Are stevia plant extracts safe?

Stevia-based sweeteners use purified extracts from the leaves of the stevia plant, called steviol glycosides.

Marketed as a "natural sweetener", manufacturers hope steviol glycosides will appeal to consumers looking for a healthier alternative to sugar.

The plant extract – which is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar and is also calorie-free – has been used as a sweetener for many years in Asia and South America.

When used as a table-top sweetener, steviol glycosides are often mixed with other artificial sweeteners for texture and to mask their sometimes bitter aftertaste.

Steviol glycosides are approved for use in sugar-free soft drinks, hot beverages, jams, flavoured milk and other dairy products, cakes, desserts and alcohol, among other things.

When consumed, steviol glycosides are broken down into steviol, which is absorbed by the body. The body does not store steviol glycosides and they are rapidly eliminated in faeces and urine.

Steviol glycosides were approved by the EU in 2010 after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) carried out a comprehensive analysis (PDF, 532kb) of all the available evidence and concluded they were safe for human consumption.

Extensive research has been done on steviol glycosides, involving both humans and animals. After analysing all the available evidence, the EFSA's reviewing panel concluded that steviol glycosides are not carcinogenic or toxic and do not pose a risk to pregnancy or children.

Acceptable daily intake: 4mg/kg body weight

Find out what the latest scientific evidence says about these other common artificial sweeteners:

Read The truth about sweeteners

Page last reviewed: 13/04/2016

Next review due: 13/04/2019


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