Stevia is sweeter than table sugar but has zero calories, so it’s not surprising to see it replace artificial sweeteners in many commercial food products. You may assume that it’s Paleo-approved since it’s extracted from a natural-growing plant that originates from Paraguay, but not all Stevia products meet Paleo standards.
Is Stevia Paleo and Should I Eat It?
Stevia is Paleo as long as you purchase a pure powder with no added ingredients. Unfortunately, this will rule out many of the Stevia-based sweeteners found on the shelf at your local supermarket.
Pure Stevia is often created by boiling the leaves of the Stevia plant to create a tea and then turning the tea into a powder. Other processing methods include extracting the sweet components of the plant’s leaves or drying the leaves. If you purchase a pure powder from a trustworthy source and ensure that no other ingredients are added, then you are consuming a Paleo-friendly sweetener.
The problem is that many commercial sweeteners contain an extract of the Stevia plant mixed with other artificial sweeteners, preservatives and other ingredients. While these products are marketed as natural sweeteners, the added components are typically not approved for the Paleo lifestyle.
Some prepackaged foods are now sweetened with Stevia, but you must consider all ingredients in the food when determining its suitability to the Paleo diet. The safest option is to purchase pure Stevia powder and use it in foods that you prepare at home, ensuring complete control over the ingredients.
Nutritional Value of Stevia
Serving Size: 1 g
- Calories: 0
- Total Fat: 0
- Lauric Acid: 0
- Carbohydrate: 0
- Protein: 0
- Sodium: 0
- Fiber: 0
Health Benefits of Stevia
Natives of Paraguay have used the Stevia plant as a sweetener and natural medicine for generations, but researcher is just beginning when it comes to exploring the plant’s health benefits. While there is some proof that the Stevia plant is beneficial beyond sweetening food, there has been some controversy regarding safety.
One of the first studies completed did determine that Stevia could cause cancer in humans, and that led the FDA to ban its use in foods sold within the United States. Many supporters came to the sweetener’s defense, citing later studies that found no connection between Stevia and cancer. The FDA designated the sweetener as “generally recognized as safe” in 2008. This designation is shared by many artificial sweeteners today, but Stevia is more popular because it is a more natural alternative.
With the concern over cancer put to rest, researchers have now turned to researching various species of the Stevia plant to determine other health benefits. There is some initial evidence that it may help lower blood pressure and could potentially combat diabetes, but further research is needed before the plant is cleared for medicinal use.
Seasonality of Stevia/Where to Buy Stevia
Stevia naturally grows in the tropical climates of Paraguay and Brazil, but commercial growers in China and many other countries are now producing various species of the plant successfully. You can even purchase Stevia seeds or cuttings to grow your own plants at home. Homegrown plants are utilized in raw or dried form, so you can grow your plants during the warmest months for your climate and dry the leaves out for use during the colder months.
You can also purchase pure Stevia powder online. While natural or health food stores may carry the pure powder, most of the products found in your typical supermarket don’t meet Paleo standards due to added ingredients. It’s important to read labels to ensure that what you purchase is a pure powder derived from authentic Stevia plants. Online retailers sell the powder in small bags as well as in bulk.
How to Make Stevia
You have several options if you want to grow and harvest your own Stevia plants:
- Purchase Stevia seeds and start them indoors with a grow light or in a greenhouse.
- Purchase a cutting from a mature Stevia plant.
- Find ready-for-the-garden Stevia plants at your local garden center or online.
Purchasing plants that are already started and ready to plant is the easiest route, and the most difficult option is growing the plant from seed. You should plant your Stevia in a sunny location, but you may want to provide some afternoon shade if your climate offers intense summer heat. You can find detailed information on how to grow this plant successfully through Mother Earth News.