Most people fast for one of three reasons – religious, medical, or aesthetic. And the reason for your fast has a direct influence on how and when you can break your fast. So, does stevia break a fast?
At the most basic level, yes, because it will trigger insulin production. It has no calories, but that sweet note wakes your digestive system, which essentially breaks the fast.
Does Stevia Break a Fast?
What is Stevia?
You probably assume the first rule of any diet is to cut sugar out! That means you’ll stock up on diet drinks and synthetic sweeteners since both have zero calories. And stevia seems like the obvious choice for people who dislike artificial products. Stevia comes from all-natural sources, but unlike cane sugar, agave, or even honey, it has no carbohydrates and no calories!
The stevia plant has a palate that some describe as bitter menthol. But its sweetness level is up to 300 times as sweet as cane sugar. Stevia comes from the leaves of the plant, so yes, you can add a few raw leaves to your cup of tea or coffee. But it’s mostly sold in powder or liquid form. It’s a popular sweetener for fizzy diet drinks, flavored water, or zero-calorie sodas.
Does stevia break a fast? Practically speaking, it has no calories so it won’t generate excess glucose that’s later stored as fat. So stevia won’t make you add any weight. But as we’ve said, it can be 100 times as sweet as sugar, often more. So your body reacts to stevia the way it reacts to all sweets. It stimulates your digestive system, and that can stop the fasting process.
Remember, when you fast, you’re shifting your body into a voluntary state of starvation. You can do this to calibrate your blood sugar – a lifesaving skill for diabetics – or to reduce your fat levels so you can have healthier organs and develop a slimmer profile. Stevia tells your body, ‘Here honey, have some sugar.’ Then your pancreas probably screams ‘INCOMING!’
What Happens When You Fast?
Some people do a three-day or six-day fast for detoxing purposes. These are water fasts, so you can drink plain water, lemon water, or apple cider vinegar, but you don’t consume any food. The goal of these fasts is fat burning as well as autophagy, a process where your cells go into starvation mode, which forces them to repair themselves by recycling damaged protein.
A lot of the science behind autophagy is based on rodent studies, so there’s controversy. In mice, autophagy starts from 18 to 48 hours, which are the same figures we use in humans. But rats lose 20% of body weight in that time, and it can kill them. In humans, surviving on water for 4 to 5 days will shed 2% of your body weight, and that’s what triggers autophagy.
Still, intermittent fasting circles go with the 18 to 48-hour model. And under these terms, you don’t want to consume anything that would interfere with ketosis. Sweeteners like stevia or aspartame could disrupt ketosis by perking up your pancreas. As your brain receives those sweet signals, your system will think glucose is coming and release insulin in anticipation.
Granted, your blood has sugar all the time because your body is constantly using energy to function. The target is to avoid excess blood glucose. And during your fasting periods, you want your body to use its fat stores instead of burning fresh glucose. Any attempt to do this is essentially breaking your fast, which is why stevia and the like could be a caloric challenge.
Calories vs Carbs
For your body to function effectively, you need energy. Think of it this way. Your TV uses electricity as its fuel. Your smartphone is powered by its battery. And your car needs gas. But your body requires energy in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP. And your body can generate ATP from three food-based sources. These are carbohydrates, proteins, or fats.
Your body prefers to use carbohydrates because they’re the easiest substance to break down. This makes them the most energy-efficient way to synthesize ATP. Carbs include sugar, fiber, and starch. If your body can’t access carbs, it will draw energy from proteins, which is why your muscles waste away when you’re sick or starving. Finally, your body resorts to your fats.
Fats are formed when you eat more carbs than your body needs. This excess glucose is stored as fat under your skin and around your organs. And in certain diets, the goal is to force your body to dig into its fat stores for energy. As you burn this backup fat, your body starts to look slimmer and leaner. The process is called ketosis and it produces ketones as a source of fuel.
This is where calories come in. Carbs are like junk food for your digestive system because they’re so easily converted into energy. This makes carbs the number-one choice for calories. But if you can train your body to use proteins or fats for fuel instead, you’ll slim down fairly fast. This is because your body has to work harder to harvest calories from proteins and fats.
How Your Body Digests Carbs
Digestion always starts in your mouth, and it can get activated when you see, smell, or even think about food. Starch and sugar start breaking down into glucose as you chew, and both these food groups activate the sweet palate on your tongue (and in your brain). This is where stevia becomes a problem. It activates your sweetness receptors and triggers insulin release.
Insulin is a hormone that your pancreas makes, and it allows your cells to absorb glucose and convert it to ATP, a process that happens in your mitochondria. If you have insulin issues, the digested glucose floats in your blood causing problems. This is defined as high blood sugar, and the condition is known as diabetes. Both types are caused by insulin trouble.
Diabetes type 1 (insulin-dependent) is when your body can’t make its own insulin so you have to inject artificial insulin every day. Diabetes type 2 (insulin-resistant) is when you do make insulin but your body can’t use it. So in both cases, consuming a meal or snack can fill your blood with undigested glucose, and that’s what causes all those diabetic complications.
This is why diabetics monitor their blood sugar and keep it at recommended levels. Some do this through intermittent fasting. By restricting the hours when you feed or fast, you regulate your blood sugar and reduce your body’s insulin resistance. And anything that tastes sweet can trigger the release of insulin, even a sugar-free product like chewing gum or diet coke.
If you haven’t eaten anything, this isn’t really a problem because there’s no glucose to digest. But if you’re diabetic, the sudden release of insulin will absorb even the slightest trace of glucose in your blood, which can lead to a sugar crash, insulin shock, or even a diabetic coma. So it becomes a lifesaving matter to avoid breaking your fast via stevia and sweeteners.
The Insulin Question
Most people think insulin is just for carbs. But insulin is essential for absorbing carbs, fats, and proteins. This is why exhaustion, excessive peeing, and drastic weight loss are signs of diabetes – you’re eating, but your cells can’t absorb any of that energy! The key difference is glucose triggers insulin production but fats and proteins don’t. And insulin counters ketosis.
As a diabetic, you manage your condition by controlling your calories to avoid packing your blood with excess sugars. It becomes essential to monitor the use of sweeteners that can rouse your insulin levels and mess with your balance. So in the context of diabetes, does stevia break a fast? Yes, because it triggers insulin. But if you’re fasting for weight loss, then no.
The other consideration is what you eat during your feeding periods. When you fast for fat loss, the idea is to limit your carb intake and force your digestive system to feed on those stored fats. It takes 2 to 4 days for this ketosis to kick in, so you have to stay on low-to-no carbs. You might combine intermittent fasting with keto or paleo for low carbs and high fat or protein.
In these diets, the goal is to control your calorie intake while retraining your body to use fats and proteins for fuel. And in this context, stevia is safe because it has zero calories. The trick is insulin. You’ll still need it for fat and protein absorption by your cells, but insulin can work against ketosis because it prefers glucose (carbs) over slow-burning fat or protein molecules.
Sugar vs Stevia for Weight Loss
Does stevia break a fast? Because it has zero calories, it seems like a simple no. But in reality, stevia can make your body release insulin, which soaks up any glucose in your blood and can interfere with ketosis. And in that sense, it breaks the fast. So if you’re focused on avoiding carbs, don’t go for sweeteners. Just drink beverages with a tart palate and no added sugar.