Intermittent fasting has become one of the most popular ways of fasting used today. Due to the wide range of approaches , individuals can select what most suits them, based on their personal needs and expectations. Among the variations and options there is one item which seems to frequently be mentioned as causing some confusion, that is stevia. Whether or not stevia and intermittent fasting work well together, i.e. whether it is proper to use it while on this kind of fast is important to clear up. If this is the case for you, take a look at the following article where we take aim at explaining what both concepts are, and also clarify if it is appropriate to consume stevia during an intermittent fast.
Fasting has significant health benefits for the body’s systems. Abstinence from food in the long term can usher in some bodily changes like reduction in insulin secretion, protection against damages in the kidney, reduction in the body’s oxidative stress, and an improvement in the functioning of the brain, to name a few. A 2015 systematic review published in Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology also reported that those who fasted to lose weight, over 10 weeks, lost between 7 and 11 pounds (4). Read on to gain a better understanding of what intermittent fasting is and how you can still maintain your fast while soothing your sweet tooth at the same time.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a meal timing schedule, due to the importance of timing, this practice is distinct from dietary plans. It has a long history of use. Among other things, it is helpful for losing weight and simplifying one’s health. In the same vein, its ability to minimise the effects of ageing is another reason why some people have found it to be worth embarking on (8). Although it may be challenging to practice at the start, you get more comfortable with it through consistent use.
When looking at intermittent fasting, it’s important to note that there are different ways or methods one can follow. Below is a discussion of the common ones (10):
12 hours daily fast
This fasting method encourages the observer to stay away from food for 12 hours every day. Those who are just starting the practice of fasting are usually encouraged to begin with this method of fasting and then increase the length of abstinence as the body adjusts. One of the easiest ways to follow this is to include the period of sleep in the fasting window. For instance, you can decide to start at 7 p.m or 8 p.m and fast until 7 a.m or 8 a.m (depending on when you start) the following day.
16 Hours Of Fasting Plan
Also called the Leangains protocol or 16:8 plan, under this method of fasting you can only eat for eight hours or in other words, do away with meals 16 hours each day. What most people who work with this plan do is stop eating by 8 p.m. and then skip the next day’s breakfast and wait until noon before taking anything.
2 Days A Week Fasting Plan
Also known as the 5:2 diet or Fast Diet. Those who follow this enjoy healthy eating for five days each week, and for the other two days reduce the total calories that they consume. For women this would mean the limit would be about 250 calories per day (500 calories over two days), and for men it would be 600 (300+300) calories.
A peculiarity of this plan is that you can choose any two days of the week, not necessarily following each other. For instance, you can choose to fast on Monday, eat regular meals for two or three days and then have the second fasting day. What is essential is that in between the two days of fast, there must be, at least, a day that you are not fasting.
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Alternate Day Fasting
Intermittent fasting, every other day. Of the several different versions, what some people prefer is to totally do away with meals on the fasting days. Others find it more comfortable to consume a 500 calorie limit on those days. On the days they are permitted to eat they can consume according to their desire. Those who are just learning to fast or people who have health challenges are usually not encouraged to follow this method.
Full Day Fast
If you want to observe this kind of fast, you will not eat for an entire day (24 hours at a stretch) or two each week. Also called Eat-Stop-Eat, what most people do is to fast from breakfast to breakfast, while others start theirs from lunch one day until lunch the following day. During the period of the fast you can have any drink that is calorie-free like water and tea.
Skipping Meals Plan
The convenience of this plan is that you can decide to skip a meal at any time, usually based on your level of hunger or time availability. By implication, you only eat when you are hungry Although this is easy enough for beginners to try out, it must be remembered that it is essential to consume healthy foods every time you decide to eat.
What this method of fasting typically entails is that during your 20 hours fasting period, you consume very small meals and each night (the remaining four hours), you eat more. Careful attention should be given to the composition of your meals. It is advisable to maximize on proteins, vegetables, and healthful fats. Including complex carbohydrates like whole grains and legumes in your meals is essential.
What Is Stevia?
Stevia is the name of a plant that has leaves which taste sweet. Because of its potential as a sweetener, manufacturers have been using it to make tea and sweet beverages since the 16th century. Having the scientific name, Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, it is part of the sunflower family with about 150 species (13). As a natural sweetening agent, it has very few calories, which is why it is usually classified as calorie-free.. In addition it is reportedly healthy as an alternative to sugar in most any beverage and meal.
Initially, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States banned its marketing in 1987, but by 1995 it was reconsidered for public use not based on its use as a sweetening agent, but as a sustainable dietary ingredient (1). Among other benefits, stevia has been proven to be useful for people who have diabetes as far as a nutritious sugar alternative is concerned. Because it tastes 200 to 400 times sweeter than sugar, when compared with regular sugar gram-for-gram, it has volume usage benefits as well.
Research has shown that the use of stevia does not increase carbohydrate intakes or calories in any diet, and does not spike insulin or blood glucose levels. The fact that it is sugar-free and has little or no calories classifies it as useful in a well-balanced diet and significantly reduces the chances of weight gain (13). Furthermore it contains a number of sterols and antioxidant compounds like kaempferol, a natural flavonoid that minimises the risk of pancreatic cancer, so the use of stevia is encouraged.
