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Is Stevia Paleo? 5 Reasons Why Stevia Isn’t Paleo

Louise | December 2
Is Stevia Paleo? 5 Reasons Why Stevia Isn't Paleo

You’ve probably heard about this rave “all-natural” practically zero-calorie sweetener called stevia (if you don’t know what it is then read this article). But is stevia Paleo?

Can you safely add it to all your baked goods, coffee, and tea, and be healthy while doing it?

That’s what this article will delve into.

Is Stevia Paleo?

The title of this article probably gives it all away – we don’t consider stevia to be very Paleo, although occasional use isn’t the end of the world!

Unlike some sensational articles, we don’t think stevia is dangerous or unsafe in any way (in fact, recent journal reviews point to the opposite and suggest that it can be beneficial for hypertension patients and diabetics). But, we do think there are good reasons for avoiding stevia nonetheless.

And here are the 5 reasons why we don’t think stevia is very Paleo:

      1. May Prevent You From Curbing Sugar Cravings

        Many people start a Paleo diet because they’re addicted to sugar and carbs. Unfortunately, switching from your regular sugar to stevia may worsen that sugar craving instead of cure it.

        Because stevia (as opposed to raw honey) contains zero calories, your body is getting the sensation of sweetness (which your body ancestrally associates with getting safe nutrients and calories) while getting nothing.

        Therefore, a bit later, your body will start craving sugars again (because it’s still deficient in nutrients).

      2. May Affect Your Gut Bacteria

        Jeremy and I are obsessed about healing our gut, and that means getting our gut bacteria back in order again! So, we try to avoid anything that could knock our gut out of order.

        A recent study published in Nature suggests that non-caloric artificial sweeteners (the study was done with saccharin, sucralose, or aspartame) caused “dysbiosis and metabolic abnormalities” (dysbiosis of the gut refers to the shift in bacteria in your gut e.g., you may get too much of some and too little of another).

        While the study did not investigate stevia, it is a possibility that we’d prefer to avoid since there are other options.

      3. May Affect Your Body Sugar Levels

        This is generally only an issue if you’re consuming stevia with very little other foods. Specifically this could be problematic in stevia-sweetened zero-calorie drinks like Zevia or black coffee/tea sweetened with stevia.

        The sweet taste of the stevia will stimulate your body into thinking that it’s about to receive a dose of sugar. Your body clears the glucose from your blood stream (insulin levels go up) and when your body finds out that no glucose came into your body, adrenaline and cortisol production will go up to bring glucose back.

        So, if you’re consuming stevia without anything else that contains glucose (e.g., a cup of coffee or tea sweetened with just stevia), then you could be placing undue stress on your body over and over again since drinking these zero-calorie drinks is something we do a lot of.
        is stevia paleo

      4. May Contain Other Non-Paleo Ingredients

        This is a huge reason, but I placed it at number 4 on the list because you can find good sources of pure stevia that doesn’t contain non-Paleo fillers like dextrose, erythritol, xylitol, etc., if you look hard for it. So, if you do want to purchase stevia, then make sure to read the ingredients carefully. These are 2 brands that I’ve found to be pure – this powdered stevia and this liquid stevia (just contains water as additional ingredient).

      5. May Affect Hormonal Balance

        I left this reason until last because it is perhaps the most controversial. As Sarah Ballantyne notes in The Paleo Approach, studies in rats have shown that stevioside (the main type of glycoside found in stevia – see this article for more information about glycosides, steviosides, and Reb A) may alter hormone balance. In fact, one traditional use of stevia in South America was to control fertility.

        As Sarah writes: “While small and occasional consumption of stevia likely has little to no impact on general health, it should not be consumed on a regular basis especially by those with altered hormone balance and dysfunctional immune systems.”

        So, if you have any sort of hormone or fertility issues, then this may be another reason for you to avoid stevia.

stevia plant and sweetener

Isn’t Stevia Still Better Than Other Artificial Sweeteners?

It’s possible that stevia is “better” than other artificial sweeteners. In particular, most studies linking artificial sweeteners to gut dysbiosis and to obesity were done on artificial sweeteners like saccharin, sucralose, or aspartame rather than on stevia. That doesn’t mean that stevia is better, but there’s no evidence to show that it’s as bad.

