Stevia: A Popular Sweetener That Lowers Blood Sugar, Fights Diabetes

The Ultimate Guide to Kicking Sugar (Part 2)

Sugar is known to raise blood sugar levels, but stevia can actually lower them. In fact, it was even used to treat diabetes in ancient times.
Stevia: A Popular Sweetener That Lowers Blood Sugar, Fights Diabetes

Follow the series "The Ultimate Guide to Kicking Sugar" here.

In this series, we explore the good and bad sugars and sweeteners, including popular natural ones, uncover the unexpected outcomes of cutting out sugar, and discover the ultimate way to do so.

Stevia has recently become one of the most popular natural sugar substitutes. Sugar is known to raise blood sugar levels, but stevia can actually lower them. In fact, it was even used to treat diabetes in ancient times.
Stevia is also known as honey leaf, sweet leaf, or sweet herb. According to a paper published in Nutrition Today, it belongs to the sunflower (Asteraceae) family and is native to southern Brazil and northern Paraguay. The indigenous Guaraní people have been using stevia to sweeten their food and beverages for centuries. According to a 2019 meta-analysis published in Nutrients, they have also used it for medicinal purposes, such as treating diabetes.
Stevia's sweetness mainly comes from steviol glycosides, which are about 200 to 300 times sweeter than sucrose.
High-purity stevia extracts contain 95 percent or more steviol glycosides, according to the Nutrition Today paper. A 2023 study published in Molecules found eight different types of steviol glycosides that occur naturally in stevia leaves, with stevioside being the most abundant.

Because of its commercial potential and pharmacological properties, stevia has attracted widespread attention from the food and scientific community. As a result, stevia plantations can now be found in many regions around the world.

Stevia's glycemic index (GI) and calorie content are zero (pdf). The glycemic index measures how quickly and to what extent a food increases blood sugar levels, also called blood glucose levels, with glucose being the standard at a GI value of 100.

A Sweetener With Anti-Diabetic Properties

Modern research has found that stevia exhibits anti-diabetic activity.

Stevia not only increases insulin secretion and activity but also reduces insulin resistance. It also inhibits or reduces the liver's production of glucose, which helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Additionally, the stevioside and steviol found in stevia help to regulate the activity of certain enzymes, preventing blood sugar from dropping too low and causing hypoglycemia.

Researchers from the University of Florida conducted an experiment in which 31 adult participants fasted for 12 hours and ate the same breakfast. Twenty minutes before lunch and dinner, they were given tea and snacks containing sucrose, aspartame, or stevia, without knowing which type of sugar they were ingesting. They were then free to eat lunch and dinner as they wished.

Their hunger and satiety levels were evaluated hourly, and blood tests were conducted. All participants completed three days of food tests.

The results showed that participants who consumed stevia had significantly lower blood sugar levels right after lunch than those who consumed sucrose, and they had no significant fluctuations.

 Consumption of stevia resulted in lower blood glucose levels right after lunch. (The Epoch Times)
Consumption of stevia resulted in lower blood glucose levels right after lunch. (The Epoch Times)

Additionally, after lunch, the insulin levels of participants who consumed stevia were overall lower than those of participants who consumed aspartame or sucrose.

 Consumption of stevia resulted in lower insulin levels right after lunch. (The Epoch Times)
Consumption of stevia resulted in lower insulin levels right after lunch. (The Epoch Times)

"It would suggest that compared to other types of sweeteners, stevia could be beneficial in helping people keep their glucose levels under control or in a healthy range after eating," study co-author Stephen Anton, a professor in the department of physiology and aging at the University of Florida who has a doctorate in clinical and health psychology, told The Epoch Times. "Compared to sucrose and aspartame, stevia could lead to better post-meal metabolic states."

Moreover, participants who consumed stevia and aspartame had a significantly lower total caloric intake.

Although participants who consumed stevia before meals didn't obtain calories from it, they didn't compensate for the calorie difference by consuming more during lunch or dinner compared with those who consumed high-calorie sucrose. Furthermore, their satiety levels were similar.

