If you’re new to veganism or are looking for ways to reduce your sugar intake, you’ve probably heard of stevia as a great calorie-free alternative. But as any vegan knows, animal-based ingredients are commonplace in all sorts of products and may not be obvious. There are also many misconceptions about the safety of various sweeteners. So is stevia vegan, and is it a healthier option than sugar?
I’ll discuss what we know about stevia so you can make the most informed decision when it comes to your health — without fear-mongering or unsubstantiated claims!
What is stevia?
Stevia is a natural, non-caloric sweetener made from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Stevia is native to Paraguay and has been consumed there for over 1,500 years. Historically, it was used in traditional folk medicine and to sweeten yerba mate, a caffeinated herbal tea.
Today and worldwide, it’s used as a healthier alternative to table sugar and a calorie-free replacement for natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. Its sweetness comes from compounds in the leaves called steviol glycosides, which can be over 300 times sweeter than table sugar.
This means it only takes a very small amount of stevia to sweeten food and beverages.
Is stevia vegan?
Pure stevia leaf is vegan since the only ingredient is plant-based. Most other forms of stevia are vegan as well, including stevia-based sweetener blends.
Many of these blends contain erythritol (a sugar alcohol) or monk fruit (another natural non-caloric sweetener) that are both vegan-friendly.
Other ingredients like dextrose, maltodextrin, and natural flavors are commonly included as well, and although the origin of these ingredients is usually vague, almost all the brands I’ve researched are either labeled vegan on the packaging or are indicated to be vegan on the brand website.
- Stevia In The Raw
- Pyure Organic Stevia Blend
- Wholesome Organic Stevia Zero Calorie Sweetener Blend
- Splenda Stevia Zero Calorie Sweetener
- NuNaturals Organic Sweetener Stevia & Monk Fruit
- Z Natural Foods Organic Stevia Erythritol Blend
- Now Better Stevia Zero Calorie Sweetener Original
While stevia was unfortunately tested on animals in the past to determine its safety for human consumption, its production no longer requires animal testing after the FDA approved its use in 2008. Because of this, most vegans are comfortable with consuming stevia.
Types of stevia
There are four main varieties of stevia:
- Whole stevia leaves – best used fresh or dried to steep with tea and blend in smoothies
- Liquid stevia drops – best stirred into brewed hot or iced tea or blended in smoothies, hot chocolate, and other beverages
- Granulated stevia leaf extract (stevia powder) – best stirred into hot beverages
- Granulated stevia extract blends – contain blends of other sweeteners to improve taste and usefulness in baking; best used in hot beverages or baking as a replacement for white sugar
Health and safety
With so many different types of natural and artificial sweeteners on the market and conflicting information about their safety, it’s important to have the facts so you can make an informed choice.
Here, I’ll discuss what we know about the health benefits and risks of stevia in more detail based on the available scientific evidence.
Can help reduce added sugar intake
Stevia is most likely to provide health benefits when used to replace added sugars in the diet. While small amounts of sweets in the context of a nutritious, varied diet aren’t likely to cause health problems, eating a lot of them (as we tend to do in Western countries) can make it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight.
Sugary beverages, snacks, and desserts also crowd out more nutritious foods from the diet when eaten in excess. This means getting less dietary fiber, antioxidants, plant-based protein, and anti-inflammatory polyphenols that help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases.
Diabetes management and prevention
If you have type 2 diabetes, it’s crucial to manage your blood sugars well in order to support your heart health and prevent issues like vision loss or loss of feeling in your hands and feet.
By using stevia in place of conventional sweeteners like white sugar and honey, people with diabetes may be able to better control their blood sugar throughout the day while still enjoying their favorite desserts and sweetened beverages.
This is because while stevia is sweet, it doesn’t contain carbohydrates and won’t raise blood sugar levels.
Stevia may also help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes1 in the first place due to its antioxidant benefits, although it’s no replacement for a nutrient-dense, fiber-filled diet.
May support gut health
There are some concerns about stevia being harmful for gut health, mostly based on petri dish studies. For example, one published in November 20202 found that some steviol glycosides reduce the ability of E. Coli bacteria to communicate with each other.
Note that we haven’t seen any negative impacts of stevia on gut health in humans; this was just in a petri dish. When combined with additional research showing the potential benefits of stevia for gut health, I don’t think we have enough evidence to suggest that we should avoid using it.
According to an April 2022 systematic review3, stevia may help improve the diversity of bacterial strains in the gut. Bacterial diversity is associated with a variety of health benefits and is one way that researchers determine how healthy the gut microbiome is. This beneficial effect may be due to the anti-inflammatory properties of different steviol glycosides.
