Is Stevia Diabetes Friendly?
As with so many highly processed foods today, the scoop on stevia is not so simple. To begin with, there are primarily two categories of stevia sweetener products: the truly naturals and the claim-to-be-naturals. The claim-to-be naturals include popular brands such as Truvia, Stevia in the Raw, and Pure via.
Truvia’s boast is that it is a “natural sweetener” and lures the consumer with the phrase, “From nature, for sweetness.” Likewise, Stevia in the Raw poses as, “Mother Nature’s answer to eating smarter,” and, “100% natural, zero-calorie premium sweetener.” Another rival, Pure Via, claims to be “An all-natural, zero calorie sweetener derived from stevia, a plant native of South America.”
But here’s where this sweetener begins to get sticky! Due to the fact that natural stevia is hundreds of times sweeter than table sugar, it must be diluted with a “bulking agent” in order to dispense it in packets like sugar. In the case of Stevia in the Raw, that “bulking agent” is both dextrose and maltodextrin, sugars derived from corn.
Pure Via also employs dextrose as well as cellulose powder as its “bulking agents” and adds natural flavors. Those sugars are obviously simple carbohydrates that do contain calories. But the FDA lets food manufacturers get away with calling a product “zero-calorie” if a portion size is fewer than 5 calories per serving. This is ludicrous, since we could therefore claim that a quarter teaspoon of sugar has zero-calories!
Finally, Truvia uses erythritol as its “bulking agent.” Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that passes through the digestive tract without being broken down—hence the zero-carb, zero-calorie claim. Are these products truly “natural”? You be the judge!
There are a couple of truly natural, pure stevia products on the market including NuNaturals and SweetLeaf. But prepare for sticker shock and some difficulty dispensing this super-sweet, sugar alternative. NuNaturals normally sells a one-ounce bottle of pure stevia for $17.99 and that one-ounce bottle contains 810 servings! They suggest dispensing it as 1/64th of a teaspoon!
Stevia and the Diabetic
If you research the available information on stevia sweeteners and their effects on diabetes, you will find conflicting information. I suspect that there a number of reasons for the discrepancies. As we have seen, products Stevia in the Raw and Pure Via do in fact contain simple carbohydrates even though they claim “zero.” The carbs they contain can affect blood sugar just like any other carbs.
But what about the pure forms of stevia or Truvia that uses erythritol, which the body cannot process?
Dr. Scott Saunders, MD, explains that the intestines contain “taste buds.” These “taste buds” detect the presence of sweet and trigger the pancreas to make insulin as though we were eating sugar. In fact, he suggests that because stevia and other sugar substitutes are so many times sweeter than sugar, the effect is even greater than with sugar.
Also, research has revealed that we’ve been betrayed by the siren song of artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes. For instance, in 2013, researchers at Purdue University reviewed 12 studies that investigated the effects of diet soda, a common carrier of sugar substitutes. These studies revealed a clear connection between the consumption of artificially sweetened beverages and an increase in weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. 
Also, researchers in France who studied more than 66,000 women over a 14-year-period, found that drinking diet sodas led to a considerably higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The big question is whether stevia offers any better alternative to sugar than any of the other options. Anecdotally, Dr. Saunders tells of a patient who could not lose weight until she stopped using stevia in her tea. And losing weight is one of the keys for controlling blood sugar.
On another front, some question the safety of using stevia. While the FDA has approved the use of the three not-so-natural products mentioned above, pure stevia has not been approved. According to an article on Live Strong, “Long-term stevia use may have adverse effects on your peripheral nervous system.” The same article warns that stevia may bring on or exacerbate depression and other undesirable mood changes.
Of course, any added stresses of a psychological nature can also negatively impact blood sugar.
Having read all the information above, what’s a diabetic to do? Here’s a novel thought: what if we were to begin weaning ourselves from the taste of sweet? Does everything we eat have to be so sweet? What if sweet flavor was something we might delight in simply when eating an apple, an orange or carrot?
- Do NOT buy or use Stevia in the Raw (FDA health warning)
- Do Artificial Sweeteners Make You Fat?
- Does Diet Soda Make You Gain Weight?
Rob Fischer has been writing professionally for over 35 years. His experience includes writing curricula, study guides, articles, blogs, newsletters, manuals, workbooks, training courses, workshops, and books. Rob has written for numerous churches, for Burlington Northern Railroad, Kaiser Aluminum, and Barton Publishing. He has also trained managers in effective business writing. Rob holds two Master’s degrees, both focused heavily on writing. Rob has published eleven books and serves as an editor and ghostwriter for other authors.