9

votes

"Artificial" Sweetners: Is stevia primal?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created March 07, 2010 at 12:29 AM

I made my own soda tonight using sparkling water, lemon and lime juice, and powdered stevia. It tastes exactly like diet Sprite. I understand that plain ol' water is what all the cool primal kids are drinking these days but it's nice to have a flavored beverage with dinner sometimes. Considering that stevia is minimally processed and comes from a plant, is it primal?

1dd1d4bde5b46b4c90efeadea3a96a75

(180)

on November 03, 2012
at 08:17 PM

Pretty much everything you recommend there wasn't widely available in the Paloelithic era: coffee, tea, whole milk/cream, cocoa. Not saying stevia is necessarily good for you but I would say 80% + of what is recommended as food on this site was not widely available either.

23cdea3bba94e17d2b58b525773d0c0a

(729)

on April 08, 2011
at 05:23 PM

I feel I need to add to this- todays beet sugar is NOT the same as the sugar beet Earl mentions. In most cases, it's genetically modified and horribly refined and in my opinion, should be avoided.

Fa361df4b3f2d5aa13aa6a73dbf8d88b

(152)

on April 02, 2011
at 10:52 PM

Thanks for the reference for the 12-step program. I am going to adapt it so I can find my own path.

1f70da0b737e9c6e7679a248f4228a01

on August 04, 2010
at 06:18 AM

The fascinating (for me) connection between sweeteners and insulin secretion is the conditioned insulin response some of us have developed to the taste or smell (or sometimes sight or thought) of something sweet. I've read blog posts where individuals have experienced hypoglycaemic symptoms or have measured drops in post-prandial blood glucose after consuming foods that taste sweet - stevia certainly features as a recent interest for those taste-testers. I wouldn't yay or nay stevia for anyone based on good evidence from other sources - I'd be encouraging them to test their own response.

145d4b0f988af15acc6b26eccc1f4895

(1932)

on April 19, 2010
at 04:33 PM

My concern is with your comment "I can't drink only water all the time." Now I clearly understand that you may not WANT to drink water all the time...but truly, put yourself in a situation where only water is available, and I guarantee you that you will "drink only water all the time." This is not meant to be judgmental, just pointing out that while you may CHOOSE not to drink water all the time (and understandably so), please recognize it as a choice.

9f8111d9ecaa64ea098a0860b47300e0

on March 18, 2010
at 08:44 PM

Stevia is a fun plant to grow. either outdoors or potted for the herbal kitchen :-))

F0978a2a1c37d2a3d4ec6344c0c4ff82

(2213)

on March 07, 2010
at 08:44 PM

@Patrik -- One of the strongest cues that increases the hunger drive is a rapidly falling blood sugar, according to Dr. Michael Eades (search his site for hunger and blood sugar). A friend just asked me the other day about sugar alcohols and whether they elicit an insulin response or should be counted as carbs. The Drs Eades suggest counting about a third of the grams of sugar alcohols as carbs but admit that the response varies greatly between individuals & the sugar alcohol in question. There's a good article on the subject here if you are interested. http://www.mendosa.com/netcarbs.htm

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on March 07, 2010
at 06:59 PM

@KetoWarrior -- great effin' answer! I was thinking along those same lines, but would have been incapable of such a eloquent response.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on March 07, 2010
at 06:13 PM

@KetoWarrior -- also with regards to -- "If you notice yourself getting hungry right after consuming one of these non-caloric stevia drinks, then you'll have your confirmation that insulin was released." --- I noticed this after eating chocolate sweetened with maltitol (a "low carb" sugar alcohol that allegedly doesn't pop your insulin. Well, my appetite increased immediately after consumption of said chocolate. So, proof enough for me.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on March 07, 2010
at 06:11 PM

@KetoWarrior -- great effin' answer! I was thinking along those same lines, but would have been capable of such a eloquent response.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on March 07, 2010
at 03:03 PM

Never apologize for long interesting answers!

D15d6820ef1545edac65e975cc2d8949

on March 07, 2010
at 10:56 AM

You forgot the important part, though: "...enhanced insulin secretion from incubated mouse islets in the presence of 16.7 mmol/L glucose (P < .05). (...) The insulinotropic effects of stevioside and steviol were critically dependent on the prevailing glucose concentration, ie, stevioside (1 mmol/L) and steviol (1 micromol/L) ***only potentiated insulin secretion at or above 8.3 mmol/L glucose*** (P < .05)."

5ebeec76e20738d0a17cd724d64b1e0f

(1922)

on March 07, 2010
at 08:21 AM

Here's a link to one paper: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10690946 "Stevioside acts directly on pancreatic beta cells to secrete insulin".

