Get my latest book, You CAN Change Other People

Should I Replace Sugar with Stevia in My Tea?

A friend asks:

About 2 years ago, I gave up my heavy diet pepsi habit. I've moved off of most processed foods, so nowadays, the majority of my non-fruit sugar intake comes from baked goods, and the sugar I put into my cups ‘o tea. So, I recently read about Stevia, plant-extract based sweetener, that, in the formulation I saw, is mixed with malodextrin to provide bulk. On the one hand, it might be a way to cut out 6 tsp a day of sugar. On the other, I remain suspicious of any artificial sweetener, no matter what its origin. What do you recommend?

– Getting Healthy in the Mountains

My reply:


Before I jump in with an answer, I want to put the question in context by asking you a couple of questions:

  1. What are your goals in reducing sugar consumption? Weight loss? Current health conditions? Prevention of future health conditions? Adherence to a particular diet/lifestyle philosophy? Clearing mental fog?
  2. What does the rest of your diet look like? Barring a particular food allergy or sensitivity, the overall dietary pattern is far more important than the substitution of one food for another. For overall health and weight control, I’d be much more concerned about the milk in your tea than the sugar.

Now, to the facts.

Some Facts About Stevia

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Stevia has not been found to be harmful in humans at least not since big companies like Cargill and Coca Cola started using it and influencing policy with their dollars.

The FDA had raised health concerns about stevia back in the 1990s when only fringe companies like Hain Celestial were using it (and that despite over 900 studies showing no harmful effects).

They haven’t evaluated the stevia plant itself, but have listed a number of derivative products deemed GRAS (generally regarded as safe).

Now for the potential bad news. Japanese researchers found that the active ingredient in stevia, steviosides, is totally harmless, but gets converted into steviol by the intestinal bacteria of lab rats.

Steviol was shown to cause huge spikes in DNA mutation, making it a pro forma carcinogen. Scientists have recently (last 8 years) found that humans have the same bacteria in our guts, so it’s assumed that we also turn stevia into carcinogenic compounds that are released into our bloodstreams.

As with most carcinogens, there appears to be a threshold level that produced negligible harm. The World Health Organization has given this amount as 1.8mg per pound of body weight. So a 200 pound person can safely consume 360mg per day, according to the WHO. According to the nutrition label on SweetLeaf, one packet equals one gram.

I don’t know how much of that is maltodextrin and how much is active stevia, so take that advice with a grain of, well, salt.

Cancer is More than Gene Mutations

And DNA mutation, while a step in the progression of cancer, is not the only step, and may not in fact be the primary cause. Once cancer is initiated, it still has to grow, and here the overall dietary pattern can determine whether it does or not. For more on cancer progression, check out The China Study by my friend, mentor, and collaborator T. Colin Campbell.

That said, it’s almost impossible to correlate individual foods with harm in humans. Not because certain foods aren’t harmful, but because of the difficulties in carrying out the research. What are they eating instead? How much are they eating? Can we believe their food logs and dietary recall journals? Might the food be OK for a subset of the population? Etc etc.

Now, back to your specific question.

Aim for 95% Excellence

6 teaspoons of sugar is roughly 100 calories, or 5% of a 2000 calorie per day diet. (As a big strong active guy, your caloric requirements may be higher, so adjust these calculations accordingly.)

I tell my clients to aim for 95% dietary excellence, meaning whole, minimally processed foods of plant origin: whole grains, other starches, veggies, fruits, beans, and small amounts of nuts and seeds.

The other 5% is up to them: pastured raised meat a couple times a week, a glass of wine, a piece of cake, etc.

Because of the wide-ranging health problems associated with diary, I strongly recommend that milk and cheese be eliminated entirely.

Most people who have done so, and use soy or almond milk in their hot beverages, tell me that the transition period was short, and they enjoy their beverages more now that the milk doesn’t overpower the base flavor.

Life is Full of Risks

It’s better to eliminate the daily 6 teaspoons of sugar in the same way that it’s better to avoid driving and flying, or playing ice hockey. There are risks and rewards, and it’s up to each of us to determine the relative weight of each.

If you really love your tea, then deal with the 100 calories of sugar. If you can enjoy it sweetened with stevia extract (try the liquid version with a dropper; as far as I know, it’s got no maltodextrin and maybe a bit less of an aftertaste), then go for it.

Is it Just Nice, or is it an Addiction?

Now to the emotional aspect of your question. When we are unwilling to eliminate a particular food or substance or behavior, and feel our hackles rise when we are asked to consider it, that’s a sign of a dependency.

If tea with milk and sugar is just a nice part of your day, that’s one thing.

But if sugar in particular calls to you on an hourly basis, and you spend a lot of time fighting that call (and losing often enough to encourage the sugar to keep trying), then switching to stevia is going to be a painful affair with sugar’s less attractive sister.

You won’t be satisfied, but you’ll be reminded of what you’ve given up with every tryst.

Better to quit entirely than subject yourself to that sort of self-flagellation.

Hope this helps…

Looking for Transformational Change?

You know how when you discovered plant-based eating, you basically went, “Holy shit, how come the entire healthcare system isn't totally embracing this as one of the most powerful keys to disease prevention and reversal!”?

That's how I feel now about a psychological approach to transformational change called “Memory Reconsolidation.” Few psychologists have heard about it, and when they do hear the radical transformations it can bring about in a very short time, they're often skeptical to the point of disbelief.

