Why bellie uses clover honey and not stevia?

Jun 10, 2024

When we think about sweeteners, our minds often dart straight to sugar. However, our gut microbiota – that bustling microcosm within us – doesn’t quite share our sweet tooth. The usual culprits in our diets, particularly refined sugars, have a less-than-stellar impact on these microscopic inhabitants that are crucial to our health. Yet, in our pursuit of that sweet taste, companies have tried to outmaneuver the sugar debacle by offering alternatives like stevia. The twist? Studies are now surfacing that these alternatives, too, might unsettle our gut microbiome.

Recent research highlights that stevia, while celebrated as a natural sweetener, may have adverse effects on gut microbiota through its impact on bacterial communication systems. A study assessed various stevia extracts, including stevioside and rebaudioside A (Reb A), alongside their derivative steviol, for their influence on quorum sensing (QS) – the process by which bacteria communicate and coordinate behavior via signaling molecules. The findings showed that commercial stevia supplements inhibited bacterial communication without killing the bacteria, suggesting interference with QS pathways crucial for gut microbiota balance.

Further tests on pure stevia components revealed that while Reb A showed limited inhibitory effect, stevioside and steviol significantly disrupted QS signaling. Computational models supported these results, indicating that steviol likely acts as a competitive inhibitor, binding to QS receptors and blocking natural signaling molecules. This disruption in bacterial communication can lead to gut microbial imbalances, potentially mirroring issues seen with artificial sweeteners. 

Another study explored the impact of low-dose consumption of Reb A on gut microbiota and the mesolimbic dopamine reward system in rats. The findings revealed that while Reb A did not significantly alter weight gain or glucose tolerance, it did perturb the gut microbiota composition. Specifically, Reb A consumption reduced beneficial gut bacteria like Bifidobacteriaceae and increased the abundance of Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron and Akkermansia muciniphila, creating potential gut imbalances.

The same study also observed changes in the brain’s reward system, with Reb A reducing the expression of genes related to dopamine signaling in the nucleus accumbens, a key area involved in food-seeking behavior. These alterations suggest potential disruptions in reward processing and appetite regulation due to stevia consumption. While the study focused on rats, these findings raise concerns about the long-term effects of stevia on human gut health and brain function.

A Healthy and Natural Alternative?

But is there a healthy way to sweeten a tea? Enter clover honey – a prebiotic powerhouse. Unlike its heavily processed counterparts, clover honey nourishes our gut bacteria; it is that sweet thing that’s secretly healthy. It contains oligosaccharides, non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. The evidence? A growing body of research illustrates that clover honey doesn't just help out the good guys in your gut; it also helps crowd out the bad bacteria, reducing pathogens that can cause infections.

The evidence for clover honey's prebiotic effects comes from both in vitro studies and animal models. In one such study, clover honey was shown to support the growth of probiotic bacteria to an extent comparable to commercial prebiotics like FOS, GOS, or inulin​​. Another study conducted using animal models demonstrated that honey not only fosters the growth of probiotic bacteria but also helps to alleviate symptoms of constipation and improve overall gut health​​.

Honey, particularly of the clover variety, brings more to the table than a hint of sweetness. It packs a therapeutic punch, offering antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Unlike Stevia, it supports a well-balanced gut microbiota. From scientific studies to trials, the exciting data remains consistent: clover honey is beneficial for the gut. It promotes the growth of the bacteria we want, and helps bring our digestive system closer in line to what nature intended.

The compelling case for clover honey extends beyond its ability to enhance probiotic populations. It has a role in promoting overall gut health and, in extension, our wellbeing. It stands out as a sweetener that doesn’t just mimic the sweetness we crave from sugar. Instead, it improves the health of our gut microbiome, which is a critical component of our overall health.

At bellie, we have found that clover honey is just the right complement for the HMOs in our drink: working together in a positive feedback loop to build up the same good bacteria. We use ingredients that make sense together. Honey has been paired with tea for millenia, and there was a reason why it stuck around. How great is it to not only have a sweetener that is tasty, but also one that is beneficial for your health? These days, it seems like health-conscious consumers are constantly faced with the frustrating tradeoff between adding a little sweetness at the expense of their health, but with prebiotic clover honey, your health can benefit as well as your taste buds. How cool is that?

In short, when we talk about choosing a sweetener, the conversation shouldn't just revolve around how to get around the nutrition label. It’s about health impact too. It’s a natural sweetener with a robust profile: it's sweet, it's supportive of gut health, and it’s backed by research. Clover honey might just be the all-around better choice. Clover honey emerges not only as a viable alternative to sugar but as a beneficial one for our gut bacteria, working to maintain a healthy balance in our digestive system—from the beehive to our belly.

Oh, and it tastes real.

Deniņa, I., P. Semjonovs, A. Fomina, R. Treimane, and R. Linde. "The influence of stevia glycosides on the growth of Lactobacillus reuteri strains." Letters in applied microbiology 58, no. 3 (2014): 278-284.

Markus, Victor, Orr Share, Kerem Teralı, Nazmi Ozer, Robert S. Marks, Ariel Kushmaro, and Karina Golberg. "Anti-quorum sensing activity of stevia extract, Stevioside, Rebaudioside a and their Aglycon Steviol." Molecules 25, no. 22 (2020): 5480.

McKenna, Jack. “How Sugar Affects Gut Microbiota,” MDPI. 2023.

Nettleton, Jodi E., Teja Klancic, Alana Schick, Ashley C. Choo, Jane Shearer, Stephanie L. Borgland, Faye Chleilat, Shyamchand Mayengbam, and Raylene A. Reimer. "Low-dose stevia (rebaudioside A) consumption perturbs gut microbiota and the mesolimbic dopamine reward system." Nutrients 11, no. 6 (2019): 1248.

Schell, Kathleen R., Kenya E. Fernandes, Erin Shanahan, Isabella Wilson, Shona E. Blair, Dee A. Carter, and Nural N. Cokcetin. "The potential of honey as a prebiotic food to re-engineer the gut microbiome toward a healthy state." Frontiers in nutrition 9 (2022): 957932.