It’s the most often asked question I receive: Can I use Stevia on my diet?
I bet you’re wondering something similar…
- Is Stevia okay for people with a sweet tooth?
- Do artificial sweeteners sabotage my weight-loss effort?
- Can I use Stevia if I’m diabetic?
- If artificial sweeteners are okay, do you recommend any particular brand?
There are many artificial sweeteners on the market all promising to replace the diet-destroying sugar with zero-calorie sweetness.
Could it be true?
Could those little blue, pink, and yellow packets sweeten our coffee, without doing us harm?
I lay it all out for you in this post by sharing both the good and the bad of artificial sweeteners.
You’ll go on a surprisingly emotional ride.
You’ll cheer when you learn that…
- Stevia is an acceptable alternative sweetener IF you buy the right brands. (Covered Here)
- Certain blended sweeteners can be substituted for sugar in a 1:1 swap when baking. (Covered Here)
And, you’ll take pause when I explain…
- Why I steer clear of all artificial sweeteners. (Covered Here)
- The Top 3 artificial sweeteners to avoid like the plague (Covered Here)
- How some artificial sweeteners destroy your gut health making it harder for you to lose weight. (Covered Here)
Are you ready?
Can I Use Stevia and Artificial Sweeteners?
List Of Good and Bad Artificial Sweeteners [Quick Reference]
Don’t have time to read the whole post?
Here’s a quick reference showing which artificial sweeteners are okay to use, and which to avoid.
Artificial Sweeteners OK To Use On Your Diet.
- Stevia without bulking agents. i.e. SweetLeaf (**Top Choice**)
- Blended Sweeteners
- Monk Fruit
- Xylitol (limit your intake, but okay in small quantities)
Artificial Sweeteners To AVOID On Your Diet
- Aspartame found in Equal (blue packets)
- Sucralose found in Splenda (yellow packets)
- Saccharin found in Sweet’N Low (pink packet)
*Sorbitol and Maltitol are sugar alcohols that are often added to gum and hard candies. These artificial sweeteners are known to cause stomach upset.
I Don’t Use Stevia or Artificial Sweeteners. Here’s Why…
My coaching program member put her finger on our love affair with sweeteners when she described Stevia as the sweetness of life.
She, like so many others, wanted to know if I was going to make her give up the pinch of Stevia that she puts in her morning coffee.
Her relief was palpable as I explained that a little stevia in her coffee is okay, but I didn’t leave it at that.
The news is not all good when it comes to stevia and other artificial sweeteners, so I went on to explain why I steer clear of all of them.
I also recommend that she consider moving away from using sweeteners as she progressed on her diet.
Artificial Sweeteners Keep You Addicted, Hungry, and Overweight
Reason #1: Any intensified sweetener keeps your addiction to sweets alive and well. Do you want that?
Stevia and other artificial sweeteners activate the sweet taste buds on your tongue. These taste buds connect via nerves to the reward center of your brain creating the same addictive response as sugar.
Reason #2: The powerful sweetness of these sugar substitutes deadens your taste for sugar, so you are not able to appreciate the natural sweetness of fruits and berries.
Reason #3: Artificial sweeteners make your pancreas work in anticipation of high-calorie food that never comes. This drives your appetite and makes it hard to satisfy your hunger.
Reason #4: A study involving 6,000 people showed that a daily diet soda increased belly fat and risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 67%. (1)
Artificial Sweeteners and Health Problems
The last day I had a Diet Coke was July 29th, 2016.
For months prior to that day, I had been dealing with fleeting episodes of shortness of breath. At first, I chalked the symptom up to stress, but then I stumbled across a case study of a woman with the same breathing issue.
Her cure? Complete abstinence from artificial sweeteners.
Could my daily Diet-Coke be affecting my breathing?
My inner research nerd had been released, so I turned to my university databases and Google Scholar to search for research on health issues related to artificial sweeteners.
Here’s what I found.
Artificial Sweeteners to Avoid Like the Plague
The top three artificial sweeteners on the market should be avoided.
- Aspartame (Equal)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- Saccharin (Sweet N’ Low).
These sweeteners come in blue, yellow, and pink packaging, respectively. Each one is bad for your health and weight.
Avoid Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
Aspartame is the worst of the artificial sweeteners or high-intensity sweeteners as they are referred to by the FDA. (2).
