Product Review: Zevia Cola

I went looking for a soda without sugar and aspartame, but with caffeine (doctor’s orders!) and came across Zevia. Specifically, I was told just no sugar, but aspartame is a headache nightmare to me and, unfortunately, is in basically every ‘no sugar’ soda out there xP Anyways, Zevia is the soda of the “health food world” – vegan, kosher, gluten free, no “caramel coloring”, no calories (a lie), no sugar (another lie)… basically they tried to take out all the “evil stuff” but still have soda. And, basically, they failed miserably on both parts!!

I got the regular (ie with caffeine) “cola” flavor… the best way to describe the taste is like an icky, too sweet energy drink with the aftertaste of bug spray. I finished a whole can (to go thru with my experiment) but had to follow each drink with food cause it was so yucky. Chris took one sip and was like, “eww, no, never again.” As for being carbonated, it goes flat in about 10 seconds and you might as well be drinking flavored water (which I despise). As far as calling this a “soda”, it’s not even remotely close!

Ingredients: carbonated water, erythritol (sugar alcohol), tartaric acid, reb a (stevia extract), natural flavors, citric acid, caffeine, and monk fruit extract.

Carbonated water and caffeine I think everyone understands well enough. Tartaric acid is added to foods as an antioxidant and citric acid is added as an acidifier/flavoring. All well and good, but the other ingredients have issues. “Natural flavors” and the like has long been used to hide ingredients companies don’t want to list, can contain hundreds of different chemicals (remember, EVERYTHING is a chemical), and can come from sources other than things you actually want (strawberry “flavor” doesn’t always come from strawberries). An example of just how much bullshit it is: the FDA labels high fructose corn syrup as a “natural flavor” (‘natural’ is anything plant or animal based – so, basically almost all of the things you eat), and Snapple just stopped using it, hidden under “natural flavors”, a couple years ago despite long claiming to be “all natural”. Yep, all those “health food” sayings are basically unregulated bullshit.

The sweetener mixture they use (the erythritol, reb a, and monk fruit extract) is the biggest issue for most people from what I’ve read though. First of all, sugar alcohols (which is neither sugar nor alcohol) are carbohydrates (just like table sugar is) and thus DO contain calories (even if only a very small amount). They also have laxative properties which can lead to a very upset tummy – it usually says this “only applies in large amounts, but some can be sensitive to it” (just like with aspartame and headaches/insulin sensitivity). Sugar alcohols will also still spike your blood sugar like table sugar, just not as much. Monk fruit extract is 300 time sweeter than table sugar (which confuses your body, increasing food cravings and weight gain!) and is traditionally used in Chinese medicine for coughs and sore throats. Reb A (stevia extract) is 200 times sweeter than table sugar (and apparently very bitter if you use too much) and IS a sugar, just a simple one (table sugar is two simple sugars linked together). The active ingredients in stevia are steviol glycosides; glycosides are simple sugars linked with something else; Reb A specifically is almost literally made up of just glucose (or, as most people know it: blood sugar!).

The larger trouble with Reb A and stevia is you need to be aware of what extract you’re getting since the US banned it in 1991 after some studies found it might be carcinogenic. The fact that they banned it only at the “might be” level says a lot too since we are notorious more lax than other countries – we have to prove something is dangerous where other countries have to prove something is safe). In Dec. 2008, the FDA approved only “purified” Reb A (sold under different names) for use as a food additive even though other extracts have been sold as herbal supplements since 1995 (so much for banning and regulation). Oh and then there’s the fact that steviol and Reb A have been found to be mutagenic in laboratory in vitro testing (ie cellular level stuff), but “the effects have not been demonstrated for the doses and routes of administration to which humans are exposed” (in other words, “You’re using the exact same thing (in much bigger doses btw) just in a different way, so it’s cool. Logic? What’s that?”). Can’t really depend on the FDA either way though since they’d rather slap a label on something that has well-known cancer causing ingredients rather than doing the smart thing and banning those ingredients (or, even more fun, they’ll ban something from cosmetics but still allow it in our food… genius!).

But, that’s kind of besides the point. As for my experiment, I was trying it to see if it would help me sleep… which it sort of did? Maybe? Kind of? It’s difficult to say after just one try; I did sleep a little better, but I also haven’t been sleeping well the past few nights and I could just finally be getting some better sleep anyways. I’ll suffer thru another can or two before I make a decision on that part of things (Update: nope, doesn’t really make any sort of difference). Neither Chris nor I noticed any headaches or tummy issues though, so I guess that’s a mark for the pro side that we’re not sensitive to these sweeteners like we are with aspartame – not that we’ll ever want to drink the stuff again.

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