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Stevia: Is it safe?

Stevia: Safety, how to use it & why they’re not all the same.

Growing up being from a Brazilian family, I visited Brazil more times than I can count and from very early on, it was my first introduction to stevia. Unlike here in North America, stevia can be found on many tables in diners and restaurants all across the country. My mother would put it into avocado puddings with a squeeze of lemon after we had dinner and I never felt that it tasted funny like many people do here. And there’s an answer to that: not all stevia is the same. In fact, here is what you need to know.

Truvia & the dawn of the big giants rolling in

When my best friend decided to go sugar-free, I did a little happy dance for her since she’s practically like a sister to me. But when she gagged at the stevia she was using, I was quick to jump onto finding out what brand and sure enough, it was Truvia. For those of you who don’t know, Truvia is owned by Coca-Cola and Cargill and believe it or not, it’s not actually stevia. Rather, it’s a “stevia-based” product and contains erythritol, rebiana and natural flavours. What makes it taste so downright nasty is likely the first ingredient, erythritol that is a sugar alcohol and poorly digested in the system. And certainly rebiana is derived from stevia, but it’s a molecule of stevia and only 2x sweeter rather than 400x sweeter like real stevia. And natural sweeteners: there’s nothing natural about it, it’s still a form of processing chemicals so don’t be fooled.

Stevia taxes the adrenals through hypoglycemia

I know there have been several articles online that states that stevia actually puts our bodies into hypoglycemia and therefore taxes our adrenals. Here’s my rebuttal to that: yes, the body is tricked into thinking its taking in sweet and yes it does clear the blood of glucose. When this happens it makes sense that our cortisol (our stress hormone) does surge. But here’s the thing, this only happens in the absence of carbohydrates. So if you’re using it in desserts made from coconut flour for example then it’s fine, because there still is a carbohydrate present. So unless you’re taking liquid stevia directly in the mouth through a dropper, injecting it or snorting the powder, I can’t see how stevia would be unsafe. In fact, I’ve used it with patients with great success and even with myself. And truthfully it’s been a Godsend.

Stevia: What to watch out for

When buying stevia, stay clear of the following ingredients: dextrose, natural flavouring and xylitol. Xylitol, commonly found in treats at the health food store contains traces of heavy metals. This is because commercially available xylitol is produced by the industrialized process of sugar hydrogenation.  To hydrogenate anything, a catalyst is needed, and in the case of xylitol, Raney nickel is used which is a powdered nickel-aluminum alloy. Tasty right? And that’s not all. While xylitol can come from birch trees, it is way cheaper for a manufacturer to source it from corn – much of which is genetically modified. And lastly, xylitol contributes to gut imbalance because they aren’t broken down in the stomach like other sweeteners and draws water into the bowels allowing for the unmetabolized portion to ferment. Yummy.

Balance

Based on my training in not only Nutrition but also in Chinese Medicine, I’m all for balance and I don’t believe that you should over consume anything – whether its quinoa, packaged almond milk or stevia. Instead, if you want to cut down on sugar, then use less honey and replace a portion with stevia or better yet use fruit as your sweetener. In North America we are all about excess, so getting a grip on our consumption of foods will help us to attain some sort of balance. Our purchasing decisions not only impacts our health, but also effects the societal, cultural and economic of others. So choose and consume wisely.

In the meantime, if you’ve been following my work, I am certainly not about scare tactics in the least. So if you’ve chosen stevia as your preferred sweetener, then kudos to you for trying to reduce your sugar intake and making a change in the right direction. You see, chances are there might be a day that you’ll have a burger, some chips with salsa and even some gluten!  And you know what? That doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you human.

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