Further, stevia has been used for longer (albeit in a less processed form than the stevia extracts we buy in the stores today) – it’s suggested that the stevia plant has been used in South America for over 1,500 years.

Lastly, there are some health benefits linked to stevia (lowering blood pressure, lowering blood sugar levels, anti-inflammatory) that artificial sweeteners do not offer.

So What Should You Use Instead of Stevia?

Jeremy and I use local raw honey when possible. If we can’t get local raw honey, then regular raw honey like this one.

The reason why we consider local raw honey to be better than stevia is because it’s not zero-calories and they contain many minerals that may help you digest it too. So, none of the reasons mentioned above would be true for local raw honey. We also try to keep our honey consumption down as much as possible.

Why Do I Use Stevia In Some Of My Recipes?

I do occasionally use high quality stevia in baked goods, but I prefer to use it to reduce the amount of honey added into a recipe (e.g., replace half the honey with stevia). I never use stevia to sweeten a non-caloric drink. That way, I ensure I avoid problems #1 and #3 described above.

For people who have blood sugar issues, putting even raw honey into their foods isn’t great, and so if you are going to make sweets and desserts, then a tad bit of stevia is in my opinion the better way to go.

The best way is to give up sweet things altogether of course…but that’s an issue for another article!

What Are Your Thoughts on Stevia?

Do you use it? If so, which brand do you like, and if not, why not? Let us know in the comments below.

Images: Copyright © © Heike Rau from fotolia

J.J. - December 4

Hi Louise and Jeremy:

I do apprecitase your emails. Seems these days email is an antique – but for me (I’m antique) – I use this daily. I’m not a social media person. First – the Fish Taco recipe today was perfect timing – I just bought the costco bag of mahi – and will have acos for supper tonihgt! Second – thank you for the “advance” on downloading the new Paleo recipes – (book). And last, the article on Stevia was timely – for me with hyper tension and diabetic (type II) – the stevia – in a small way – is good. So for the season to you both – Happy Holidays! J.J.

    Louise Hendon - December 4

    Thank you so much J.J.!!

Sharon - December 12

I have had insulin dependent diabetes for 35 years. After being diagnosed, I tried to use artificial sweeteners but I found that the bitter aftertaste was too “artificial”. So I decided to limit my use of ANY sweetener. If I was really desperate to have something sweet I would use white sugar or have nothing. For a while I was using sugar free mints but I ended up with problems digesting sorbitol, xylitol etc. therefore I do not trust Stevia to be safe for me. On my paleo diet (to which I am very new) I have been using occasional Pure Maple Syrup, honey or coconut sugar. My main problem with the paleo diet has been low blood sugars, for which I have to take glucose or risk becoming comatose. Therefore I do need to be able to have some real sugars available to use to counteract any insulin reactions I may have.

    Louise Hendon - December 13

    Hi Sharon – low blood sugar when you take insulin is a very dangerous issue. My dad had it for a while, and it was what prompted him to stop taking insulin altogether after consulting with his doctor (he gradually decreased the amount of insulin he was taking). He became a lot more careful about what he ate after he stopped taking insulin too!

Roberta - December 12

I use the sweetleaf brand and occasionally the nustevia brand if I’m out because its easy to carry in a purse or bag. The article didn’t mention get the real dehydrated leaf like any other herb. It’s not as pretty and tastes a little plant like but its not bad in a recipe OE vegan smoothie.

Laura Karoll - December 12

Paleo is about NOT using prossessed foods, but I’m assuming you’re talking about prossessed stevia. What if you grow it and use the leaves? I don’t use it much, but if you use the leaves in, for instance, iced tea, do you still have the same reservations?

    Louise Hendon - December 13

    Hi Laura – great question, and I have tried to grow my own stevia plant before! I think using real stevia leaves would bypass some of those issues, and it probably would also curb over consumption of it.

