Most of you have probably heard of stevia by now, and I’m sure many of you use it like I do, as a natural, sugar-free alternative sweetener. Since stevia comes from an herb and not a chemical, it’s the safest option out there if you want to avoid sugar completely. Though coconut sugar, maple syrup, agave, molasses, and cane syrup may be more natural, they all still raise the glycemic index number. Stevia on the other hand, (in a very pure form) does not raise the glycemic index and has been helpful for those dealing with high blood sugar that don’t want to turn to artificial sweeteners. However, the key to buying stevia (as with most anything else) is to know exactly what you’re buying instead of just relying on fancy marketing and gimmicky labeling tactics.

If you were to go to the health food store and locate stevia, you’d likely be overwhelmed with all the choices. Due to the rise of this popular sugar-free sweetener after years of having nothing but artificial sweeteners to choose from, consumers are flocking to this natural sweetener now more than ever. Yet, there’s a problem with the huge variety of stevia we now have access to, and it comes in the form of fillers and additives.

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Turn over any package of stevia at the store and read the ingredient list. You’re likely to see more than just stevia on that list, especially if it’s an inexpensive brand. Most stevia products at the store contain one or more additives in order to bulk up the product and create a more free-flowing powder. Liquid stevia products may also be in a base of alcohol (much like vanilla extract), though many alcohol-free varieties are available.

For the most part, all powered stevia products will contain one of the following ingredients, so always pick one that you feel safest with or choose pure stevia to avoid any of them.

Common Fillers and Additives in Stevia

  • Maltodextrin – a filler based from either rice, potatoes, or corn that provides a sweet taste and creates an free-flowing product. It also helps bulk up baked goods so it may be used for baking or for stirring into coffee, tea, smoothies, etc. without clumping. Since corn is often genetically modified, always buy a stevia product that’s either organic or non-GMO. Maltodextrin is not calorie-free however per serving, carbohydrates are less than 1 gram so producers are allowed to label product as zero-carb, calorie-free, etc.

  • Dextrose – a filler made from corn sugar, fruits or honey, it is closer to sugar than other fillers on the market. It’s very low in carbohydrates and calories so it’s allowed to be labeled as calorie-free. Like maltodextrin, it has a very sweet taste but is actually closer to sugar in its chemical form than maltodextrin.  I would suggest avoiding any products with dextrose if you follow a strict sugar-free diet. Again, if you do purchase products with dextrose, always choose brands that are certified non-GMO since corn is often genetically modified.

  • Inulin – one of the safest additives is a vegetable, prebiotic fiber known as inulin. However, don’t let the vegetable part fool you into thinking it’s necessarily healthy for you. Though it’s a good source of fiber, it doesn’t resemble broccoli or kale no matter how vegetable-based it is. Inulin has also been linked to gastrointestinal disorders such as bloating, gas, and general digestive upset.

  • Erythritol –  a sugar alcohol made from corn that generally tolerated wells, however since it is corn-based, you should try to buy GMO free brands when possible. Erithrytol is very low in calories and provides a sweet taste many people prefer to other additives. It’s  used in the brand Truvia, owned by Coca Cola among others on the market. This sugar alcohol has also been linked to digestive upset like most other sugar alcohols, so again, if you suffer from general digestive issues, this one might be best to avoid.

  • Xylitol – a sugar alcohol made from birch trees, this additive is one of the safest out there. It’s proven to be beneficial for oral health though like other sugar alcohols, it can cause digestive upset.

  • Glycerin – the safest of all additives, in my opinion, glycerin is a liquid often found in alcohol-free liquid stevia products. It is derived from fruits and vegetables and does not raise the glycemic index. It also has a rounded, sweet taste to produce an optimal-tasting product. Glycerin doesn’t seem to cause issues in most people and is also used in alcohol-free forms of vanilla extract for the same purpose.

If you want to purchase stevia and want the purest product possible, always buy a powdered product that is 100 percent pure stevia extract (not stevia powder, which indicates it is a blend and not pure extract.)  It isn’t cheap to say the least, and it is hard to find in stores. However, it does taste the best and is the cleanest option possible. Another good choice is to choose pure liquid stevia and choose alcohol-free versions if possible. This will ensure the product won’t cause any glycemic or digestive issues or trigger any possible reactions. And of course, if you have a green thumb, you can always grow your own stevia.

You can use stevia to make so many delicious things such as sugar-free vegan protein bars, Sunbutter cupscookies, or just use it to sweeten tea, coffee, and smoothies.

Do you use stevia? What products do you like the most?

Image source: What is Stevia and is it Good for You?