Stevia is a popular sugar substitute derived from the ultra-sweet stevia plant native to South America. Stevia can have an overly sweet taste that isn't too bitter, but is stevia vegan friendly? When making this determination, it's important to check stevia ingredients as many brands add fillers. Some stevia products are also blends and contain other sugar alternatives like erythritol. The good news is most stevia brands on the market are vegan friendly, but that isn't the whole story. Here's what you should know about choosing a healthy, vegan stevia product.
Stevia Ingredients List
- Stevia extract (stevia rebaudiana Bertoni)
- Maltodextrin (filler based on corn, rice, or potatoes)
- Dextrose (filler made from corn sugar or honey)
- Inulin (vegetable-based prebiotic fiber filler)
- Erythritol (sugar alcohol and sugar substitute made from corn)
- Xylitol (sugar alcohol made from birch trees)
- Glycerin (derived from vegetables and fruits; often found in alcohol-free liquid stevia)
Note that you can buy stevia in its pure form, in which case only stevia will be listed as the ingredient. Fillers and additives vary by brand.
What is Stevia?
So, is stevia vegan? It's first important to understand what stevia is. Stevia is a leaf, which makes it one of the few sugar substitutes that's derived from a plant. Stevia is actually related to ragweed and daisy in the Asteraceae family and it's been used for at least 1,500 years by the native peoples of Brazil as a natural sweetener. Stevia is between 100 to 200 times sweeter than sugar, but it does not increase blood sugar levels like sugar and artificial sweeteners. This makes it appropriate for people who are hypoglycemic or diabetic.
Is Stevia Vegan?
There are nearly one dozen brands of stevia on the market and they are not all equal. Most brands contain fillers and additives. You may also notice sneaky ingredients in certified organic stevia. The Wholesome Sweeteners brand of stevia, for example, contains more organic agave inulin than stevia extract. While agave inulin is a natural plant ingredient, it's highly processed. This brand even contains organic silica extract, an ingredient also used in concrete and glass.
Truvia is the most well-known brand and it's owned by Coca-Cola. Truvia goes through a patented 40-step process to extract the sweetener from the leaf that relies on the use of methanol, acetone, isopropanol, and other chemicals.
One of the most common filler ingredients added to stevia is dextrose, which is found in Stevia in the Raw and Pure Via, owned by Pepsi Co. Dextrose is a sweetener and bulking agent that's derived from genetically engineered corn before going through a long manufacturing process.
If you are concerned about healthy, safe ingredients in addition to whether the stevia is vegan, look for products that contain "whole leaf stevia" in the ingredients when the product is already sweetened. In the powdered form, the ingredients list should contain nothing but "stevia" to avoid potentially nasty ingredients. Two powdered brands that contains only stevia are NuStevia from NuNaturals and Better Stevia from Now Foods. The best forms of stevia are leaf, powdered leaf, and liquid extract. Remember that a little goes a long way. If you choose the white powdered form, keep in mind it is refined (stevia is not naturally white!).
Among fillers and additives, the safest choices include:
- Glycerin, which helps reduce the bitter taste of stevia
- Xylitol, which has proven oral health benefits
Here's a guide to understanding common stevia fillers.
Vegan Alternatives to Stevia
Stevia is vegan friendly, but there are other vegan sweetener alternatives if you find you don't like the aftertaste of stevia. Here are some of the best in terms of taste and health benefits.
Erythritol is a vegan-friendly sugar alcohol and natural sweetener that's become very popular over the last few years. Erythritol is usually made from wheat or cornstarch and this gluten-free sweetener does not contribute to tooth decay like some sugar alternatives. Like other sugar alcohols, erythritol offers sweetness without causing a spike in blood glucose. As a powder, erythritol can be used in everything from baking to drinks.
Beet sugar is made from sugar beets and offers a vegan-friendly alternative to people who have an allergy to cane sugar. Beet sugar has no taste difference than cane sugar so it can be used in baking, but it does have calories. Many vegans prefer beet sugar because they can be sure they're using a 100% vegan product as long as it's certified organic and doesn't come from genetically modified or highly processed beets.
Coconut Palm Sugar
Coconut palm sugar is a wonderful replacement for stevia and sugar with a dark brown color and a nutty but mild flavor. Coconut sugar is less sweet than cane sugar with a much lower glycemic index.
Frucose is the primary sugar in fruits and it's sweeter than the sucrose in cane sugar. While it does have calories, you can use about half less fructose than regular sugar in baking and recipes.
Stevia is a good choice for a vegan sweetener as long as you choose a brand without potentially problematic fillers that may cause health consequences or go through a long refining process. Stick with alcohol-free liquid stevia or pure powered stevia, or choose a non-GMO alternative like fructose, coconut palm sugar, or erythritol.
Do you use stevia or do you prefer another vegan sweetener? Let us know in the comments!