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on March 07, 2010
at 03:55 AM

Why don't you try a really good tea? I can recommend several. Kombucha or kefir "soda" are two other awesome alternatives that have the bonus of training you away from sweet things.

Be4b60059db3511771303de1613ecb67

(1137)

on March 07, 2010
at 03:13 AM

Is there evidence that it spikes insulin? Can you provide a link? I've not heard that before. It's bitterness depends on the brand.

48a1334b345df12f6291e9f1edf54693

on March 07, 2010
at 01:13 AM

I appreciate your comment, but again, I can't drink only water all the time. I'm 2+ months into paleo and I've been pretty strict throughout, but I don't think a homemade soda once/week is a bad thing. I look forward to the day when I can begin to reincorporate fruits and vege's back into my diet, but for now I'm VLC (>20g/day) so these little, carb-free indiscretions are a welcome retreat and make things more tolerable for me. And if these little imitations allow me to stick with it, then I think they're worth it.

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17 Answers

best answer

41
F0978a2a1c37d2a3d4ec6344c0c4ff82

on March 07, 2010
at 09:30 AM

The authority on what would be considered "primal" would be Mark Sisson, since that is the term he coined for his "Primal Blueprint" lifestyle. Last November he wrote a piece on the difference between "primal" and "paleo." In it he wrote:

Also at issue is the role of diet sodas (allowed by Cordain) and other artificial sweeteners. The opinion of many in the paleo community is that as long as it???s not sugar, it???s acceptable. Working around the problem like this seems to be nothing more than a manipulation. Although the Primal Blueprint doesn???t demonize the occasional use of artificial sweeteners, it makes the stipulation that its use should be limited to foods or beverages that will inherently add something positive to the diet. In other words, if you aren???t getting anything positive from the meal or drink, you shouldn???t be taking the risk of the artificial sweetener. A better angle? Expand your cooking repertoire. Train your taste buds in the right direction, and don???t let the artificial stuff get in the way of that progress.

Is stevia paleo? Thank goodness there is no paleo high priest to decree one way or another and excommunicate us for our sins. As Richard Nikoley has eloquently pointed out more than once "paleo is not a [insert expletive here] religion." It is a guiding principle.

The top of PaleoHacks is currently sporting a quote from Dr. Kurt Harris: "Metabolism first, history second." I agree and by the way, if we must have a paleo pope then Dr. Harris gets my vote. I anticipate that his answer to this question would be similar to the one he gave about pork rinds: "Are you planning on making it a staple?"

Metabolically, stevia is pretty harmless. Yes, in force-fed lab rats who were given enormous doses per unit of body weight, Stevia did seem to increase the risk of reproductive tumors, especially in the male rats. Unless you plan on eating a 50 pound sack of stevia per week, I think it's a non-issue. Remember that even water has a dosage at which it becomes toxic.

I have not seen any research that claims that Stevia induces an insulin response. What I did see (and I confess that I looked into it many years ago) was that it mildly improved insulin sensitivity. There are many in the paleo and low-carb communities who are of the opinion that anything sweet, caloric or not, evokes an insulin response. It is sometimes referred to as the "cephalic insulin response." Cephalus is a medical jargon term for brain. Hence your brain anticipates calories because of the sweetness and has your pancreas release insulin preemptively. Personally, I'm not yet convinced of the idea's legitimacy, but I do not dismiss it out of hand either. It's possible and certainly plausible. You'll have to do your own research on that one and come to your own conclusion. I'm still waiting for more evidence as it seems to be a phenomenon that varies greatly between individuals. If you notice yourself getting hungry right after consuming one of these non-caloric stevia drinks, then you'll have your confirmation that insulin was released.

Let me save you some time though. Go read Dr. Harris essay on "Smoking Candy Cigarettes." Stevia is probably harmless metabolically in the context you are using it and how strict paleo you want to be is entirely up to you. "Avoid eating neolithic food and anything that looks like neolithic food" is a foundational principle but if making your stevia sweetened soda helps you along in your transition from Neolithic SAD-eating human cattle to Paleo Man-god then I say on the whole it is positive. Dr. Harris makes his program a 12-step progression for a reason. You can add a 13th step toward the bottom that says "give up Stevia sodas." Even if you never make it to step 13, nutritionally and health-wise you will still be light years ahead of your former self.

As usual, my apologies for my overly long-winded answer.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on March 07, 2010
at 06:59 PM

@KetoWarrior -- great effin' answer! I was thinking along those same lines, but would have been incapable of such a eloquent response.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on March 07, 2010
at 03:03 PM

Never apologize for long interesting answers!

