Written and Medically Reviewed by Ioannis Nikitidis MD, MSc, BSc on January 29, 2020.
The subject of both natural and artificial sweeteners is highly discussed in relation to intermittent fasting. So, will stevia break your fasting session? The short answer to this question would be no – in theory, stevia will not break your fast. However, there’s definitely more to it. In this article, we will discuss the subject more in-depth and reveal the risks you would take by adding artificial sweeteners to your beverages and meals.
When you’re just starting with intermittent fasting, taming your “sweet tooth” may not be an easy task. And we’re not just talking about sweets and pastries. Adding a spoonful of sugar to your morning coffee can be a deeply-rooted habit. And it’s no surprise! Sugar fuels every cell in the brain and is often connected to the feeling of comfort, reward, and even self-love. However ridiculous it may sound; we train our mind like we train our dogs with treats – we create patterns that aren’t so easy to break.
And that’s not just an empty statement. One research revealed that sugar can not only substitute for addictive drugs, such as cocaine, but can even be more rewarding and attractive.“Sugar addiction” is a real thing and can cause various withdrawal symptoms – from headaches to low energy levels.
So, if you absolutely can’t live without that added sweetness in your life, is it okay to use sweeteners, such as stevia when fasting?
What is stevia?
Stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener. It gets its natural sweetness from compounds called glycosides which make you taste the sweetness without any added sugar.
Read more here: What Can You Drink During Intermittent Fasting?
Sounds like the dream ingredient? Well, don’t rush into adding it to all your beverages and guilty pleasure foods. The fact that it has zero calories and still tastes good is not the whole story here. Sweeteners, such as stevia are known to trigger hunger, which is definitely something you’d like to avoid during a fasting session. The simple explanation would be that the taste of stevia fools your body into thinking it will get some sweet, high-calorie foods – and it’s not getting any. This drives your appetite and makes it harder to satisfy your hunger.
Moreover, if you’re looking to cure your sugar addiction and lose weight, the only effective method is cutting artificial sweetness altogether.
Same goes with the so-called “healthy sugars.” Honey, brown sugar, or cane juice may sound healthy, but it can still raise your blood sugar levels. Honey and unrefined sugars are lightly better for your health, but their calories still add up to your daily recommended intake.
Does stevia count as a “natural sweetener”?
Stevia comes from the stevia plant, which is not artificial. However, just like with many natural products you buy at the grocery store, you need to be careful – loads of companies add in other sugars, such as sucrose and sugar alcohols) to their stevia products. Using these products would break your fast and could even cause gastrointestinal disturbances. In addition, those who suffer from small intestine bacterial overgrowth should avoid these sugar alcohols entirely.
So, if you are planning to buy some stevia, look for organic leaf stevia or purified stevia extracts that don’t contain any added sugar.
Will natural stevia break my fast?
In theory, no, stevia will not break your fast. Having that said, we wouldn’t recommend using it while fasting for the reasons mentioned above (increased hunger and your stomach’s reaction to sweetness).
However, we do admit that it can work as a great alternative if you simply cannot live without a little bit of sweetness, or want to ease your transition into a zero-sugar diet.
If you do decide to use stevia, always remember that moderation is key. Stevia is about 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar. That means, you don’t need much to add a little sweetness to your coffee or tea. Our recommended amount would be a pinch of (preferably SweetLeaf brand) stevia.
Here are some other artificial sweeteners you could use:
- Blended Sweeteners (Monk Fruit, Swerve, Pyure, Nativia, Zsweet)
- Xylitol (only okay in very small quantities)
Hands down, stevia would always make the top of its list. In fact, scientists have been exploring the possible health benefits of using this naturally-grown additive and revealed that extract from stevia leaves had antioxidant properties that can actually protect cells and DNA from damage.
If you’re up for making a little effort for that little precious sweetness, you could even grow stevia on your windowsill at home! Then, you’ll be able to use its leaves in your cup of tea for natural sweetness. Dried stevia leaves are even more sweet so you can always crush a few for later and sprinkle into your porridge, drinks, smoothies or pastries.
Artificial sweeteners you should avoid:
- Saccharin (Sweet N’ Low)
- Sucralose (research shows that Splenda could even cause breathing problems)
- Aspartame (Equal)
- Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), which is sold under these brand names: Sunett and Sweet One
- Neotame, sold under brand name Newtame
These high-intensity sweeteners may put unnecessary stress on your metabolism, make it harder for your liver to get rid of toxins, create problems for your gut health, and affect your overall ability to lose weight.
When it comes to artificial sweeteners in general, we do have reason to state that they are not as bad as some people claim. In fact, some of them could even benefit your health! For example, this study shows how stevia could lower the blood levels of certain fats, including cholesterol, while also helping to increase the levels of the “good” cholesterol.
That said, some brands of stevia do contain glucose and sugar alcohols. So, make sure you always read the label before you buy a product. And when you’re using stevia, never forget the golden rule – moderation is key.
A small pinch of stevia won’t break your fast, but you could be facing some more complex problems when using larger doses. Overall, feeding your sugar addiction is never something we would recommend if you’re planning to lose weight.
Maximum results can only be achieved if you are willing to make some sacrifices. Small adjustments in your diet, such as a cup of unsweetened coffee or tea in the morning can seem unimportant, but they definitely add up. After all, starting your day on a healthy note increases your chances of forming better habits, which builds a strong foundation for sustainable weight loss results.