It’s worth noting, however, that these results were mainly seen in rodents — we can’t be sure that the same results would be seen in humans until we have randomized controlled trials on the topic.
Based on these preliminary findings, stevia is likely safe for gut health as long as you aren’t over-consuming it and are including plenty of gut-friendly whole plant foods in your diet.
Fortunately, most studies have found that side effects from stevia4 consumption are rare. Stevia has been consumed for hundreds of years without any reports of side effects, either in Paraguay where stevia is native to or in Japan where stevia is widely consumed in beverages.
It’s possible that some people may be allergic to stevia, especially in response to high-purity formulations, but reports on this in humans are very limited.
Some people claim that stevia can harm fertility based on a rodent study published in 1999, but there is no evidence of this occurring in humans.
Stevia (in the purified form of steviol glycosides) was approved by the FDA in 2008 for safety in doses up to 4 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. For a 150-pound person, the upper limit would be 272 milligrams per day – much higher than a typical serving size of about 48 milligrams.
This means it should be safe to consume stevia extracts multiple times throughout the day. And it isn’t just the United States that believes stevia is safe — the European Food Safety Authority also approved stevia sweeteners in 2011.
Importantly, there’s also no increased risk of cancer when consuming stevia, according to a 2017 review paper4.
Stevia is a vegan-friendly non-caloric sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Even when used in sweetener blends containing non-stevia ingredients, stevia products are almost always safe for vegan diets.
Overall, stevia can be a helpful addition to the diet for vegans who want to reduce their intake of added sugars and unnecessary calories while still enjoying sweet foods and beverages. While stevia may have anti-inflammatory benefits, it’s likely most beneficial as a replacement for caloric sweeteners.
There aren’t any side effects or health concerns associated with stevia, so feel free to use it in your favorite tea and baked goods!
Is stevia vegan? – FAQs
Can you use stevia on a vegan diet?
Yes! Stevia is safe for vegans since it’s a plant-based sweetener that doesn’t involve any animal-based processing aids. Stevia-containing sweetener blends are also almost always vegan, although it’s always a good idea to check the label just in case.
Which sweeteners are not vegan?
The following sweeteners are not vegan:
- Honey – insects are considered animals, therefore honey is an animal product avoided by vegans
- White sugar – most white sugar in the United States is not vegan because it’s filtered through animal bone char to remove impurities (organic sugar is okay)
Is all stevia plant-based?
Yes, all stevia is plant-based because stevia is derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Most stevia products with additional ingredients like dextrose, natural flavors, monk fruit, and erythritol are labeled vegan or plant-based as well.
What sugar is allowed for vegans?
The following sweeteners are included in a vegan diet:
- Organic white sugar (must be organic, as conventional white sugar is often processed with animal bone char)
- Raw cane sugar
- Organic brown sugar
- Maple syrup (some manufacturers use animal fat-based defoaming agents in their maple syrup, but this seems rare)
- Date syrup
- Coconut sugar
- Brown rice syrup
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Golden syrup
- Monk fruit
- Sugar alcohols (xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol, etc.)
- Artificial sweeteners (these are controversial; they aren’t made from animals but were tested on animals before being approved for use in food)
The scientific information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing but may change over time as new research becomes available.
- Patel S, Navale A. The Natural Sweetener Stevia: An Updated Review on its Phytochemistry, Health Benefits, and Anti-diabetic study [published online ahead of print, 2023 May 1]. Curr Diabetes Rev. 2023;10.2174/1573399819666230501210803. doi:10.2174/1573399819666230501210803
- Markus V, Share O, Teralı K, et al. Anti-Quorum Sensing Activity of Stevia Extract, Stevioside, Rebaudioside A and Their Aglycon Steviol. Molecules. 2020;25(22):5480. Published 2020 Nov 23. doi:10.3390/molecules25225480
- Kasti AN, Nikolaki MD, Synodinou KD, et al. The Effects of Stevia Consumption on Gut Bacteria: Friend or Foe?. Microorganisms. 2022;10(4):744. Published 2022 Mar 30. doi:10.3390/microorganisms10040744
- Peteliuk V, Rybchuk L, Bayliak M, Storey KB, Lushchak O. Natural sweetener Stevia rebaudiana: Functionalities, health benefits and potential risks. EXCLI J. 2021;20:1412-1430. Published 2021 Sep 22. doi:10.17179/excli2021-4211
- Momtazi-Borojeni AA, Esmaeili SA, Abdollahi E, Sahebkar A. A Review on the Pharmacology and Toxicology of Steviol Glycosides Extracted from Stevia rebaudiana. Curr Pharm Des. 2017;23(11):1616-1622. doi:10.2174/1381612822666161021142835