Aspartame is marketed as Equal and NutraSweet brands. It’s found in many foods and drinks, including diet sodas and sugar-free Kool-Aid.
According to a number of experts:
Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA.
Breathing problems were just one of the many registered complaints.
Source (3 FDA.gov retrieved 2-12-17).
Aspartate is a chemical that makes up 40% of aspartame. It acts as an “excitotoxins” in your brain, which basically means it overexcites nerve cells in your brain to the point of death (4). Many of these cells must die before symptoms show, so a lot of damage can be done before you know it.
To Avoid Aspartame, avoid these products:
Aspartame is often an ingredient in sugar-free products, look for it in chewing gum, hard candies, breath mints, jelly, and popsicles.
Diet Coke or other diet drinks with aspartame listed on the ingredient’s list should also be avoided. Diet Coke does make a version with Splenda, but this is just as bad as you’ll learn below.
In 2015, Pepsi Corp decided that aspartame was too much of a health risk, so they decided to switch the artificial sweetener they used in their Diet Pepsi products (5).
Don’t cheer yet…they switched to Splenda. It’s just as bad…
Sucralose (a.k.a Splenda) is harmful to your gut health and linked to diabetes and cancer (6).
Avoid Sucralose (Splenda)
According to Dr. Janet Starr Hull, the chlorine in Splenda has been proven to cause breathing problems (7).
The FDA approved sucralose, and it can be consumed by people with phenylketonuria, which is not true of aspartame.
Here are two possible problems that should make you stay away if you have trouble losing weight.
- Splenda can inhibit the absorption of zinc and iodine, which are two essential nutrients for a healthy functioning thyroid gland. If your thyroid is not functioning properly, give up Splenda today.
- Splenda can adversely affect your gut health. A study performed on rats showed that 12 weeks of sucralose resulted in the death of one-half to three-quarters of their good gut bacteria (8).
Studies show that having a variety of good gut bacteria improves weight loss by helping your body extract more energy and nutrients from your food and managing hunger.
If you have trouble losing weight and also have some of the following symptoms, cut out Splenda.
- Food Sensitivities
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Autoimmune Disease
- Thyroid Problems
- Trouble Digesting Food
- Skin Rashes
- Mood Issues or Depression
Sucralose is Bulked Up with Added Sugar
Sucralose starts out as table sugar (sucrose) but is chemically altered to enhance sweetness. Since it comes from sugar, sucralose does contain calories. However, the sweetness is 600 times that of sugar, so very little is needed.
That intense sweetness allows sucralose to be billed as a non-calorie sugar substitute but also makes it hard to sell by itself. The company can’t sell a few lose grains, so Splenda needs to be bulked up with additives to be useable. The additive (i.e. dextrose and maltodextrin) that is used are forms of sugar that are made from starchy foods.
Isn’t that sneaky?
Do you have Splenda in your kitchen cupboard?
Turn a package of Splenda over and you’ll see that the first two ingredients are dextrose and maltodextrin, which are alternative names for sugar.
To Avoid Splenda (sucralose) avoid these foods and read ingredient labels.
Diet Pepsi or other diet drinks may be sweetened with Splenda as well as baked goods, chewing gum, jellies, and frozen dairy desserts.
Saccharin started the whole artificial sweetener phenomenon because it was the first artificial sweetener discovered.
In 1879, scientists at John Hopkins University stumbled upon this sweet concoction that eventually leads to Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin, and Tab.
Tab was introduced by Coca Cola in 1963 at the time when people were first starting to “keep tabs” on their weight. Yes, that is the story behind the name.
Additional Artificial Sweeteners to Avoid
- Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), which is sold under brand names: Sunett and Sweet One
- Neotame, which is sold under brand the name Newtame
These artificial sweeteners put unneeded stress on your metabolism, make it harder for your liver to remove toxins, and create problems for your gut health, which can affect your ability to lose weight (9).
Can I use Stevia on My Diet? Yes, But…
The simple answer is yes, you can use pure stevia on a diet.
Did you notice that I used the word pure?
Not all of the stevia products are equal. Some have added bulking agents that lower their health value and compromise weight loss.
Stevia is very concentrated in sweetness. In its powdered form, stevia is about 300 times sweeter than sugar.
Despite being so sweet, stevia has a glycemic index of 0, which means that it does not raise your blood sugar or insulin level. This is a good thing for weight loss and makes stevia safe for diabetics to use.
