These new sweet drink concoctions from Pepsi and Coca Cola are partially sweetened with stevia. You might ask, “Is stevia better or worse for me than sugar?” You ought to wonder that. The big drink manufacturers are putting stevia into their drinks because more and more of us are turning away from soda of any kind. In order to lure us back, this is the latest enticement. Stevia is not in these drinks because it’s good for you.
Stevia is found in an herb from South America. As an herb, the plant is not approved for use in foods, and FDA approval is not on the horizon. However, the sweetener is approved in it’s extracted and highly processed form. It contains ‘no’ calories, but as a chemical, of course, it is processed in your digestive tract and comes out the other end as something else. However, for now at least, it seems that stevia does not cause the blood sugar effects that other artificial sweeteners do. Worth noting, stevia is not recommended for people taking these medicines, as it may interact:
But there are some health concerns surrounding the stevia plant. Stevia may cause low blood pressure, which would be of concern to some taking blood pressure medications.
“Caution is advised when using medications that may also lower blood sugar. People taking insulin or drugs for diabetes by mouth should be monitored closely by a qualified health care professional, including a pharmacist,” Ulbricht said.
Stevia may also interact with anti-fungals, anti-inflammatories, anti-microbials, anti-cancer drugs, anti-virals, appetite suppressants, calcium channel blockers, cholesterol-lowering drugs, drugs that increase urination, fertility agents and other medications, Ulbricht said. People should talk with their doctor before deciding to take stevia in large amounts, she said.
The cola products that are coming out are not just stevia, though. They are stevia and sugar. They will have ‘less’ calories than high fructose corn sweetener flavored sodas. The idea is not to produce a safe soft drink, but a soft drink that you will buy because it is ‘better for you.
While much of stevia’s appeal is that it’s natural, some critics note that most products include more corn sugar and bulking agents than the stevia plant itself and that the term “natural” is tricky territory for food companies.
In 2013, Cargill agreed to pay $5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in a Minnesota state court that claimed its Truvia brand should not be marketed as “natural” because it is highly processed and uses genetically modified ingredients.
Stevia has another problem. By itself, it leaves a licorice flavored aftertaste. Leave it to the food-additive industry to come up with solutions:
Several companies are working on the problem. Comax Flavors this week announced that it was releasing a natural masking flavor to cover up stevia’s unpleasant aftertastes. And last month, Givaudan Flavours said it had discovered the bitter taste receptors that stevia sweeteners trigger, and applied for patents related to these discoveries. Meanwhile, Blue California, along with other companies, has suggested that if you only use purer stevia extracts, like they do, everything will taste fine.
If your artificial flavor leaves a bad taste in your mouth, then add another artificial flavor to hide that fact. So we end up eating not one new thing, but several in combination. Lots of unnatural ingredients to shower our microbe helpers with. New variables in our diet to wonder about ten years from now.
OR, you could forego the sweetened drink all together. Water is a perfectly good substitute for colas. Unsweetened tea is a very popular drink around the globe and might catch on here, if we all decide tomorrow that we don’t want to be food industry lab rats. Water has the advantage of being delivered right to our taps, being a tightly regulated utility that is reliable and inexpensive. It has a neutral effect on our digestive systems. There is no mystery surrounding water, or scientifically discovered problems with it that are going to be announced in the next few years.