The Truth About Stevia Extract: Is it Really Natural?

As a nutritionist and health expert, I have been asked numerous times about the safety and naturalness of stevia extract. With the increasing demand for healthier alternatives to sugar and artificial sweeteners, stevia has gained popularity in recent years. But is it really as natural as it claims to be? Let's take a closer look. First of all, what exactly is stevia? Stevia is a sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana shrub, which is native to South America. It has been used for centuries by indigenous people as a natural sweetener for beverages like tea.

However, the FDA does not approve the consumption of raw stevia leaves. Instead, they have only approved highly purified steviol glycosides from stevia leaves as safe for consumption. So, what about organic whole stevia leaf powder? While it may seem like a healthier option, the FDA does not allow it as a food additive. This means that most of the stevia products we see on store shelves are not actually made from the real stevia plant. They are chemically altered and processed versions that may contain transgenic fillers. But don't lose hope just yet.

There are still some stevia products that are considered safe and natural. Look for products made with Reb-A, which is a specific type of steviol glycoside. These products are safe for pregnant women and people with diabetes. Now, let's talk about the health benefits of stevia. There have been over 400 studies showing that stevia can help lower blood sugar levels, promote weight loss, and even prevent tooth decay.

Some studies even suggest that it may have anti-cancer properties. However, it's important to note that most of these studies have been done on stevia in its natural form, not the processed versions found in most products. So, why is there such a difference between natural stevia and the processed versions? To produce steviol glycosides commercially, the stevia leaves are dried and subjected to a hot water extraction process. This process removes some of the beneficial compounds found in the leaves, resulting in a less natural product. But what about the taste? Many people claim that stevia has a bitter aftertaste. This is because some companies use sugar alcohols as fillers in their stevia products, which can cause digestive issues like bloating and diarrhea.

That's why it's important to choose products made with pure stevia extract and to ask the manufacturer about any potential fillers. In conclusion, while stevia may be derived from a natural source, not all stevia products are created equal. The FDA only approves highly purified steviol glycosides as safe for consumption, and most of the stevia products on store shelves are not made from the real plant. However, there are still some safe and natural options available. As with any food or supplement, it's important to read labels and do your research to ensure you are getting a high-quality product.

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