Q. Does the sweetener stevia cause your insulin level to spike? What effect does it have on immunity? – Mr. Hyde

Dear Mr. Hyde,

This issue of artificial sweeteners has been heating up over the past couple of years but is not a new debate. You have powerful lobbies jockeying for position in the market place of artificial sweeteners and everyone wants to be king. Be careful what you read as much of this information is tainted by dollar bills. I have been following these reports and what I have found is a lot of “he said, she said”. 

This issues goes back to 1986 when two articles were published, one appeared in a medical journal called The Lancet, and the other published by the American Cancer Society.  These reports were similar and basically stated that artificial sweeteners resulted in increased hunger ratings and increased food consumption. 

Ever since then the battle has been on. Much of the research has been on mice but since mice don’t have ready access to Taco Bell, television advertisements, and Gummy Bears, the human element is removed. To say that rats act the same as people is to now step into the world of politics and that is beyond the scope of this article. So in general I look at the rat studies with limited interest.

There was one rat study in particular that does address one of your questions.  They fed rats stevia and glucose and noted that the rats given stevia had a sharper insulin response. This can be of benefit in type 2 diabetes, as it would reduce the blood sugar level. What is not noted is how long the insulin response lasted. You want a good insulin response but you also want the insulin receptor to be very sensitive to insulin’s effect so that the insulin quickly returns to normal. 

The other question you raise is the effect on the immune system. It was shown in one rat study to increase both cellular and humoral immunity which may be of benefit but again we are back to the politicians. We are a long way from stating that stevia is good for human immune defense but at least there appears to be no evidence of harm. 

Bottom line, this issue is far from being settled. There will be lots of arguments to be made and studies to investigate but at the end of the day you have to ask yourself “what’s my healthiest course of action today?”  I have to wonder why some people feel the need to make everything so sweet.  How did our ancestors survive without these wonderful (toxic) sweeteners?  Life must have been unbearable. Or was it? 

Have you ever eaten an organic, raw, unsalted almond? Up until a few years ago, I hadn’t. Why would I when the salty roasted ones taste so darn good? But as I cleaned up my diet trying to reduce my processed food content I gave these naked little almonds a try.  As I sat at my desk the other day I found myself craving those almonds and as I dug into the bag it dawned on me how sweet they were. Yes, raw unsalted almonds are sweet when placed on a tongue that hasn’t been numbed by sugar.  In fact all vegetables contain sugar as complex carbohydrates and you can taste the subtle sweet nature of these foods provided your tongue and palate haven’t been assassinated by tons of sugar. 

My wife will forgive me (as she does on a daily basis) if I tell a story about her sugar passion.  When I met my wife she was a sugar-aholic.  We once sat and ate a particularly large dinner and she got right up and went foraging for candy. I asked how she could possibly still be hungry and she replied “There is always room for candy.”  Some people have simply developed this insatiable need for sweets and I see this drive people to seek out artificial sweeteners. If this is you then let me suggest that you try to change your palate.  You can alter what your idea of sweet is. You can reset your sweetness sensors and remove your need for artificial sweeteners all together. This would mute the whole Stevia, Saccharine, Splenda, Aspartame, Xylitol debate forever. 

Eat whole foods, not processed foods that contain artificial sweeteners. If you do this consistently, your desire for sugar will melt away along with your waist line.  I have seen it happen a thousand times.  I have experienced it myself.  Don’t forget that I was once a Diet Coke and cookie fan. Change is all there is in life. We never stay the same. The only question you have to ask yourself is: which direction am I moving? 

Is there anyone who has a similar story? How many sugar-maniacs are out there that have discovered the sweet taste of simple food?

Related:
Q & A:   I just can’t give up sweeteners…Is there an alternative that you would suggest?

Comments

23 Responses to “Q. Does the sweetener stevia cause your insulin level to spike? What effect does it have on immunity? – Mr. Hyde”
  1. yoda says:

    Just lumping stevia with artificial sweeteners makes me cringe. The reason is simple. Stevia is not artificial! Now, there are many stevia brands out there and they all are not all comeletely natural, even though they may say they are, and they don’t taste the same for the same reason. Most stevia brands extract using chemicals and alcohols, which changes the taste of the naturally sweet leaf, thereby making it less natural. SweetLeaf Sweetener is the only truly 100% natural stevia because only pure water touches the leaves during extraction, keeping the naturally delicious taste from the leaf, which would also makes it the best tasting, with no nasty after taste –just the sweet tate. SweetLeaf is the oldest brand and the only brand whose stevia has 0 calories, 0 carbs, AND a 0 glycemic index! It’s also the first of all other stevia brands to achieve GRAS status from the FDA. Not only is it safe for you, but it is GOOD for you! The health benefits are well documented. It balances blood sugar levels and nourishes the pancreas, while DECREASING the desire for sweets. In fact, as incredible as it may sound, it has been documented that more studies support the safety of stevia than any other substance human beings currently ingest. Stevia has been used in South America (not just in Paraguay) for many centuries, and has been used in countries in Asia for decades, but there has never been even one report of anyone having any negative side effects. Not one. Can you say that about artificial sweeteners?