However, because of stevia’s intense sweetness, some companies add bulking agents to make it better for recipes. The bulking agent of choice is often maltodextrin, which is essentially a form of sugar made from starch.
Maltodextrin has a glycemic index of 110, which is outrageous since regular table sugar (sucrose) has a glycemic index of 63 (10).
Stevia with add bulking agents will raise your blood sugar and insulin level, which is bad for weight loss because it promotes fat storage.
**Stevia Buyer Beware* You must read the ingredient’s label when you buy stevia. If maltodextrin, dextrose, cane sugar, or isomaltulose is in the product, put it back on the shelf. You’d be better off using table sugar.
Stevia Products to Avoid due to added Bulking Agents:
- Stevia in The Raw contains dextrose or maltodextrin
- Pure Via contains dextrose or isomaltulose depending on the packaging
Stevia Products That I Recommend
- SweetLeaf. This approved sweetener contains only stevia leaf extract and inulin*
- Stevia Glycerite. This approved sweetener contains only vegetable glycerin** and stevia. With this form of stevia, you’ll notice less of an aftertaste compared to the powdered forms of stevia.
*Inulin is a type of fiber that is found naturally in vegetables like onions and garlic. There is evidence that inulin is beneficial to digestion and gut health (11).
**Vegetable glycerin is a natural product extracted from vegetables. Its ability to dissolve in water and alcohol also makes it appealing as a safe additive for liquid herbal extracts, like stevia as well as skincare products (12).
Why is Stevia OK When Other Artificial Sweeteners Are Not?
I am going to stop short of saying that stevia is a health food, but it does have some potential health benefits.
A research study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry revealed that extract from stevia leaves had antioxidant properties that protect cells and DNA from damage (13).
Pure stevia is more of a natural sweetener than an artificial sweetener. Stevia plant that grows in Paraguay and Brazil, where native people have used the naturally sweet leaves to sweeten their food for centuries.
Do you want to go fresh? You can grow stevia on your windowsill.
- You can place a few fresh leaves in your cup of tea for natural sweetness.
- Stevia leaves can also be dried and crushed for later use. The dried leaves are sweeter than the fresh leaves. Sprinkle them into recipes or beverages for worry-free sweetness.
Other Artificial Sweeteners That Are Okay On Your Diet
In addition to stevia, you can use the following sugar substitutes:
- Blended Sweeteners (Monk Fruit, Swerve, Pyure, Nativia, Zsweet)
Let’s take a look at each of these artificial sweeteners…
Truvia as an Artificial Sweetener: The Good & Bad
Truvia sounds a lot like stevia, but don’t let the name fool you!
There is little to no stevia in Truvia, so you don’t reap the benefits of the stevia plant, but…
Is Truvia safe to consume? In a nutshell, yes. Truvia is not the best artificial sweetener, but it is okay to use it in moderation.
I put Truvia in the middle of the road when it comes to artificial sweeteners. You do not get much benefit from it, but the product is likely safe and because it has a glycemic index of 0, it will not impact your blood sugar, insulin or weight.
The lowdown on Truvia:
Truvia is a mixture of three ingredients:
1. Erythritol* (a sugar alcohol)
2. Rebaudioside A (a sweet compound from the stevia leaf)
3. Natural Flavors
*Erythritol is a Better Sugar Alcohol Than Most
Erythritol is the main ingredient in Truvia.
It’s a sugar alcohol, which is different than the alcohol you’d find in wine or beer.
Its classification as a sugar alcohol has to do with its chemical structure. The configuration of a sugar alcohol molecule gives it a sweet taste without making you tipsy or raising your blood sugar.
Most sugar alcohols have a bad reputation because they cause stomach upset, but erythritol is different. It doesn’t cause as many digestive issues because of what happens to it inside your body.
Do you have a lot of stomach upset? Check the package of your sugar-free gum and mints. Sorbitol and Maltitol are sugar alcohols that commonly cause stomach upset.
Erythritol is not easily digested, so it makes a quick exit out of your small intestine and into your urine. It’s thought to be harmless because it goes in and out of you quickly (14).
Blended Sweeteners That Are Worth a Try
Did you ever hear of monk fruit? If not, let me introduce you.
Monk fruit, which is also known as luo han guo or lo han kuo, grows in the mountain regions of China.
