Nearly every “diet” food has some sort of caveat, whether it be nutritional emptiness or some sort of toxic chemical that, while it won’t make you gain weight, will probably liquify your organs or something in the long term. But it’s 2020 — by now, haven’t we figured out how to make a product that both tastes half-decent and won’t give us cancer? For soda fans, Zevia might be it. Using stevia, a natural plant-based sweetener, instead of the weird fake-sugar concoctions traditionally found in diet and sugar-free sodas like aspartame, Zevia is allegedly a “better for you” alternative.
Is it actually safe, though?
Stevia has only been approved as a sugar substitute in the U.S. for 11 years, but in that time, no health concerns have been found. According to the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health’s Health and Wellness Alerts, stevia is widely considered safe, and consumer advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends stevia sweeteners over common alternatives including aspartame, saccharin and sucralose.
Of course, both continue to recommend that stevia only be used in moderation. This is largely because most stevia sweeteners don’t just contain stevia in plant form. The plant itself is actually so sweet that nobody would want to consume it alone, so stevia extract is typically mixed with some type of filler. In the little “sugar” packets you might mix into coffee, for example, this filler is often dextrose or erythritol. Though both of these are highly processed, they can be considered “all-natural” because they originate from corn and sugar alcohol.
Zevia doesn’t have to list specifically which fillers might be in their soda, if any. Instead, they’re allowed to label these as “natural flavors.” (The Zevia website claims theirs are “proprietary.”) They state, however, that you may contact them if you have particular allergies or sensitivities for further information. Elsewhere on the web, people have stated that one of these natural flavors includes erythritol.
Still, although they don’t sound as clean and wholesome, both dextrose and erythritol are considered pretty safe, particularly for those managing blood sugar issues or obesity. In these contexts, Zevia is indeed a better choice than full-sugar sodas or traditional diet varieties.
As with anything, you’ve gotta also respect the concept of moderation. Zevia isn’t “good” for you, as it doesn’t have any sort of health benefits, but it’s still likely “better” for you than the usual choices if you were to drink those instead. That said, if you do have any sort of major health issues that would make drinking regular soda a bad idea, it’s important to discuss any type of sugar-alternative with your doctor. Further, some people do have sensitivities to these alternatives, and process regular sugar better.
All in all, then, Zevia is probably a perfectly fine treat to have every day, but maybe don’t have it be the only beverage you consume. The long-term effects of drinking stevia all day, every day haven’t yet been studied, so I’m not gonna recommend that. Short version: Don’t get tricked into thinking you’re consuming something super plant-y and healthy, but you can still let yourself have a little guilt-free enjoyment.