    If anyone here is considering trying stevia there are some things you should know. Not all brands are the same. Some don’t taste nearly as good as others and are not of the same quality. The reason for this is most use chemicals during the extraction process, which changes the taste of the leaf, which results in the after taste you may have heard about. SweetLeaf is the only one wherein only pure water touches the leaves during extraction and the only stevia that has 0 calories, 0 carbs, and a 0 glycemic index. It can be confusing, so you might want to keep this in mind.

  2. Tami Boehmer says:

    Please don’t take away all my fun! I was a major sugarholic until I had a recurrence of breast cancer. I kept telling myself, “sugar feeds cancer cells,” whenever I was tempted by cake, ice cream, etc. I gave up everything except for dark chocoloate (70 percent and higher) and stevia. I no longer crave very sweet desserts, but I’m not willing to give up these last vestiges of sweetness.

    BTW: I think your site is wonderful!

  3. Usawlibia says:

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  4. Melissa says:

    I, too, have changed my ways during the past two years in regards to sugar. At times, I ate cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I would even eat a bag of Twizzlers or malted milk balls and count it as lunch or dinner. Thank goodness my husband had some health issues arise that caused us to change our diets by getting rid of the processed, high-sodium foods. What a difference it makes when you actually eat whole foods. While my sweet tooth has waned, it’s still there. I love some good chocolate every now and then.

    I agree about raw almonds being a nice tasty snack. As a health coach, I have turned on many of my clients to the yummy taste of raw almonds.

    Thanks for the informative articles.

  5. TMastracola says:

    Although stevia does not have the toxic side affects as artificial sweeteners do, it still causes an insulin response just as any sweet substance (Research cephalic effect.) And because stevia provides no carbohydrates, it causes low blood sugar, which will make you want to eat more. Thus, stevia does not REGULATE blood sugar, it LOWERS blood sugar by raising insulin. And because overexposure to insulin causes cells to become insulin resistant, stevia is not beneficial to type 2 diabetics. You would think stevia would benefit cancer patients because cancer cells feed off of sugar, however, insulin is considered to be a growth hormone and causes cancer cells to grow. Insulin is also a fat storage hormone and keeps your body from using fat as energy. I also hear claims that insulin NOURISHES the pancreas. What is that supposed to mean? Does that mean it causes the pancreas to work extra by producing insulin? Dr Huber has the correct answer for all of this. We need to reprogram our palates by cutting out the extremely sweet foods. That way we will be able to enjoy healthy mildly sweet foods such as almonds without causing insulin spikes.

    • mike says:

      There are things your are failing to address either intentionally or ignorantly. Stevia has also been shown in studies to INCREASE insulin sensitivity. This means that it can be very good in combination with high carb foods from starches ie. high glycemic foods which is often the kinds of food sugar is in., ie. pastries. Those cause a double dose effect because of the starchy carbs and the combination of simple sugars. We want a good insulin response and sensitivity with starchy sweets like these because it keeps blood glucose in check. This is where stevia works great. I would say that Stevia consumed on it’s own is probably not ideal but used as a sweetener in combination with high glycemic carbs is ideal. But I agree that most people’s tastes are far too sweet.

  6. ravinder says:

    pls tell me is the use of stevia is dangerous for the start of diabities

    • Dr. Gary Huber says:

      Hi Ravinder,
      That answer is not yet known. As noted above, it is a question that is being studied but there are not clear answers as of yet. My belief is that as with all things in life, if you exercise moderation, and pursue health thru a steady intake of clean water, healthy organic whole foods, regular exercise and good sleep then an occasional exposure to stevia is not likely to effect you in a negative way. On the other hand if you use stevia daily without clear understanding to it’s long term possible effects then we simply don’t know if it is safe. We have not studied it’s affects on humans after years of daily consumption. If anyone has seen such a report then please make it known here. So use it if you need to “on occasion” but stevia is still a processed product and I would not recommend it for daily use.
      Sorry the line is still blurry,
      Dr. Gary Huber

  7. Jer says:

    I have had three packets of stevia (1 in each cup of coffee) each morning for the past 10 years. I don’t crave sweets nor do I feel a need to eat right away. Most mornings I don’t start getting hungry until around 11:30, so personally I have not been affected by any insulin spikes or blood sugar issues.

