Is Stevia Keto?
If you’re starting out on Keto, you’ll quickly learn that sugar is a no-go.
You may be missing that rush from pastries, cakes, cookies and the other sweets you once enjoyed, and this is perfectly understandable.
Not being able to fall back on your favorite comforting treats can make you question whether or not the health benefits of a Ketogenic diet are worth it. Sugar cravings can be intense, especially as you start transitioning to Keto.
If you feel deprived, though, you’re unlikely to continue following any kind of eating plan.
What can you do, then, if you have an insatiable sweet tooth?
Luckily, you’ve got a number of options at your disposal if you want Keto-friendly sweeteners and today we’ll drill down on one in particular: Stevia.
So what is Stevia and can you have Stevia on a Keto diet?
What Is Stevia?
Coming from a shrub called Stevia rebaudiana, Stevia has been used medicinally and as a sweetener in Paraguayan and Brazilian cultures for over a thousand years. (1) Stevia was rediscovered by westerners in the late 1800s, specifically by M.S. Bertoni who had a species of Stevia named after him – Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni. (2)
The leaves of the Stevia plant are harvested and dried out, and then processed into whatever form the maker is creating. Stevia can be found in a liquid form or as a finely ground white powder.
Why Is Stevia So Sweet?
No matter how you consume Stevia, whether in natural leaf form, processed powder or in a liquid, you’re sure to be immediately assailed by an intensely sweet kick.
The leaves of the Stevia plant contain glycosides. Glycosides are incredibly sweet chemical compounds found in plants. In the Stevia plant, the glycosides are between 100 and 300 times sweeter than the same amount of table sugar. (3)
There are two main glycosides responsible for the sweetness of Stevia leaves: stevioside and rebaudioside A (Reb A).
While stevioside is sweet, it also leaves a pronounced and bitter aftertaste. In isolated form, Reb A has all sweetness without the unpleasant taste.
Most raw and semi-processed Stevia products contain both these glycosides. Superior Stevia products are composed entirely of rebiana, a highly purified form of Reb A.
The US Food and Drug Administration spent many years researching Stevia and its components, and in 2008 they classified high-purity steviol glycosides like rebiana as “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS) and permissible to use in food. However, crude Stevia extracts and Stevia leaves have not garnered this same approval. (4)
Is Stevia Keto?
The good news is, Stevia is a Keto-friendly sweetener so you’ve got no need to go without when you’re craving something sweet.
There are many reasons that make Stevia is a far stronger choice than many other traditional sweeteners like cane sugar, honey, maple syrup and agave.
Let’s take a look at a few of these reasons now.
1) Health Benefits: While following a Ketogenic diet can help lead to overall health improvements, many studies have found that Stevia itself can create marked improvements in people’s health as well…
- Stevia has been linked to lower blood sugar levels. (5)
- People with high blood pressure were happy to report lower levels after using Stevia. (6)
- Additional studies have linked Stevia to reducing inflammation, diarrhea, and tumors and improving regulation of the immune system. (7)
2) Low Glycemic Index: The Glycemic Index is a ranking of carbohydrate-containing foods based on their effects on blood sugar levels. (8) If you are trying to control your blood sugar to enter and remain in ketosis, you should ensure the foods you’re consuming are very low on the Glycemic Index (or GI) scale.
Carbohydrates with a low GI will be absorbed slowly by your body, allowing for less disruption to your blood sugar and ketone levels.
The items below 55 on the GI scale are generally considered to be low. Stevia ranks at 0 on the Glycemic Index – you can’t ask for much more than that!
3) Calorie-Free: Stevia has no calories. This is ideal if weight loss if one of your primary goals. While tracking macros is key, ultimately a calorie deficit will result in weight loss so you’re free to indulge in Stevia without feeling guilty.
4) Oral Health: Whereas sugar has been linked repeatedly to a decline in oral health, causing cavities, decay and all manner of problems in the mouth, Stevia has shown promise in the opposite direction.
Stevia is antimicrobial. In a 6-month study, teens who used a mouthwash containing Stevia saw a reduction in the plaque and gingivitis in their mouths. (9)
Negative Side Effects
While Stevia has been used for over a thousand years, only in more recent times have researchers began to document both benefits and drawbacks of the foods we consume.
There have been a few points that have raised concern.
- Allergies: The Stevia plant is closely related to the marigold plant and is a member of the ragweed family. If you have any allergies to marigold or ragweed, exercise caution with Stevia since it could inflame your allergies.