F0978a2a1c37d2a3d4ec6344c0c4ff82

(2213)

on March 07, 2010
at 08:44 PM

@Patrik -- One of the strongest cues that increases the hunger drive is a rapidly falling blood sugar, according to Dr. Michael Eades (search his site for hunger and blood sugar). A friend just asked me the other day about sugar alcohols and whether they elicit an insulin response or should be counted as carbs. The Drs Eades suggest counting about a third of the grams of sugar alcohols as carbs but admit that the response varies greatly between individuals & the sugar alcohol in question. There's a good article on the subject here if you are interested. http://www.mendosa.com/netcarbs.htm

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on March 07, 2010
at 06:13 PM

@KetoWarrior -- also with regards to -- "If you notice yourself getting hungry right after consuming one of these non-caloric stevia drinks, then you'll have your confirmation that insulin was released." --- I noticed this after eating chocolate sweetened with maltitol (a "low carb" sugar alcohol that allegedly doesn't pop your insulin. Well, my appetite increased immediately after consumption of said chocolate. So, proof enough for me.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on March 07, 2010
at 06:11 PM

@KetoWarrior -- great effin' answer! I was thinking along those same lines, but would have been capable of such a eloquent response.

Fa361df4b3f2d5aa13aa6a73dbf8d88b

(152)

on April 02, 2011
at 10:52 PM

Thanks for the reference for the 12-step program. I am going to adapt it so I can find my own path.

7
9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on March 07, 2010
at 04:02 AM

I personally ate all kinds of sweeteners when I started paleo and I still experienced great benefits and eventually was able to eliminate them. There isn't good evidence that stevia spikes insulin, it fact there is evidence it does the opposite! But eventually your goal should be to no longer crave sweets. That's why I think that if you are doing Stevia, at least have the non-refined type that retains some bitterness. I used that for awhile and eventually just kind of forgot about it. It's not that good really, though it did satisfy my craving for chai for some time.

Kombucha and kefir sodas are much nicer. The flavors are more complex and they are fizzy. The bonus is that my craving for sweet was replaced by an appreciation for sour.

Another thing to try is really nice tea with a complex flavor. Harney and Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice is a great one, but traditional high quality Japanese green tea is also wonderful.

1f70da0b737e9c6e7679a248f4228a01

on August 04, 2010
at 06:18 AM

The fascinating (for me) connection between sweeteners and insulin secretion is the conditioned insulin response some of us have developed to the taste or smell (or sometimes sight or thought) of something sweet. I've read blog posts where individuals have experienced hypoglycaemic symptoms or have measured drops in post-prandial blood glucose after consuming foods that taste sweet - stevia certainly features as a recent interest for those taste-testers. I wouldn't yay or nay stevia for anyone based on good evidence from other sources - I'd be encouraging them to test their own response.

6
Df11e66ec4dd4f749eca409633b6a3fb

(595)

on March 20, 2010
at 11:36 AM

I figure if I can grow it in my garden (and I do) and use it without any processing (which I can and do), and I have no insulin reaction (and I don't), then I'm not going to worry about it. Yes, we should be training ourselves not to crave sweet stuff, but if it helps get you drinking more water, I think it's for the best. Not everyone has yummy tap water, so a bit of doctoring to get the hydration up is better than the alternative, I think.

6
97af1caf30f029165abc783a20349c9f

(510)

on March 07, 2010
at 01:41 PM

Who cares? Do you like/tolerate it? Than go for it. I??m with stevia for years and it??s fine. BG goes quiete a bit down. I??m very insulin sensitive and had never a problem. There is no paleo dogma. Health matters.

3
2ebfa52e50871351572c73fb5a5f2f2a

on March 18, 2010
at 05:27 PM

Assumption for this post: Sweetener: anything that adds sweetness, caloric or not. Artificial Sweetener: any sweetener that is non-caloric

I can't accept the argument that anything that "fools" the body is good. When the body consumes sweet, it "knows" that sugar is coming and therefore "knows" that it's going to need insulin. Eating an artificial sweetener "breaks" this homeostatic response by the body because the insulin is not needed. For some this causes problems, others it doesn't.

The body was not designed for refined foods, and we paleo eaters endeavor to eat, relatively, unrefined foods. When you take stevia leaves, and squish all the sweetness out of them, dry it and package it up, you can't tell me that's not refined. Even if it is a "natural" sweetener.

I am someone that reacts to all non-caloric sweeteners the same way, with an insulin and adrenal response. Perhaps that makes me biased, but I don't see that cause for sweeteners. Enjoy food as close as possible to it's whole natural state.