    As stated previously, Stevia has been used for hundreds of years in South America and is widely used in Asian countries present day. As far as Dr Gary Huber’s comment that Stevia is a processed product not recommended for daily use; well so is sugar, flour, etc. I assume most of you are consuming these products on a daily basis as well without ill affect.

    • Dr. Gary Huber says:

      Hi Jer,
      The sad truth is that most people are consuming processed sugar and flour on a daily basis and yes they are experiencing tremendous ill effects. Our nation is the heaviest on earth. We suffer from obesity and diabetes at alarming rates. The vast majority of this problem can be blamed on over-consumption of processed sugars, processed flours and sweeteners. I certainly would not point to stevia as causing the problem but i would continue to point out that our addiction to processed foods and our need for overly sweet foods is a problem. My advice is simple avoid sweeteners as much as possible. If you feel you just can’t live without them on a daily basis then accept that this habit may come with some risk. It is simply not a healthy pursuit.
      Sincerely,
      Dr. Huber

  8. Tom Hanlon says:

    I have been using stevia or saccharine every morning for over 30 years, I have never noticed any type of hypo-glycemic reaction. I use the above in decaf green tea. I occasionally use the sweetners in caffeinenated beverages, I will then feel the the low sugar reaction. I attribute that to the caffeine and not the sweeteners. Sometimes I will not have breakfast and consume 2 cups of decaf green tea with artificial sweeterners and not feel any hunger pangs for 4-5 hours,

    • Dr. Gary Huber says:

      Hi Tom,
      Thats great, I hope you continue to enjoy good health. Understand that you are an individual and that studies look at the general response of a group. Certainly all variables in life are affected by multiple other factors and what is experienced by some may not affect others.
      Sincerely,
      Dr. Gary Huber

  9. Tam says:

    I’ve bought Garden of LIfe “Perfect Food” powder and belive it makes me want more sugar. I’ve used the original “Perfect Food” powder in the past and didn’t want more sugar after drinking it. I’ve read that if you love sugar, stevia will make you want more and now I’m starting to believe it, but I’ll continue with this new “Perfect Food” formula which has stevia in it a while longer before I make my final decision. At this time, I wish I had ordered the originial formula without the stevia.

  10. Angela says:

    I’m really confused when it comes to deciding what sweeter to use. I am using Truvia, which Dr. Morano, the author of the 17 Day diet recommends. Now, I also understand that Truvia is not known to cause cancer, or other illnessess, however it won’t spike insulin levels. Can anyone fill me in with Truvia, sometimes I think of dropping off this sweetner too because you never know.

    • mike says:

      I fell into the Truvia trap awhile back too thinking since it used Stevia it was ok. Well, I tossed it out. It has too much Xylitol in it which is a sugar alcohol. I’m not sure if they use it for a bulking agent or for the taste but I did not want any sugar. Instead I now use a liquid stevia. Sweetleaf is probably the best as for the processing but it’s a bit pricier. Moral of the story,, don’t trust a product is healthy just because it says “stevia” on the label!! They use that word now as a marketing buzz word for meaning healthy and often the product contains ingredients that are not!

  11. Rose says:

    I lost 30 pounds 3 years ago by eliminating sugar from my diet and eating mostly fresh organic food. I had the same experience as Dr. Huber with almonds: I was amazed at how sweet raw almonds tasted once I had mostly eliminated sugar. I began using stevia sparingly at that time in place of sugar. Unfortunately, since my family and friends still eat unhealthy food I occasionally would eat it and sweets so that earlier this year I gained back 12 pounds. Ugh. I am one of those who cannot eat chocolate or sweets occasionally. Once I get a little, I start craving sugar again and it snowballs. So, I am participating in a weight loss program offered by the wellness program at my job which focuses on when and how I eat food, not what I eat. The program requires participants to stay away from sugar for 6 weeks at the minimum and this has prompted me to start using Stevia in my tea again (I had been using honey for the last couple of years). The insulin response to sugar was discussed at our last meeting. I realized I didn’t know the effects of stevia which brought me to this site.

  12. Kristen says:

    Thanks, Dr. Huber, for your informative site. I eat a whole foods, almost completely organic diet, but also use stevia and have noticed the sugar cravings and hunger even when I have eaten that stevia causes.

