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Stevia Side Effects – How Safe is Stevia for Your Pregnancy?

stevia rebaudiana flowers

Artificial sugar sweeteners have been around for a long time. Until recently, sucralose (brand name: Splenda) dominated (and arguably still dominates) the sugar sweetener market. However, consumers are seeking more ‘natural’ sweeteners, such as stevia. Stevia rebaudiana (official name of the stevia plant) is native to South America and has been used for centuries to make medicine and flavor foods. Stevia is currently used in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Russia, Israel, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, Columbia, Brazil, and Argentina.

Canada approved the use of stevia as a table top sweetener and as a food additive in November, 2012. This means stevia may be used as a sweetener at coffee and tea shops and stevia recipes replacing sugar are safe as well. Just keep in mind that two-thirds of a teaspoon of stevia is equal to two teaspoons of table sugar in terms of sweetness.

 

Stevia Side Effects

The likelihood of stevia rebaudiana side effects is very low. However, some people may experience bloating, nausea, dizziness, muscle pain and numbness.

 

For pregnant women, Health Canada states that:

Scientists in Health Canada’s Food Directorate identified no toxicological concerns with the use of steviol glycosides and consider it safe for consumption in foods by the general population, including pregnant women and children, as well as individuals with diabetes, at dose levels not greater than 4 mg per kilogram body weight per day, expressed as steviol equivalents.”

 

However, given that Canada only recently approved stevia, if you are concerned that there has not been sufficient time or research related to stevia consumption during pregnancy or lactation, then exercise caution and avoid use.

 

SweetLeaf ® Sweetener is a brand name product that contains only stevia. This means that Sweetleaf stevia side effects should be minimal, if any, because unlike Truvia ®, it does not contain any sugar alcohols. Excessive consumption of sugar alcohols has been known to create unpleasant side effects such as diarrhea, cramping, and bloating. Thus, if you’ve heard of xylitol side effects or sorbitol side effects including gas and abdominal discomfort, it’s because some people are sensitive to sugar alcohols.

 

It’s worthwhile to mention that there are also reports of Splenda side effects including the same uncomfortable symptoms above as well as headaches and dizziness. Fortunately, these effects only occur in some people, but this means there will always be conflicting opinions as to what it good for your health and what isn’t. My best advice would be to figure out what you’re comfortable trying, experiment, then observe whether you experience any discomfort. You know your body the best so let that be your guide.

What About Other Sweeteners or Sugar Substitutes

According to HealthLinkBC

Health Canada has approved: aspartameacesulfame potassiumneotame,sucralose and thaumatin to use as food ingredients or sweeteners. They are safe for use, in moderation, during pregnancy. Be sure that foods made with these sweeteners do not replace more nutritious foods or drinks. Some natural health products contain Stevia, which is considered safe to use in moderation during pregnancy. Stevia currently is not approved as a sweetener or as food ingredient. Saccharin and cyclamates are not recommended during pregnancy.

Sweetener (Sugar Substitute) Safe During Pregnancy?
Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) YES – in moderation
Saccharin (Hermesetas) NO
Cyclamate (Sweet’N Low) NO
Sucralose (Splenda) YES – in moderation
Acesulfame Potassium (Sunett) YES – in moderation

 

Gluten Allergy Symptoms versus Gluten Sensitivity Symptoms

gluten intolerance symptoms

 

Gluten Allergy Symptoms Gluten Sensitivity Symptoms
  • Bloating
  • cramps
  • fatigue
  • anemia
  • chronic diarrhea
  • weight loss
  • irritability
  • Bloating
  • cramps
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • paresthesia (tingling in extremities)
  • dermatitis herpetiformis (rare) – an intense burning and itching rash

 

As you can see, many gluten allergy (also known as Celiac Disease) and gluten sensitivity (also known as gluten intolerance) symptoms are shared. Many people who claim to be sensitive to gluten are self-diagnosed based on their symptoms. No one can, or should, claim they are allergic to gluten unless they have been formally diagnosed by getting a small intestinal biopsy, which looks to see if there is any villous damage and inflammation.

This is because those with gluten sensitivity may get uncomfortable symptoms from taking gluten, but no physical damage occurs in our gastrointestinal tract. By reducing or removing gluten, their symptoms are alleviated.

 

On the other hand, those with gluten allergy (Celiac Disease), the damage to the small intestine can lead to malabsorption, weight loss and eventually malnutrition if left untreated. Celiac disease symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some patients may describe their celiac symptoms as tolerable but annoying while another becomes hospitalized from malnutrition. There does not seem to be any differences between gluten allergy symptoms in adults versus children.

 

What kind of damage is done? In people who are allergic to gluten, the smallest trace of gluten (protein found in wheat, rye, and barley) that enters their bodies triggers an autoimmune response. The body’s defense system turns on immediately, much like a burglary alarm would go off when a robber breaks into someone’s home. Having said this, it doesn’t matter if one robber breaks in, or an army of robbers…the alarm would still ring for backup. Similarly, a breadcrumb can cause as much damage as an entire slice of bread.

 

If you’re experiencing gluten allergy symptoms or gluten sensitivity symptoms, contact your physician and ask for a gluten allergy test, which is a screening tool to determine if you should get a biopsy test. Having said this, some of the symptoms (such as cramping and bloating) can easily be due to other conditions such as stress, menstrual cycles, stomach flu, food poisoning, or other food allergy or intolerances. Ongoing, unintentional weight loss may be the biggest clue something’s not right.

 

Bottom Line:

Before you make hasty decisions about cutting gluten out of your life forever (which, people with true gluten allergy or Celiac Disease must do as their is currently no other treatment), get tested. Gluten is in A LOT OF FOODS. Gluten free substitutes are increasingly more available, but they simply won’t taste the same and some poorly made substitute foods are not very palatable until you get used to them. Gluten free foods aren’t necessarily any healthier for you, so don’t eat a gluten free diet under this false impression. (For more detailed information and up-to-date research, visit www.celiac.ca)