Charles Allison - December 12

I use a bit of liquid stevia to sweeten my daily kefir smoothie. Kefir is a little bit bit tart and I put frozen berries of some kind in it or perhaps coffee for flavor and nutrients. Kefir is a perfect foil for any symbiosis in the gut because it is chock full of probiotic bacteria and yeasts that are very beneficial for your digestion and for your immune system. I have read that at least half of your immune is in your gut. I make my own kefir because commercial kefir usually has sweeteners, flavors, preservatives, etc. And it is much less expensive to make your own.

Sheila - December 12

I use Stevia every morning in my coffee along with some unsweetened almond milk, I don’t use it to cook with but a friend of mine is diabetic and uses it to make applebutter and other sweets, I guess for him, it is the best alternative. I did not know it could disturb your gut bacteria, good to know. I guess in small amounts it is ok. I use raw honey always as well. Thanks for this great article and Happy Holidays!

Angela @paleo kitchen lab - December 12

I have read things like this about stevia before but frankly I have never used it because luckily I find the flavor to be extremely unpleasant so no temptation there. And I have given up sweeteners this month for my first whole 30 and am totally surviving on no sweeteners at all.

Linda Grant - December 12

Well, actually I would have to disagree with you on all counts. I have been Paleo for many, many years and also sugar (and honey) free. Being so long without “sweet” I find that the smallest amount of sweetness is sickening sweet. Even most fruit is too sweet, but I do enjoy an occasional tart apple or a handful of dried unsweetened tart montmorency cherries or berries. Honey is high in fructose, which, for the most part, is worse then just plain ole sugar.

I use pure, organic liquid stevia in a couple things, never the powdered though, because you’re right, the powdered stevia has other sugars. I juice 8 to 12 different vegetables a day and throw in a lemon or lime and a handful of cranberries for flavor and a few drops of stevia. I also use stevia in my Paleo fudge, made with extremely dark chocolate and cream cheese. Both have nutrients and calories so my brain is not being fouled into “looking” for anything.

I LOVE your web site and your posts, keep up the good work and Happy Holidays to you and yours. Linda

Ann Waterworth - December 12

I do have stevia in the cupboard. Found article very interesting but mostly am using coconut sugar and when I make coconut porridge sprinkle mesquite on which I find does not give me a sugar craving

Pilar - December 12

Thank you so much for this article, I do use stevia very often, but only to enhance the sweetness of a beverage that contains a little amount of fruit juice, for example a lemonade or a green smoothie with a part of berries or apple. Never use it on coffee or tea, because I don’t like the aftertaste in warm drinks, which I don’t taste it on the cold ones. My mom has diabetes and she also uses likewise. I’m not sure if this helps, or we should minimize our intake, but I’ll be more careful about it.

marty - December 13

Thanks for the article. I also think raw local honey is the best option.
I am progressing with the paleo ish diet. Just had pan fried meat in Avacado oil. Ate it with raw garlic. Waitng for my sweet potato to bake which I will cover with grass fed butter.
On a another subject I have an infected elbow. Broken 46 years ago. First time since then I have a problem with it. I got blood taken right close to the elbow and 30 hours later the infection and pain began. This was 14 days ago. I went to the hospital and they did a irrigation and debridement procedure. After antibiotics and lots of pain, the arm (after 5 days) began to get less swollen. They put me on an antibiotic 24/7 drip and sent me home. With a grocery bag of antibiotic bags and a pump for them. Any idea who would know what I could do besides the bag of antibiotics? I started eating plain Stonefield yogurt. so as to not lose my gut flora, but I feel there may be other things. Any link suggestions or insight would be appreciated.

Judy - December 13

I use Mountain Rose Herbs whole leaf stevia in VERY small quantities in tea because I read that it has life-long dental benefits, including for babies whose mothers consume it while nursing. My understanding is that it’s been used safely in tea in South America for hundreds of years, and this is the first I’ve heard of the whole leaf being harmful. Our tea is usually consumed with our afternoon snack, so I doubt it’s a big problem for us. However, as a GAPS family considering AIP, I’m willing to give it up, at least for awhile to see if it makes any difference. It might be fine for healthy people but not for those of us trying to heal gut issues. Thanks for the info!

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