9f8111d9ecaa64ea098a0860b47300e0

on March 18, 2010
at 08:44 PM

Stevia is a fun plant to grow. either outdoors or potted for the herbal kitchen :-))

3
F5b97c202445e391eec85a27249dfeb6

(40)

on March 18, 2010
at 05:29 AM

Pure, unadulterated stevia has a 0 glycemic index (and 0 calories an 0 carbs), it nourishes the pancreas, and lowers high blood sugar to put it proper balance, and lowers high blood pressure without affecting normal or low blood pressure. Therefore, it can actually be used to treat type 2 diabetes. Stevia can actually help curb appetite for sweets, unlike artificial sweeteners. It has numerous other uses as well. It is very good for the body as it contains 100 different nutrients.

I use SweetLeaf brand of stevia--a rather pure product--I think their dark liquids retain most or all of the nutrients.

3
7bea72ef073e8f76b5828727f1460900

(2718)

on March 07, 2010
at 12:59 AM

Research seems to be mixed on "artificial" sweeteners. Some seem to cause insulin spikes, others seem not to, and it's hard to keep track which is which.

My general rule is: Just avoid sweet things. Don't even try to emulate the sweetness with artificial sweeteners. Once you go without for long enough, your sweetness sensitivity will be naturally boosted. I'd gotten to a point where even whole milk tastes sweet.

Enjoy nature's foods in their natural state. That's the sweetest taste in the world!

48a1334b345df12f6291e9f1edf54693

on March 07, 2010
at 01:13 AM

I appreciate your comment, but again, I can't drink only water all the time. I'm 2+ months into paleo and I've been pretty strict throughout, but I don't think a homemade soda once/week is a bad thing. I look forward to the day when I can begin to reincorporate fruits and vege's back into my diet, but for now I'm VLC (>20g/day) so these little, carb-free indiscretions are a welcome retreat and make things more tolerable for me. And if these little imitations allow me to stick with it, then I think they're worth it.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on March 07, 2010
at 03:55 AM

Why don't you try a really good tea? I can recommend several. Kombucha or kefir "soda" are two other awesome alternatives that have the bonus of training you away from sweet things.

145d4b0f988af15acc6b26eccc1f4895

(1932)

on April 19, 2010
at 04:33 PM

My concern is with your comment "I can't drink only water all the time." Now I clearly understand that you may not WANT to drink water all the time...but truly, put yourself in a situation where only water is available, and I guarantee you that you will "drink only water all the time." This is not meant to be judgmental, just pointing out that while you may CHOOSE not to drink water all the time (and understandably so), please recognize it as a choice.

2
Ed983a42344945b1ff70fd9597a23493

on May 26, 2011
at 01:15 AM

Stevia is an herb, it is not an artificial sweetener. In the dried and processed form, it is a whole food. The liquid form is more processed, and much sweeter. Supposedly, any sweet taste can cause an insulin reaction in sensitive people, but most people should be fine with it. I have used it as my exclusive sweetener for years, and my only problem with it is that it desensitizes my tastebuds to sweet tastes, so I use more and more until my tea is sickly sweet to others, and less sweet tea is bland to me. I stopped using it a few weeks ago experimentally, and after a few days, I noticed I had a much more sensitive palate...not sure if I'll go back to it or not...BUT stevia really helped me make better food choices over the years!

2
08ce57b1bbb3bda8e384234389c36d94

on March 27, 2010
at 01:47 PM

Sugarcane is a tall perennial grass native to warm temperate to tropical regions of Asia.

The Sugar beet is a biennial plant grown in a wide variety of temperate climates.

Honey is a sweet food made by certain insects using nectar from flowers.

All these foods are primal in the sense that our ancient paleolithic ancestors would have occasionally eaten them in their travels.

Saccharin (C7H5NO3S) is a result of toluene reacting wit anthranilic acid, nitrous acid, sulfur dioxide, chlorine, and then ammonia.

Aspartame is the methyl ester of the dipeptide of the amino acids L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine.

These foods are not primal.

23cdea3bba94e17d2b58b525773d0c0a

(729)

on April 08, 2011
at 05:23 PM

I feel I need to add to this- todays beet sugar is NOT the same as the sugar beet Earl mentions. In most cases, it's genetically modified and horribly refined and in my opinion, should be avoided.

2
Ff82af3238a57fbd1212832ec1a19f28

on March 18, 2010
at 11:45 PM

If I would have tasted Stevia in paleo-times, I would have done a little dance and picked more of it.

2
5ebeec76e20738d0a17cd724d64b1e0f

on March 07, 2010
at 01:58 AM

Stevia definitely isn't "primal." Not only was it not widely available in the Paleolithic era, to the extent it was, it didn't have a significant effect on human metabolism. If you're going to use it, I would treat it like fruit: very limited amounts, and only very occasionally.