A randomized, controlled trial on diabetic patients published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture in 2016 further demonstrated the blood sugar-lowering effect of stevia. Twenty patients with Type 2 diabetes were randomly divided into two groups, one taking 1 gram of dried stevia leaf powder daily and the other not taking any. The experiment was conducted over 60 days.

The results showed that taking dried stevia leaf powder significantly reduced the fasting and postprandial blood sugar levels of these diabetic patients.

 Consumption of stevia resulted in lower fasting and postprandial blood sugar levels. (The Epoch Times)
Consumption of stevia resulted in lower fasting and postprandial blood sugar levels. (The Epoch Times)

"I see that using stevia as a sugar substitute can bring about a huge change," said Per Bendix Jeppesen, an associate professor in the department of endocrinology and diabetes at Aarhus University in Denmark who is currently studying stevia extract as an anti-diabetic drug and as a healthy sweetener.

"It is a game changer," he told The Epoch Times.

That's because the main component of stevia has positive effects on the human endocrine system, especially for people with diabetes. In addition to studying stevia's effectiveness and extraction techniques, Mr. Jeppesen is involved in related experiments on anti-diabetic drugs.

Modern people tend to engage in too little physical activity, consume too much food, and eat diets that are high in sugar and fat.

"Stevia could be a very good substitute for the sugar that we are consuming too much of," Mr. Jeppesen said. "By adding stevia, it could really enhance public health, as the calorie intake would decrease when we consume less sugar."

Effects on Metabolism, Blood Pressure, and Blood Lipids

In addition to controlling postprandial blood sugar and other anti-diabetic effects, stevia can lower blood pressure and blood lipids.

Steviol glycosides found in stevia can regulate the level of calcium in the blood, which can lead to vasodilation and reduced arterial contraction, both of which contribute to lowering blood pressure, according to the 2023 Molecules study.

Researchers in Taiwan conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial on hypertensive patients in which 174 hypertensive patients were divided into two groups. One group took steviol glycoside capsules three times a day, each containing 500 milligrams of steviol glycoside, while the other group took a placebo. Two years later, those who took steviol glycoside showed significant improvements in their blood pressure. Their systolic blood pressure decreased from an average of 150 to 140 mm Hg, and their diastolic blood pressure decreased from an average of 95 to 89 mm Hg.

Notably, the beneficial effects of steviol glycosides on hypertensive patients were observed approximately one week after the start of the experiment and continued throughout the entire study. Additionally, the group taking steviol glycosides had significantly improved overall quality of life scores, as measured by a survey.

The Nutrients meta-analysis included seven studies and nine randomized controlled trials involving 462 participants. The analysis revealed that compared with taking a placebo, steviol glycosides significantly reduced systolic blood pressure by 6.32 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 3.6 mm Hg. Additionally, there were nonsignificant reductions in body mass index, fasting blood sugar, and total cholesterol.

Stevia can also lower blood lipids. A review study showed that consuming stevia extract can significantly increase the level of high-density lipoprotein ("good" cholesterol) and reduce the levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein ("bad" cholesterol).

Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant Properties

Stevia contains more than 100 compounds, many of which benefit our health. In addition to natural sweeteners and various trace elements, stevia contains terpenes, sterols, tannins, volatile acids, flavonoids, vitamins, enzymes, organic acids, and polysaccharides, all of which have biological activity.

According to the Molecules study, steviol glycosides have been found to suppress and control factors that trigger cell inflammation. They also play a protective role in the liver by preventing inflammation and have been shown to enhance the body's innate immune system.

In addition, steviol glycosides exhibit antioxidant properties. The study published in Molecules in 2023 demonstrated that they can protect heart cells from damage caused by hydrogen peroxide, resulting in increased vitality and improved antioxidant capacity. They can also prevent oxidative DNA damage in the liver and kidneys.

