If you're watching your weight or blood sugar, stevia leaf powder or liquid extracts offer a sweet alternative without the calories, carbohydrates, and glucose of traditional white sucrose, or table sugar. It is also generally a safe choice for for you if you're following gluten-free diets. A common allergen, gluten is a protein found in wheat and many other common grains. In its natural unadulterated form, stevia is a gluten-free food.
By itself, the Stevia rebaudiana plant, which contains the leaves coveted for their non-nutritive sweetness -- yielding extracts 200 to 300 times as sweet as sugar -- contains no gluten. However, stevia products may contain additives that threaten its naturally gluten-free status. Take the time to read labels to ensure that your stevia does not include possible gluten- or cross-contaminated ingredients.
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Stevia powder can contain inulin or matodextrin. Inulin is a form of chricory root fiber that is naturally gluten-free, so long as it is not contaminated by shared equipment. Maltodextrin can be made from corn, potato, rice or wheat and is generally gluten-free. In the United States, most maltodextrin comes from starches other than wheat. Still, microscopic amounts of gluten may exist.
Like liquid flavor extracts, liquid stevia often contains grain alcohol. Some believe that alcohol's thorough distillation process renders it ultimately gluten-free. Others disagree, citing manufacturers' lack of obligation to rid all gluten from their liquor and a lack of labeling laws. Alcohol processing equipment may also be cross-contaminated with gluten. If you're a gluten-free consumer, look for products that use water and vegetable glycerine instead of alcohol.
In general, stevia offers a safe, alternative all-purpose sweetener for you if you're avoiding gluten. If you suffer from extreme gluten sensitivity, consult with your health care provider before adding a new supplement to your diet.
Sara Miller specializes in health and wellness, diet/nutrition and organic living. She holds a Master of Public Health with a concentration in behavioral sciences and health promotion. Miller also earned a graduate certificate in health education.