If you can really keep it to once a week, it's probably fine. The problem is, most people can't, and the insulin spike from the sweet tastes tends to make them hungry.

If you're looking for drinks other than water, how about: coffee, tea, whole milk, cream or half-and-half.

If you're craving something more, how about using unsweetened baking cocoa? The cocoa is actually a little bitter by itself (not sweet), it's very low-carb, and yet tastes pretty good when mixed with cream.

Be4b60059db3511771303de1613ecb67

(1137)

on March 07, 2010
at 03:13 AM

Is there evidence that it spikes insulin? Can you provide a link? I've not heard that before. It's bitterness depends on the brand.

D15d6820ef1545edac65e975cc2d8949

on March 07, 2010
at 10:56 AM

You forgot the important part, though: "...enhanced insulin secretion from incubated mouse islets in the presence of 16.7 mmol/L glucose (P < .05). (...) The insulinotropic effects of stevioside and steviol were critically dependent on the prevailing glucose concentration, ie, stevioside (1 mmol/L) and steviol (1 micromol/L) ***only potentiated insulin secretion at or above 8.3 mmol/L glucose*** (P < .05)."

5ebeec76e20738d0a17cd724d64b1e0f

(1922)

on March 07, 2010
at 08:21 AM

Here's a link to one paper: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10690946 "Stevioside acts directly on pancreatic beta cells to secrete insulin".

1dd1d4bde5b46b4c90efeadea3a96a75

(180)

on November 03, 2012
at 08:17 PM

Pretty much everything you recommend there wasn't widely available in the Paloelithic era: coffee, tea, whole milk/cream, cocoa. Not saying stevia is necessarily good for you but I would say 80% + of what is recommended as food on this site was not widely available either.

1
23cdea3bba94e17d2b58b525773d0c0a

(729)

on April 08, 2011
at 05:30 PM

I think there's an important little fact that is often overlooked. There are very few sweet things in nature and our hunter/gatherer predocessors would only come across one of them infrequently. At least by our standards. Bitter foods, namely greens, played a huge role and simply aren't consumed enough nowadays if you ask me. If you're having a hard time with sweet cravings, try some digestive bitters or a wild salad with dandelion, plantain, violet, watercress, chickweed, garlic mustard etc. before your meal. You might be surprised. The more bitter I consume, the less sweet I consume. There's a much better, thorough and eloquent explanation for how this works, somewhere out there. :)

1
Medium avatar

(5136)

on April 08, 2011
at 12:29 PM

A friend where I worked had some once and I asked for a taste, this was years ago and Stevia was quite "new", at least I hadn't heard of it. I took about a 1/4 teaspoon on my fingertip. It's been a while so I can't remember how much time it took, but shortly thereafter I had a really scary episode where I felt like I was having heart palpitations and a tightness in my chest. Freaked me OUT. I had to tell my boss I had to go off and sit down by myself for a bit. I've avoided the stuff since anyways, but I've come across some anecdotal stuff one the web about people having the same reactions. Maybe it was just a personal allergy, but I would certainly say it's not paleo.

edit: supposedly it's a vasodilator, and since i tend to have lower blood pressure, it might explain the crazy reaction.

0
23cdea3bba94e17d2b58b525773d0c0a

(729)

on April 09, 2011
at 03:48 PM

I came across this page because I'm linked to their fb page and the timing was just so appropriate, I had to share.

http://www.greenmedinfo.com/substance/stevia

0
B3c0950cd33bf7689ca0b98e5f2b6cdc

(588)

on May 24, 2010
at 03:00 PM

Occasionally I wonder about Stevia but then I realize it keeps my sweet tooth satisfied when mixed with a bit of cocoa and coconut milk which keeps me away from far more dangerous Neolithic temptations. Yeah, I'd like to eliminate Stevia one day but I don't see it happening any time soon.

Have noticed that it makes my stools rather loose.

0
0fb8b3d6dcfb279b0f7e050d2d22510f

(4645)

on March 27, 2010
at 03:02 AM

As a diabetic I use it increase insulin production in the afternoon when I seem to produce very little. The downside is of course its insulin producing properties that can lead to fat production in the body.

0
D15d6820ef1545edac65e975cc2d8949

on March 07, 2010
at 10:58 AM

I think erithryrol looks promising. A bit on the expensive side, but it's fairly "natural" in that you'll find it [in small amounts] in fruit. It's produced by fermenting glucose. Has all the properties one wants from sugar, save for a lower sweetness (approx 60-70% of sugar).

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