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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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