UPDATE July 2013: Sure enough, Empowered Sustenance has an excellent article on the affects of stevia, including adrenals, oxalates, a candida myth, and poor glycogen synthesis. Read more on Why I Quit Stevia.
It took me a long time to come around to using stevia. Not knowing what it was, I thought it was another Splenda or asparatame-based product, and I had no interest in cheating my body that way. Those products start metabolic processes without delivering any nutrient value and perpetuate our addiction to sugar rather than release us from it. I don’t do “cheats” or “guilt” in my way of eating.
So where does stevia fall? It’s touted as a natural food, but it’s not quite a whole food. I follow these 5 questions that I learned from the Real Food Summit when examining what I eat.
- Does it reveal the source? Yes, stevia leaves.
- Is there a tradition behind its use? Unknown. Maybe the leaf itself, but not the processed form we find it in today.
- Does this food violate the principle of wholeness? It is purchased in concentrated form.
- Does it violate the principle of non-destruction? As far as I know, no nutrients are destroyed in the process of making stevia, as opposed to say, highly refined seed oils.
- Is it something I am allergic to? Nope.
So the stevia most of us use is slightly processed, and I can’t call it a whole food, though it does come from a leaf in nature. That being said, I’m not going to go crazy trying to only ingest a perfect whole foods diet. It’s about sustainability, and if using a little bit of stevia from time to time keeps me from eating an entire jar of coconut butter or eating HFCS, then I won’t stress about it. Green leaf stevia is best, because it’s closest to it’s whole foods state. There is certainly lots of BAD stevia out there, with terrible chemical aftertastes to boot.
Since I’ve kicked my sugar habit, I don’t require things to be super sweet in the first place. I believe fruit-sweetened desserts are best, but since I’m avoiding fructose for a while, I’ve been experimenting with stevia. But I use it very seldomly, with great awareness. I always pair it with foods that will provide nutrition, and make sure to pay close attention to how I feel after eating desserts. So far I haven’t noticed anything wonky, so, like dessert, it’s found it’s proper place in my life – not for everyday consumption, but a once in a blue moon treat.
The jury is still out on stevia. I’m wondering if some negative effects will follow up after a few years, like agave nectar. Right now though, the one thing I trust is my body. As long as I don’t overdue it and notice no ill affects on my body, I’ll continue to use stevia, sparingly, and with a healthy amount of skepticism. It does have a label, after all. My advice regarding labels? Avoid, as much as possible, buying foods with labels. And if you do, ALWAYS read them. Always.
When I eat stevia, I make sure that I have it along with foods that are nutrient dense ~ that way I’m not getting in a habit of enjoying something sweet without providing some real food for my metabolism to process. That’s basically recreating something like diet soda with a different name. I don’t start my day with stevia, because I find if I have sweet things at breakfast, it leaves me wanting sweet things all day. All of the following recipes have stevia, but for about the past month I’ve been avoiding stevia and enjoyed each of these without any sweetening at all. Coconut has a lot of natural sweetness, and I love the bittersweet warmth of cocoa. Once your palate is cleared from the way fake food tastes, it can open up to the subtle deliciousness of whole foods. As you find yourself needing sugar less and less, unsweetened things will taste perfectly sweet to you!