There are tons of hidden animal products in many foods that, on the surface, seem totally vegan-friendly. So, what about Stevia? Here is what you should know about this promising alternative to refined table sugar.
Hands up if you’ve ever been on the lookout for a low-calorie natural sweetener? And then put your other hand up if you’ve done that and also happen to be vegan.
Not only are vegans geared up to making the world healthier and cleaner, but they’re also just as focused as non-vegans when it comes to looking for low-calorie natural alternatives to the likes of honey and sugar.
And given the increasing health concerns about the likes of artificial chemical-heavy sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharine, the fact that natural sweeteners like Stevia are getting more and more attention should come as no real surprise to anyone. 
This natural sweetener is though still unknown by some, including vegans, despite its recent growth in popularity. Here are some common questions and answers to help you decide how to best sweeten up your day!
What Is Stevia And Where Does It Come From?
Originally found in central South America, Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the plant Stevia rebaudiana.
Long in use by the local peoples of that area long before Columbus “discovered” the Americas, this plant is now grown and cultivated around the world as its popularity continues to surge.
The biggest growers of this herb are countries like India, Vietnam, Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia.
It is grown naturally, using conventional farming methods and non-genetically modified processes.
Stevia leaves are 15 times sweeter than table sugar, and the extract itself is 250 to 300 times sweeter than sugar.
Unlike some artificial sweeteners, Stevia’s sweetness comes naturally from over 40 compounds found in the plant. These compounds are known as steviol glycosides, stevioside, and rebaudioside.
How Is Stevia Extract Made?
- First, the plant is harvested. Only the leaves will be used in extracting Stevia, so they must be stripped from their stalk and dried.
- Next, the dried leaves are combined with hot water and stirred until the plant compounds have been released. This hot-water extract contains steviol glycosides. This is what registers on your tongue as sweet. After sufficient mixing, the spent leaves are discarded, and the water extract saved.
- Now, all the impurities need to be removed. To do that, a low voltage, high electrical current is passed through the water mixture. This causes the plant pigments and other impurities in the water extract to coagulate or clump together and either fall to the bottom or float to the top.
- Now the water extract with all the coagulated impurities can be filtered by a filter press. This removes all the contaminants leaving a filtered water extract.
- The next step is to clarify the filtered water extract. This is done by passing through multiple stages of filters and centrifuging.
- This clarified water extract, full of steviol glycosides, is now passed over a special resin surface that absorbs all the glycosides. The water extract, now mostly just water, is discarded.
- Pure ethanol is then poured over the soaked glycoside resin. This process releases glycosides leaving behind a sweet alcohol mixture.
- The alcohol mixture is then filtered, concentrated, and heated. This allows the alcohol to evaporate more easily as the mixture is dried. The final product is an almost pure steviol glycoside powder or what is commonly known as Stevia extract.
Home extraction of Stevia is similar to commercial without as much filtering. Leaves are still stripped and dried. At this point, they can be crumbled or ground in a coffee grinder to produce stevia powder (albeit green).
Or the dried leaves can be covered with Vodka and soaked for 36-48 hours. This mixture is then strained and slowly reduced on the stove until the alcohol is evaporated and you are left with a stevia syrup.
Is Stevia Safe To Use?
It is easy to be hesitant about Stevia. After all, The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) only permitted the importation and use of this sweetener in the country in the mid-90s. 
People in many countries around the world have used the naturally occurring herbal form of Stevia as a food sweetener and medicinal herb for centuries, in the US. the skepticism comes mostly from a lack of research.  Consequently, given that and that it is a relatively new “discovery” outside of South America, there is a lot of myth and counter-myth about this sweetener swirling about on the internet. Sometimes it can be both a little confusing and overwhelming trying then to identify what is the truth.
Unlike other sugar alternatives (sucralose, aspartame, saccharin), Stevia is derived from a plant. Compared to sugar, it doesn’t add any calories, and it is safe to use.
Sugar has been increasingly identified with major health issues such as obesity and diabetes. The Western world, in particular, has developed something of post-War sugar addiction.
There have been some concerns raised about Stevia causing allergic reactions in a few people. However, that is very uncommon. Also, you can potentially have too much of a good thing – over-using Stevia because it is so much better than sugar or artificial chemical sweeteners. Again though, those cases are relatively few and far between. Back on the plus side, it has been identified as having some medicinal benefits, including anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. 
So, Why It Is Considered Better Than Other Sweeteners?
Studies have shown Stevia to have the following benefits:
- Contains no calories.
- Unlike sugar, it will not affect blood sugar levels.
- It is 100% Natural and Non-toxic.
- It is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar.
- Unlike sugar, it is tooth-friendly.
- It is non-fermentable.
- It is heat stable up to 200 degrees Celsius.
- Suitable for people with diabetes.
It has also been identified as having some medicinal benefits, including anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, but there is still a need for more research around these. 
Is It Vegan-Friendly?
Stevia is a vegan-friendly sweetener and sugar substitute derived from plant leaves. Although it is plant-based and widely used by vegans, some products may include non-vegan ingredients and additives.
So, the good news for vegans is that the overwhelming majority of Stevia brands out there are completely vegan, as one would expect from a plant-based extract.
