Sunday, September 07, 2008

Zevia, stevia and dietary supplements

I got my latest copy of Dr. Jonathan V. Wright's Nutrition & Healing and read about "The new 'diet soda' that's actually safe to drink." And the opening lines in the article?
For the first time in over 20 years, Holly and I have soft drinks in our refrigerator. (Ooooops, know we don't! We have "carbonated supplements" that look, taste, smell, and drink as if they were really soft drinks . . .)
Besides the strange reference to "carbonated supplements," the article caught my attention partially because of the news I received last week from my "vitality and longevity" doctor. (I still need to tell you about some of the details of the science that he shared with me. But let me tell you this story first.)

In essence, my doctor told me I need to pretty much swear off all sugars, anything with a high glycemic index. And soda pop, certainly, has an extremely high glycemic index! Of course, there is no way I am going to drink diet soda. Not only do I hate the taste of aspartame, but I am well aware of how bad it is for you. Just in case you are not, let me quote from Dr. Leonardi:
Aspartame is a sweetener made from two amino acids, phenylalinine and the excitotoxin aspartate. It should be avoided at all costs. Complaints about Aspartame account for approximately 70% of ALL complaints to the FDA. It is implicated in everything from blindness to headaches to convulsions. Invented by Monsanto as "Chemical Warfare," it destroys the Central Nervous System. It was also found to have no calories and tastes sweet, so it was decided to add Aspartame to our food for dieters and diabetics. Sold under dozens of brand names such as NutraSweet® and Equal®, Aspartame breaks down within 20 minutes at room temperature into several primary toxic and dangerous ingredients:
  1. DKP (diketopiperazine; when ingested, converts to a near duplicate of a powerful brain tumor causing agent)
  2. Formic acid (anti venom)
  3. Formaldehyde (embalming fluid)
  4. Methanol (a neurotoxin that causes blindness in large amounts)
But, y'know, a few sweets once in a while would be really nice!

So I was intrigued by this article. Is it possible someone has created a diet soda that I could drink? If so, I thought, with a name like Zevia®, it is probably based on stevia, a sugar substitute I have been told is hard to purchase here in the United States.

Oh, yes! I was right. It is based on stevia. And it is because it is based on stevia that it is called a dietary supplement. To quote further from Dr. Wright:
As the company's website states, Zevia is "a dietary supplement that is nature's answer to diet soda."

A dietary supplement? . . . [W]hat's with the dietary supplement label?

As you've probably guessed, it has something to do with the FDA, which is why it's good that the company's founders are also attorneys who are better equipped to navigate the ridiculous barriers placed in the way of so many natural products, like Zevia's principal sweetener--stevia. You see, thanks to the FDA, stevia (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde) "may never speak its name" as a sweetener in any food or beverage. Instead, its use is limited strictly to "dietary supplements."

So to accommodate these FDA-related absurdities, Zevia's founders officially dubbed it "Zevia Carbonated Stevia Supplement." And printed on each can is one of my all-time favorite lawyer-esque statements: "A dietary supplement is not permitted to disclose the amount of calories, carbs, sodium, fat when there is ZERO. (For that reason, Zevia does not disclose them.)"
Despite the legal hoops the developers had to jump through, and the foolish mumbo-jumbo they have to put on their cans, I like Zevia's tagline: "Nature's Answer To Diet Soda®."

You can learn more about Zevia at their website.

Question, however: Why does the FDA approved aspartame with all of its known problems, but they make it almost impossible for people to acquire stevia?

While we're on the subject of stevia . . .

I should probably mention an article I read several months ago in The Economist about how "low-calorie sweeteners may make people fat." From the February 15th edition:
ARTIFICIAL sweeteners have long been touted as being good for the calorie-conscious. Unfortunately, a study just published in Behavioral Neuroscience by Susan Swithers and Terry Davidson of Purdue University in Indiana suggests that such compounds may actually end up making people fatter than they otherwise would be.

Dr Swithers and Dr Davidson came to this conclusion after a series of experiments on rats. In addition to standard laboratory food, they fed some animals yogurt flavoured with saccharin, while others had yogurt flavoured to the same degree of sweetness with normal sugar.

The researchers then carried out two experiments on their animals. One merely tracked the rats' weight over five weeks. This found that rats eating sweetener gained more weight than those eating sugar. The other experiment was more subtle. After two weeks on yogurt, the rats were given an unexpected treat—a chocolate pudding loaded with calories. Both groups gobbled this up. However, those animals that had been eating sugared yogurt reduced the amount of yogurt they ate for their next meal in proportion to the number of chocolate-flavoured calories they had consumed. Those on the sweetener made no such adjustment. . . .
They found additional anomalies. But their conclusion was most interesting:
Past research suggests that the brain thinks that sweetness is a sign of highly calorific food. Dr Swithers and Dr Davidson argue that artificial sweeteners confuse things. After repeated exposure to sweeteners, the brain forgets the connection and thus fails to stop the animal eating at an appropriate point.
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