The legal standard for false advertising seems to be very low. It seems that you can give completely misleading impressions about a product without facing any liability. Gone are the days when consumers can just pick up what they want from the supermarket shelf without worrying about studying the ingredients list (or maybe those days never existed). Now, we all have to be savvy consumers, especially if you are health conscious!
Artificial sweeteners have received a hoard of controversy over the years. Unsubstantiated scandals of cancer and side-effects of headaches and nausea have plagued their existence. However, Stevia, which is a zero-calorie, super sweet compound derived from plants, has gotten a lot of press in recent years for being “natural” and “safe.” It’s difficult to say exactly how “safe” anything is, but people seem to equate “natural” as being the same thing as “safe” (I’m not sure how great this illogical reasoning is, but that’s another matter).
Stevia has gotten so popular that several soft drink manufacturers have produced supposedly Stevia-sweetened sodas, such as Blue Sky Free and Zevia. However, if you drink these drinks or use Truvia (a popular brand of sweetener that contains Stevia), then you may have been duped….most of those drinks and sweeteners contain much higher quantities of sugar alcohol than Stevia!
Let’s talk briefly about each of 3 popular brands, either of Stevia itself or of a soft drink supposedly sweetened with Stevia:
- Truvia is one of the more popular brands of Stevia sweetener, but if you look at its ingredients, you’ll notice that the main ingredient is actually not Stevia at all, but erythritol. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol like sorbitol and xylitol, although it is “natural” like Stevia (in that it can be derived from plants). This is what gives each packet of Truvia 3 grams of carbohydrates and probably around 0.6 calories even though it’s labeled as zero-calories (as each gram of erythritol is 0.2 calories).
- Blue Sky Free is a soft drink made by Hansen (the company that makes “natural sodas”). I tried a can of Blue Sky Free (the cola flavor) when I was in Oregon, and I have to admit that it tasted OK (a bit flat, but not bad). So what’s the problem? Unfortunately, it is flavored with Truvia, so it also contains sugar alcohol rather than just pure Stevia as a sweetener. If you don’t care so much, you can buy it either online at Amazon or at one of the stores listed on their website. A pack of 24 cans costs $24 (or $20.40 with Subscribe and Save) on Amazon.
- Zevia is another soft drink that’s supposed to be sweetened with Stevia (hence the name that rhymes with Stevia). Like Blue Sky Free, Zevia comes in a variety of flavors (although Zevia has more flavors), but I found the grape soda to taste pretty good. Unlike Blue Sky Free, Zevia is not flavored with Truvia. INSTEAD, they add erythritol along with Stevia extract. In fact, erythritol is the second most populous ingredient except for carbonated water! So basically, Zevia is just as bad as Blue Sky Free, except that some Zevia flavors contain caffeine. If you’re considering trying Zevia, then use their discount coupon and buy a 6-pack from Wholefoods, although they are also sold on Amazon.
I personally think that sucralose is the best artificial sweetener out there both in terms of the slim chance of health problems and in terms of taste. But if you’re determined to use Stevia, then you ought to realize that very few things are currently flavored with just Stevia. SweetLeaf, which you can buy at Wholefoods or on Amazon, is a pure Stevia sweetener as opposed to Truvia. But it does taste more bitter, which is why Truvia, Blue Sky Free, and Zevia have chosen to put erythritol into the mix.
It’s hard to know who to trust when it comes to information about artificial sweeteners, but you should try not to be fooled by all the claims of “naturalness” from the advertisers! “Natural” does not always equate with “health,” and advertisers have zero interest in your health!