However, that said, and as every vegan shopper knows, the ingredients panel of anything you buy will always be your best friend. Just to be on the vegan safe side because some products can come with some unwanted additions that wouldn’t look out of place on the periodic table of elements…
I have listed a few good vegan-friendly and natural choices below.
Is Stevia Good For Weight Loss?
Unlike sugar, Stevia has no calories, which is a significant consideration for those looking to lose or control their weight. And because it is way sweeter than sugar, you need much less of it.
The nutritional make-up of this sweetener is very straightforward. While it has no calories, it also has no nutritional value – that is to say that it is completely devoid of any vitamins or minerals. 
So, don’t confuse it for a miracle fat loss pill, but if you do consume more sugar than recommended, then Stevia can certainly help reduce your sugar intake and consequently contribute to overall weight loss.
What Should Be On Your Sweetener Product Label?
Ideally, nothing! Natural products are only natural as long as they don’t have additives added to them! Unfortunately, modern Western food has something of a deserved reputation for being overly reliant on additives and processing.
Some processed forms of Stevia can contain a whole range of additives that are bad for your health, such as dextrose, cellulose erythritol as well as the really sinister likes of acetone and ethanol.
Moral of this particular story? Always check the label and try to get a product that is organic and additive-free!
I have listed a few good ones below.
Different Types Of Stevia
1. Whole Green Leaf – The Least Processed
This sweetener comes in 4 different forms.
- Raw leaves
- Dried leaves (also powdered)
- Leaf extract (powder and tablets)
- Liquid extract
Fresh Stevia leaves are the most basic and natural way to enjoy the sweet taste that it has to offer. The only problem with fresh leaves is that they are hard to find and not particularly convenient to use. Also, when consumed in this fashion, the licorice aftertaste is very noticeable.
If you do manage to find some fresh leaves, then you can make a refreshing herbal tea steeping them in a cup of boiling water mixed with a few mint leaves. You can also add fresh stevia leaves to foods or beverages as an edible garnish. While fresh leaves are less sweet than extract or dried leaves, they’re still quite sweet, so only a few of them are to sweeten a cup of tea.
2. Dried Or Powdered Leaves
Dried or powdered leaves are another option. Crushed and often finely powdered. This powder can be used in hot drinks, sprinkled on cereals, and baking in general. This form of Stevia still comes with that licorice taste-tinge. Still, when it comes to some desert creation, for example, that taste may blend in very well with your other more “traditional” ingredients such as cloves, cinnamon, and ginger.
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3. Extract – Most Popular
Stevia extract is widely used and most popular in the United States, UK, and also in Japan. This white powdered extract is made from extracting and then powdering the glycoside element of the stevia leaf (the naturally sweet “DNA” of the leaf).
This concentrated version can be very intense, subject to the degree of refinement that is used in its manufacture.
This extract can be in a powdered form or can also come as little tablets. Consequently, if you are using the extract, caution is advised as to using modest amounts given the potential potency.
One tiny scoop of powder will be enough to satisfy your sweet tooth.
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4. Liquid Extract – Great For Cooking And Baking
Liquid Stevia concentrates are another option. In liquid form, it is great as a sweetener for your tea, coffee, or roasted grain drink and also a good choice for cooking and baking.
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Potential Side Effects, Including Safety And Dosing
Like so many things in life, moderation is always the key. Even something as natural and good for you as Stevia can be overdone. Using it once or twice a day would be just fine.
A provisional 2019 study suggested that more than moderate amounts of Stevia may cause problems with the gut’s bacterial “flora.” However, more work needs to be done in this area before a definitive set of findings can be established.
Also, many products have very little Stevia in them and may contain many other ingredients such as erythritol and dextrose. Some versions of Stevia, such as Truvia and PureVia, are highly processed and rely on added ingredients, such as chemical solvents like acetone and ethanol, which can be a major risk to health. 
How Much Stevia To Use?
Dosage-wise, statutory agencies such as the FDA and the European Food Safety Authority recommend a safe Stevia daily intake limit of 1.8mg per pound/4mg per kilogram of body weight. 
So, for an average person, the daily recommended limit would be about 15 measuring spoons (.015cc – 1/32 Teaspoon) or 15 tabs.
Considering the sweetness of Stevia, you only need 1-2 measuring spoons or tabs to sweeten one cup of coffee or tea, so the daily recommended limit is quite a lot.
- Stevia has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. Once a secret of South America, this naturally occurring sweet gem of nature is now becoming more and more commonplace right around the globe.
- This sweetener comes in a variety of forms, allowing it to fit pretty much everyone’s needs, lifestyle, and particular tastes. It is readily available both online and in brick-and-mortar high street stores.
- Stevia is 100% vegan in its purest form and, with sensible moderate use, poses no risks to health.
- This sweetener also has a particular taste and aftertaste. A few find it to be a little bitter while some experience a licorice aftertaste that may not be to everyone’s liking.
- Indeed, its zero-calorie content may help those looking to lose or control their weight, and it also comes with some potential medicinal benefits too.
- Some brands can be highly processed and filled with additives, including chemicals that are potentially risky to human health. As a vegan shopping for Stevia, it is always prudent to check the labeling to see what may be hiding away in the ingredient list.