Some people prefer monk fruit over stevia because it doesn’t have the bitter aftertaste that some stevia users complain about.
Monk fruit is every bit as sweet as stevia, and like stevia has a glycemic index of 0. So, you don’t have to worry about it raising your blood sugar or insulin levels.
However, like stevia, it’s buyer beware when it comes to choosing a monk fruit sweetener off the shelf. Because of the intense sweetness, most companies add bulking agents.
Read the ingredient’s label and watch out for maltodextrin and dextrose. I recommend Lakanto Monk Fruit Sweetener which combines erythritol and monk fruit.
Lakanto Monk Fruit Sweetener is appropriate for baking because it can be used as a 1:1 substitution for sugar, meaning if the recipe calls for one cup of sugar, you can use one cup of this sweetener.
Swerve is another blended sweetener that can be used as a 1:1 substitution for sugar, which makes it easy to use when baking.
Swerve contains erythritol and oligosaccharides*
*Oligosaccharides are found in certain plant foods, like beans and onions. They tend to pass through your digestive tract unchanged until they reach the colon where they act as prebiotics.
Prebiotics are beneficial because they become a food source for the good bacteria in your gut (15).
List of Good Blended Sweeteners For Baking
If you’re a baker, consider substituting one of these blended sweeteners for sugar:
Swerve (erythritol, oligosaccharides, and natural flavors)
Lakanto Monk Fruit Sweetener (erythritol and monk fruit)
Pyure Organic Stevia All-Purpose Sweetener (erythritol, the stevia extract Reb-A, natural flavors)
Natvia 100 % Natural Sweetener (erythritol and the stevia extract: steviol glycosides) – Found in Australia and the U.S.
Zsweet (erythritol, the stevia extract – S. rebaudiana leaf extract, natural flavors).
Is Xylitol a Safe Artificial Sweetener?
I wanted to include a discussion on xylitol because it is an artificial sweetener that is commonly used in sugar-free chewing gum (i.e. Orbit Chewing Gum) and hard candies.
While xylitol is not my favorite artificial sweetener, it can be consumed in small quantities. In other words, it’s fine to enjoy one or two pieces of Orbit Chewing Gum a day.
Xylitol has a scary sounding chemical name but is a naturally occurring substance found in fruits and vegetables.
It is not calorie-free but has a low glycemic index of 7, which means it has more of an impact on your blood sugar than stevia, but the effect is minimal.
There are pros and cons to consuming xylitol.
- Pros: The American Dental Association states that gums and candies made with xylitol are better for your teeth than their sugary counterparts. And there is some evidence, albeit weak evidence, that chewing gum with xylitol (i.e. Orbit Chewing Gum) destroys cavity-promoting bacteria in the mouth (16).
- Cons: If you consume too much xylitol, you may be inviting some very unpleasant side effects, including bloating, diarrhea and a laxative effect.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to forgo xylitol is that very small amounts can kill a dog. Unlike humans, the digestive tract of a dog quickly absorbs xylitol leading to potentially grave consequences (17).
Can I Use Stevia?
Yes, but only if you use a brand like SweetLeaf that does not contain additives.
Consuming pure stevia will not raise your blood sugar level, which makes it appealing as a sugar substitute for dieters. But, you need to read labels and look for stevia that is 100% pure.
Because of stevia’s intense sweetness, bulking agents are often added. These bulking agents can affect your blood sugar.
Can I Use Other Artificial Sweeteners?
It depends on the type.
Artificial sweeteners that can be used on your diet include, Truvia, erythritol, monk fruit, Swerve, and xylitol.
Artificial sweeteners to avoid include aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda), and saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low). Check for these sweeteners on products like diet sodas, diet juices, sugar-free gum, and sugar-free hard candies.
Why You Should Avoid Them All If Your Goal Is To Lose Weight
In the long run reliance on stevia or other sweeteners may block your weight loss success by stimulating your hunger, indirectly causing weight gain, and keeping your sugar addiction alive.
If you are just starting your diet, you can use stevia or the other approved artificial sweetener to wean yourself off of sugar.
Once sugar is eliminated, I recommend that you continually lower your dependence on artificial sweeteners until you no longer use them.
When all is said and done, if you eliminate sugar and sweeteners from your diet, you’ll feel more in control and be happier with your results.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.