  13. LA says:

    EAT MORE RAW FILLING FRUIT if you are craving sweetness… it’s natural from the earth. I’ve been using stevia for 10 yrs myself and DO have blood sugar cravings. I feel much better having fruit smoothies with protein or eating whole. I am starting to wonder about side effects of stevia. Although it’s a natural sweet herb, anytime we take something whole food form & break it up & consume more of it often, we can create an imbalance.

    • mike says:

      Interesting point, however, stevia on it’s own I don’t think we consume much of for the mere fact that it doesn’t take much to get the desired effect! Therefore, it’s not like sugar cane for example in which we extract it and use a lot of it to get the desired sweetness. With stevia we don’t need much at all because it’s so much sweeter than sugar. Still, I admit, it’s difficult to know just what is too much of something.

  14. Ann Beckett says:

    I’ve used stevia for twenty years, but it only occurred to me to ask what its effect on insulin is after reading David Servan Schreiber, MD, PhD’s book “Anti Cancer: A New Way of Life (which I recommend to anyone who wants to know what is driving the cancer epidemic and what to do to protect his/her own health, or make treatment much more effective.)
    I eat a largely whole foods, all organic diet with no sugar, flour, or processed food and have for almost 30 years. I eliminated sugars (including honey, maple syrup), because I’m so hypoglycemic and metabolize carbohydrates, even grains, poorly. I certainly don’t have the reaction to stevia I have to simple carbs, but am interested in reducing my use of it to see if I notice any change in my hunger patterns.
    I use Sweet Leaf, NOW and NuNaturals stevia brands. Nu Naturals has maltodextrin in it, which, I’m now learning, does cause an insulin spike. So much for that one. The others contain inulin as a filler, which, as far as I can learn, doesn’t, and has some beneficial effects. I made the mistake of drinking the stevia sweetened cola last summer, thinking wow, I get to drink cola! Dumb. It contains erythritol, which the FDA claims is the one sugar alcohol that doesn’t cause digestive tract difficulties. I had a thorough GI work up before it occurred to me think what I was doing differently and to look at the label, which is how I discovered the erythritol. Stopped drinking it and within three days my gut was normal again. Truvia contains erythritol as a filler, so I don’t go near that stevia brand (and it’s extracted chemically–Monsanto).
    Thanks for this great blog/site. Nice to find a place where people are information sharing, not yelling at each other.

  15. Jennifer says:

    A friend told me about Stevia and said that the artificial sweetner I was using was not natural like Stevia so I decided to give it a try. I have been using it for about 4 weeks now. During that timeframe I began to feel dizzy all of the time. I felt pressure in my head and thought I might faint many times. I thought maybe I had a sinus infection because I was so congested so my Dr. prescribed an antibiotic. I still was experiencing the dizziness and feeling like I was about to faint so apparently a sinus infection was not the culprit. I was steadily feeling worse and began to consider what I had changed in my diet and it was changing to Stevia. I researched side effects of Stevia and found that it can lower blood pressure. Well, my blood pressure is normally quite low so I think that the Stevia was lowering my blood pressure and causing me to feel terrible. It was very scary. I have eliminated the Stevia. Today is the first day without using it in my coffee. I still feel dizzy but not like yesterday when I used it. I was drinking about 3 cups of coffee a day with Stevia. I was wondering how long it might take for the effects to clear up? I did not notice these symptoms when I first started using Stevia it took a couple weeks before the dizziness began. I suppose its possible that these symptoms are from something other than Stevia. Do you think Stevia could have caused a serious drop in my blood pressure leading me to have these issues? I exercise daily and try to eat right…whole grains, fruit, veggies so I consider myself to be in good health which is why I suspected the Stevia.

    • Dr. Gary Huber says:

      Hi Jennifer,
      You are not the first to report this effect but fortunately this is rather uncommon. Since we don’t now the actual mechanism of action for causing blood pressure swings and dizziness it is impossible to know how long it might last but my suspicion is that it is simply an adverse reaction and not a true alteration in long term physiology. I would suspect symptoms to clear in a few days. This is the reason I encourage people to avoid sweeteners. I little sweetener here and there is likely not a problem but any daily intake of a sweetener is more likely to create problems. Yes some people get away with taking lots daily and report feeling fine but this is far being a good habit that promotes health. This site is dedicated to the pursuit of health and of good clean daily habits. Sweeteners are just not one of those good habits no matter how you slice it.

      Hope you are feeling well soon,
      Dr. Gary Huber

  16. Leslie says:

    I’ve read most of the above comments, and I don’t see where anyone uses whole organic air dried stevia leaf. NOT processed in any way. Very little of the plant is needed to sweeten my herbal teas. My question is this: Has there been any research done on the effects of WHOLE ORGANIC stevia leaf on the body?

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