
  • PureVia®.
  • Stevia in the Raw®.
  • Truvia®.

Not all are 100% stevia. Some contain other chemical sweeteners or sugars — but also enough stevia to meet requirements. But Crtalic says if you want to use a sweetener that’s 100% stevia, it’s important to check labels.

“You always want to be sure you know what’s in there,” she adds. “Is it just stevia? Or are you OK with a combination of ingredients? If you want to stay away from sugar or chemical sweeteners, it’s important to look at what’s in your product.”

So, how much stevia is safe to use? Health officials use the phrase, “acceptable daily intake” or ADI to decide this. Using mathematical formulas, they determine how much edible substances are safe to consume daily across a lifetime. The FDA indicates that you’d need to down about 27 packets of stevia each day to hit the ADI. And remember, with a sweetness intensity of up to 400 times more than sugar, that’s a lot of stevia!

“As we further research it and get to know how it affects our bodies better, it’s important to use stevia in moderation,” Crtalic advises. “You don’t want to consume anything in excess, even if it is generally recognized as safe.”

And if you’re a pet owner and are wondering — stevia is non-toxic to dogs, cats and horses.


Possible benefits

Researchers have examined this sweet leaf for more than 100 years. And they mostly agree that using stevia leaf extracts as sweeteners is generally safe. Some research has also found that stevia may have some health benefits.

A 2017 study says stevia is safe for people who have diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure. It notes that substituting stevia for sugar may even help prevent these conditions. Other studies have pointed out stevia’s potential as an antioxidant and for fighting inflammation. It may also help your kidneys work better.

To be clear, the FDA hasn’t approved stevia as a treatment for any health conditions. Whole stevia leaves, roots, stems and other parts (raw stevia) aren’t FDA-approved. The same goes for crude extracts (below 95% pure) and stevia supplements. Ask your healthcare provider before using stevia if you have a diagnosed medical condition.

Potential drawbacks

It’s also important to understand stevia may have some drawbacks.

In a 2022 review of research on stevia and gut health, reviewers found studies had mixed results on whether stevia supports a healthy gut microbiome or causes an imbalance. A 2024 study found that it’s unlikely stevia harms gut health, at least during the 12-week study period. But that doesn’t rule out common side effects like nausea or bloating.

“There’s also some concern that it can trigger hormone disruption,” Crtalic notes. She’s referring to a study that came out in 2016. Health researchers continue to look into this claim.

The bottom line?

If you want to stay sweet without refined sugar or chemical substitutes, stevia is worth a try. There are many different retail brands, so you can find one that suits your tastebuds, Crtalic says. Think about ingredients, aftertaste and even how it’s packaged.

“I never push anyone toward a specific product,” she continues. “I lay out the options to make sure you’re well educated. And then, you can make your own choice based on your needs.”

And when you find a stevia-based sweetener you like, it’s time to explore its possibilities. There are many ways to use it beyond morning coffee and tea. Love dessert? Give one of these recipes a try:

When cooking with stevia, you’ll want to keep this rule of thumb in mind: Look for recipes that offer measurements for stevia. You can’t just swap it for sugar. This can affect texture, not to mention taste.

“You’ve got to remember that stevia’s not a 1:1 substitute for sugar,” Crtalic says. “It’s a lot sweeter — and a little goes a long way.”


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