Minimal Side Effects

According to a paper published in the Experimental and Clinical Sciences (EXCLI) Journal, Paraguayans have been consuming stevia continuously for more than 1,500 years with almost no adverse effects reported. Additionally, a review study indicates that most reports on stevia consumption don't suggest any adverse events.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), highly purified steviol glycosides are generally recognized as safe (GRAS). But stevia leaf and crude stevia extract are not considered GRAS “due to inadequate toxicological information.” They are subject to food additive regulations, not dietary ingredients and dietary supplements, FDA said.

In other countries like Japan, Australia, and Brazil, stevia leaf-derived products are approved for use as sweeteners in food. They are used in a variety of foods, including teas.

The acceptable daily intake of steviol glycosides, as defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority, is 4 mg per kg body weight, or about 1.8 mg per pound.

Mr. Jeppesen stated that these agencies took more than 10 years to conduct rigorous evaluations before listing stevia as a food additive. However, stevia extracts has been widely used as a sweetener in Japan since the 1980s.

An earlier rat study mentioned in the EXCLI Journal suggested that stevia might affect the fertility of experimental animals. However, Mr. Jeppesen said that the final results of these studies generally weren't accepted.
 Stevia plants. (
Stevia plants. (

How to Choose Stevia Sweetener

Despite stevia's benefits, not all stevia products available for sale are high quality.

Some products have been found to contain artificial sweeteners sodium saccharin and sodium cyclamate. In addition, crude stevia extracts may have a higher allergenic potential than high-purity stevia sweeteners containing at least 95 percent of steviol glycosides.

Because stevia is so sweet, most stevia products found in supermarkets are blended formulas. Steviol glycosides generally account for only about 1 percent of powdered products, while the remaining ingredients are usually sugar alcohols such as erythritol and xylitol. Certain products may also contain a combination of steviol glycosides and cane sugar or raw sugar.

Liquid-based stevia products mainly contain water and may also contain some preservatives such as alcohol. Colorless and transparent products are formulated using steviol glycosides as raw materials; products that are green in color are more likely to be directly extracted from the stevia plant.

Mr. Jeppesen recommended choosing products that combine soluble fiber and steviol glycosides for a calorie-free sweet taste and additional fiber intake. Also, the application and preparation methods of these products are similar to those of sugar, making them a practical alternative for use in cooking.

Some stevia products have a metallic or bitter taste from the stevioside compound.

Mr. Jeppesen said that the taste of steviol glycoside products would continue to improve as extraction technology advances. In fact, the aftertaste of metallic or bitter flavors can now be eliminated. In the future, there'll be more and more steviol glycoside products available to choose from.

Tips for Growing Stevia Plants at Home

How can stevia plants be grown at home?

Stevia is a hardy plant that will thrive under the right conditions. Provided with adequate light and well-draining, lightweight soil, stevia plants will produce more leaves with higher levels of steviol glycosides.

Stevia leaves contain eight different steviol glycosides, and rebaudioside A has been found to have a more pleasant taste than stevioside. Some high-quality stevia varieties with a higher content of rebaudioside A than stevioside have been developed in recent years.
When the stevia flowers blossom, the leaves are less sweet. According to a recent study published in Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, this is because the levels of sweet compounds in stevia leaves will significantly decrease during the flowering process.
 Stevia leaves contain eight different steviol glycosides. (Take Photo/Shutterstock)
Stevia leaves contain eight different steviol glycosides. (Take Photo/Shutterstock)

Adjusting watering levels and applying organic fertilizers based on temperature and humidity is also essential. Stevia is not cold tolerant, so it should be moved indoors during winter or have a thick layer of straw mulch added to its roots for insulation.

For inexperienced growers, starting with stevia seeds can pose obstacles, as they are quite difficult to germinate; it might be more convenient to propagate stevia through stem cuttings or purchase stevia seedlings directly.

Next: Following in stevia's footsteps, another natural sweetener has gained widespread attention. It could help manage blood sugar and lipid levels, exhibits potential antiviral effects against COVID-19, and even demonstrates anti-cancer properties.

Read the entire "The Ultimate Guide to Kicking Sugar" series here.

Flora Zhao is a health writer for The Epoch Times who focuses on cancer and other chronic diseases. Previously, she was an editor for social science journals. Email her at: [email protected]