But I've added Memory Reconsolidation work to my own coaching, and can attest to its amazing efficacy. So much so, that I'm devoting the next year to mastering it, studying with the best clinicians and teachers in the world, and then introducing it into health coaching through my trainings.

Right now, I want to triple my coaching practice to get more and more opportunities to do this work. And I'm lowering my fees – a lot – to make it easier for people to work with me.

If you're interested in working with me (and willing to commit to a minimum of 2 months), click the link below to open the form in a new browser tab and I'll get back to you within 3 business days.

Yes, I'm interested in Memory Reconsolidation Coaching.

You CAN Change Other People!

Well, that's what Peter Bregman and I claim in our provocative book of that title.

What we really mean is, you can help the people around you make behavioral changes in their own best interests. If you think you're powerless to help people change, it's because you've been going about it the wrong way.

Discover our straightforward, replicable process here: You Can Change Other People.

Audiobook: Use the Weight to Lose the Weight

Listen to Josh LaJaunie and me narrate our latest audiobook, about how to start moving when you're obese.

It's $10, and Josh and I split it evenly 🙂

Tip Jar

This podcast is not underwritten by advertising, so I can experience complete editorial autonomy without worrying about pissing off the person paying the bills. Instead, I pay the bills, with your help. It's free for those who can't afford to pay, and supported by those who can. You can contribute to the growth and improvement of the podcast by clicking the “Support on Patreon” or “Donate” buttons on the right to help out.


The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.

It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website,


Thanks to Plant Yourself podcast patrons – Kim Harrison – Lynn McLellan – Brittany Porter – Dominic Marro – Barbara Whitney – Tammy Black – Amy Good – Amanda Hatherly – Mary Jane Wheeler – Ellen Kennelly – Melissa Cobb – Rachel Behrens – Tina Scharf – Tina Ahern – Jen Vilkinofsky – David Byczek – Michele X – Elspeth Feldman – Leah Stolar – Allan Kristensen – Colleen Peck – Michele Landry – Jozina – Sara Durkacs – Kelly Cameron – Janet Selby – Claire Adams – Tom Fronczak – Jeannette Benham – Gila Lacerte – David Donohue – Blair Seibert – Doron Avizov – Gio and Carolyn Argentati – Jodi Friesner – Mischa Rosen – Michael Worobiec – AvIvA Lael – Alicia Lemus – Val Linnemann – Nick Harper – Bandana Chawla – Molly Levine – The Inscrutable Harry R – Susan Laverty the Panda Vegan – Craig Covic – Adam Scharf – Karen Bury – Heather Morgan – Nigel Davies – Marian Blum – Teresa Kopel – Julian Watkins – Brid O'Connell – Shannon Herschman – Linda Ayotte – Holm Hedegaard – Isa Tousignant – Connie Haneline – Erin Greer – Alicia Davis – Heather O'Connor – Carollynne Jensen – Sheri Orlekoski of Plant Powered for Health – Karen Smith – Scott Mirani – Karen and Joe Crabtree – Kirby Burton – Theresa Carrell – Kevin Macaulay – Elizabeth Rothschild – Ann Jesse – Sheryl Dwyer – Jenny Hazelton – Peter W Evans – Dennis Bird – Darby Kelly – Lori Fanney – Linnea Lundquist – Emily Iaconelli – Levi Wallach – Rosamonde McAtee – Dan Pokorney – Stephen Leinin – Patty DeMartino – Mike and Donna Kartz – Deanne Bishop – Bilberry Elf – Marjorie Lewis – Tricia Adams – Nancy Sheldon – Lindsey Bashore – Gunn Marit Hagen – Tracey Gulledge – Lara Hedin – Meg from Mamasezz – Stacey Stokes – Ben Savage – Michael K – David Hughes -Coni Rodgers – Claire England – Sally Robertson – Parham Ganchi – Amy Dailey – Brian Tourville – Mark Jeffrey Johnson – Josie Dempsey – Caryn Schmitt – Pamela Hayden – Emily Perryman – Allison Corbett – Richard Stone – Lauren Vaught of Edible Musings – Erin Hastey – Sean Owens – Sagar Naik – Erika Piedra – Danielle Roberts – Michael Leuchten – Sarah Johnson – Katharine Floyd – Meryl Fury – for your generous support of the podcast.


This post may contain amazon affiliate links. I may receive compensation from your actions on such links. It don't cost you a dime, tho.

3 comments on “Should I Replace Sugar with Stevia in My Tea?

  1. Dominic says:

    You state wisely:
    “There are risks and rewards, and it’s up to each of us to determine the relative weight of each.”

    This is a fact that one must always consider when making a decision. It’s also important to remember when judging the decisions of others.

    Great article.

  2. Sara says:

    I am a big fan of raw honey myself ; but if you really enjoy Stevia, I would just have a plant of your own and pick the leaves as needed. That way, you definitely know there are no other chemicals.
    As far as no dairy in the diet, I completely disagree. Raw dairy is definitely not bad for you. It helps patients with allergies and asthma. People should really do their own research.
    Other than that, the article was good. “Everything in moderation”, is my belief..

    1. Howard says:

      If you have any peer-reviewed studies on the benefits of raw dairy, I would be interested in seeing them. Raw or not, milk is full of estrogen and fat, and have been shown to contribute to many adverse conditions. In addition, persistent organic pollutants aggregate in the fatty tissues of animals, and are concentrated in their milk, regardless of whether they are “organically” raised.

      Plus, of course, animal milk is the perfect food for baby animals of the same species. I consider it rude to forcibly impregnate a cow and the take her baby away from her so I can drink its milk.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *