It was while in my local petrol station and looking for a bottle of milk that I noticed the shelves full of different brands and colours of Coca-cola. Once upon a time all we had the choice of was a red bottle or can. In Coke’s attempt to align itself with health conscious individuals who wanted to minimize their sugar and caloric intake, Diet Coke was born in 1982. Since then they have brought out Coke Zero, and now Coke Life. Coke Life is sweetened artificially with Stevia, a plant. The plant Stevia rebaudiana has been used for more than 1,500 years by the Guaraní peoples of South America, who called it ka’a he’ê (“sweet herb”). The leaves have been used traditionally for hundreds of years in both Brazil and Paraguay to sweeten local teas and medicines, and as a “sweet treat”. (Wikipedia).

Stevia tastes sweet on the palate, so the body assumes it is receiving sugar and primes itself for that process. Glucose is cleared from the bloodstream and blood sugars drop, but no real sugar/glucose is provided to the body to compensate. When this happens, adrenaline and cortisol (our stress hormones) surge to mobilize sugar from other sources (liver and muscle glycogen, or protein, or body tissue) to bring blood glucose back up. The frequent release of the stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) in response to the ‘stevia-induced’ hypoglycemia is damaging to our adrenal glands and overall health. These stress hormones are utilised when our body needs to be in a flight-or-fight response, not when we are eating a meal. The consequences of excess stress hormones can mean a suppressed immune system and increased inflammation, to name a couple. In saying the above, not all people have this drop in blood sugar levels. One way of testing this would be to buy a glucose meter and test before and after having stevia. Reasons that blood sugar might not drop would be that a person might have had some form of carbohydrate with the drink that the stevia is in. This would obviously create a normal blood glucose response. (Empowered Sustenance)

Some people decide to cut out all sugars, including those naturally occurring sugars such as fructose and glucose, which are found in fruits and honey. This probably isn’t the best idea as both glucose and fructose provide the liver with the building bocks to create glycogen.

The importance of glycogen: When blood sugar is low, glycogen is broken down and released as glucose in the bloodstream. When the diet lacks sufficient glucose, there will be inadequate glycogen stored. If sugar is not immediately ingested to raise blood sugar levels, the body releases extra adrenaline and cortisol to convert muscle protein and fat into glucose. If this pattern is repeated, the frequent release of these stress hormones takes a toll on the body. One of the results of this can be ‘Hypo-thyroidism’, leading to a slowed metabolism causing symptoms such as weight gain, lethargy and hair loss.

As you can see naturally occurring sugars are good for our body in normal quantities. For example, do you remember the old saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’? … well that doesn’t mean that 5 apples a day will keep the doc away for your whole life! Too much of anything isn’t good either! So next time you are at your local petrol station, supermarket or health food shop just remember, that sugar free drink staring at you from the multi-layered shelves may not actually have the effect you want over the long term. Feeling low in energy? Try a piece of fruit!