- Fertility: A recent study suggests that compounds in Stevia may disrupt the human hormone system. (10) This might explain why Stevia has been used medicinally in South America to control fertility. (11)
Research on Stevia is ongoing. Registered Dietician Densie Webb, PhD, R.D. says, “Stevia is still a relatively new addition to the nonnutritive sweetener market, and more research is needed before it can be known for sure what the long-term effects may be—beneficial or not. But, based on what’s known right now, stevia sweetener is considered a safe choice for anyone trying to curb his or her sugar intake.”
A note of caution: Since Stevia has been shown to lower blood sugar and blood pressure, if you have problems with either of these issues, be sure to speak with your doctor before using this plant-based sweetener.
What Is a Safe Dose To Minimize Chance of Side Effects?
According to the World Health Organization, you can safely consume 4 milligrams of steviosides per kilogram of body weight. (12)
Some doctors feel that Stevia is safe overall, but that it’s important to watch how much of it you eat. Ben Brown, M.D. says, “The majority of research on stevia shows that it appears to be safe and has some potential benefits, including possibly lowering blood pressure and blood sugar. The main reason we recommend consuming it in smaller quantities is because there are a number of case reports that suggest that for some people it may cause an stomach upset, muscle pains and allergies in large quantities.”
Mark Hyman, M.D. agrees. Not a big fan of artificial sweeteners in general, he says, “Among sweeteners, I make one exception with stevia. A little bit in your coffee or tea should be fine, but be judicious.”
Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. says, “I consider it safer than aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose and have seen no compelling evidence that stevia poses a threat to human health. As a side benefit, unlike those other sweeteners, stevia can be grown by home gardeners; I’ve grown it myself at my home near Tucson, Arizona.”
Other Keto-Friendly Sugar Substitutes
While Stevia is a strong Keto-friendly sugar substitute, it’s by no means the only option out there. (13)
Some people find they experience a bitter aftertaste when using Stevia, while others simply don’t like the taste.
Also, even though a little goes a very long way with Stevia, it can be a bit pricey, so what else could you consider using if you’re craving a sugar fix while still staying on track with your macros?
- Erythritol: This sugar alcohol is a very popular choice among Keto dieters, low-carb dieters and people who just avoid sugar. Erythritol is only a 1 on the Glycemic Index, which means it has virtually no effect on blood sugar. Erythritol is a bit easier to bake with than Stevia, as it reacts more like traditional sugar does. This sugar-substitute is a good option to mix with Stevia as well, and you can find a few brands that have them mixed together. One unfortunate side effect of erythritol is that is can cause some pretty serious intestinal distress, and feeling gassy is a common side effect. However, it is the least likely of all sugar alcohols to have this impact. Also, erythritol can have a cooling effect in the mouth, almost like something minty.
- Swerve: Swerve is a Keto-friendly option, and is also easy to substitute for sugar cup for cup. It tastes great, has a very low GI rating, and can caramelize like sugar. It is a mix of erythritol and oligosaccharides.
- Monk Fruit: Also known as Lo Han Kuo, monk fruit has been used for centuries in China as a highly effective natural sweetener. (15) An incredible 200 times sweeter than sugar, monk fruit can be used in powdered form to sweeten tea or coffee since it dissolves quickly and easily.
What Kind of Stevia to Buy
If you want to use Stevia we recommend reading the ingredient label before making your purchase. Stevia products often contain a high percentage of fillers to reduce the sweetness and the cost.
The most common product mixed with stevia is dextrose, followed by maltodextrin. These cheap fillers don’t offer the same benefits that come from consuming Stevia alone.
When mixed with these and other additives, Stevia is not as sweet, so you will need to use more of it to get the same results. The health benefits are also greatly reduced, and both dextrose and maltodextrin can spike your blood sugar, kicking you out of ketosis.
Look out for pure Stevia if you’re following the Keto diet. If you must buy a diluted version, make sure the bulking agent is keto-friendly.
We recommend using a Stevia extract. To comply with FDA regulations, Stevia extracts must contain at least 95% steviol glycosides. (16) The higher the Reb A content, the better the taste – and the higher the price.
Stevia is readily available in health food stores and most grocery stores in the US. You can also easily buy Stevia online. If you live somewhere warm enough and have the inclination, you can even grow the Stevia plant yourself. (17)
Get Keto-friendly Stevia Here…
Following a ketogenic diet doesn’t need to be restrictive if you use a little creativity, and you certainly don’t have to part with your sweets. In the words of physician and dietician Dr. Natalie Digate Muth, M.D., R.D. “…It seems safe to say that when consumed in reasonable amounts, stevia may be an exceptional natural plant-based sugar substitute.”
If you’re looking for a keto-friendly sweetener then Stevia is your best option. Pick a brand of 100% Stevia extract with no fillers, like this one.
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