Intermittent Fasting Diet And Stevia
It is not uncommon to find people who have become addicted to sugar and other sweetening agents. Adding sugar to tea or coffee in the morning, for instance, has become a habit that is almost unbreakable from some people. While that may not seem to be so bad, if you consider its health effects on you, you may want to reconsider your action. For this a reason, those who cannot do without having sweet drinks are concerned when considering intermittent fasting. What they would like to know is if there is an alternative or any natural sweetener that would not affect their fasting goals.
When you are on a dietary plan, there are specific restrictions on the kinds of food you can select, but in regards to intermittent fasting, you don’t have any restrictions on what to eat. The only parameter is to follow a timely approach to when you eat. When looking at your goal for fasting, there can be some limitations on what you may eat. For instance, if your goal is to lose weight, you should know that anything that contains high amounts of sugar and fat, should be limited, due to the calorie contents.
Artificial Sweeteners And A Fast
Even though it is sometimes recommended to limit the consumption of most types of sweeteners, there is support for the use of artificial sweeteners as they do not break a fast. One of the most often asked questions relating to artificial sweeteners is whether stevia breaks a fast or not. Considering the use of stevia as an artificial sweetener, some reports show that when used during intermittent fasting, it does not break the cycle, and so it’s a viable option no matter what your fasting goals are.
Some scientific studies have shown that the consumption of calorie-free sweeteners has the effect of increasing appetite and also developing the urge for sweet food (6). What is assumed to be the cause of this is that since insulin secretion increases while expecting the appearance of sugar in the blood, when this doesn’t happen, there is a drop in the level of blood sugar and an increase in hunger (9).
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Can Stevia Break My Intermittent Fasting And Throw Me Out Of Ketosis?
You may be on a ketogenic diet because you want to regulate your weight. As you most likely know already, the high intake of calories is a significant factor in weight gain, and this is usually a key part of what a diet is to address. Interestingly enough, while you aim at reducing the total carbohydrates that you consume while on a keto diet, maintaining a moderate amount of protein in take becomes more natural.
When the total carbs you consume is significantly reduced, your body goes into a metabolic state known as ketosis. When this happens, fat from your meals and stored up in your body are converted into energy. Given this, you have successfully cut off your sugar intake and removed your body’s dependence on carbohydrates in your diet for energy. The steady supply of energy will result in you becoming less hungry.
Since a keto diet also aims at reducing the total calories you consume, your possible fear is if opting for natural/artificial sweeteners like stevia could break your intermittent fasting and put an end to your keto diet. Stevia doesn’t increase insulin and blood sugar levels, and more importantly does not affect your keto diet plan or fat burning goal. Consequently, if your purpose for fasting is to improve your metabolic health and/or shed some fat, the good news is that stevia intake is not likely to interfere.
Can I Have Cream And Stevia In Coffee Intermittent Fasting?
If you cannot do without having a cup of coffee, you can still have your cup of joe in the morning. Ordinarily when you aren’t consuming enough calories, your body feels deprived and starved, thereby slowing down the metabolism that uses glucose to properly function. In this situation, caffeine can suppress your craving for meals and increase metabolism in the meantime. Also, it can help you fight against “brain fog” and fatigue.
Fresh brewed coffee does not break your fast because it contains almost no calories, and it is free of fat. Please note that this only applies to black coffee which has between two to five calories for each cup. The moment you start adding things like milk, sugar or cream, however, you are increasing the total calories in your drink and so will be breaking your fast.
This rule, however, has one exception. If you cannot do without adding cream to your coffee and you are on the two days a week or 5:2 fasting plan, you can add some cream (2). This method of fasting does not stop you from consuming calories at a specific time compared to the 16 hours fasting plan except for the limits of what you can take on some days of the week.
Having settled the fact that you cannot add cream to your coffee except if you are on a 5:2 fasting plan, you are free to put stevia in your cup of coffee. This is because it doesn’t increase your blood sugar or insulin levels. The fact that it is calorie-free and coffee has little or no calories, make the combination suitable for you while on intermittent fasting.
A note of caution for those who have some health challenges like diabetes – it is advisable to seek counsel from a doctor or a dietitian before deciding to take coffee. Consider as well that the consumption of coffee can lead to insomnia, nervousness, increased blood pressure, nausea, and other problems (5).
Intermittent Fasting And Herbal Tea With Stevia
Apart from taking water and coffee while on intermittent fasting, another liquid you may drink is a herbal tea. You may combine it with stevia if you want to meet your craving for sweetness. Interestingly, herbal teas have lots of health benefits to enjoy while you are fasting. For instance, based on a study carried out in 2016, it was found out that drinking an herbal tea like chamomile could offer protective effects against mortality (3). Research carried out on elderly adult women of Mexican descent revealed that those who drank chamomile tea had their risk of death reduced by 29%.
Ginger tea, another well-known herbal tea, has benefits in relieving stomach issues. Based on the chemical, medicinal, and pharmacological properties of ginger, it helps treat different sorts of ailments, including migraines, nausea, colds, hypertension, and arthritis (11). Pregnant women with early pregnancy symptoms and those suffering from seasickness have enjoyed the natural benefits of ginger. For those experiencing bloating due to excess gas from eating the wrong thing or overeating, ginger can break up gasses in the digestive tract and bring comfort.
A 2012 publication on ‘Ginseng, the ‘Immunity Boost’: The Effects of Panax Ginseng on Immune System’, revealed that there is a lot to gain from the ancient herb ginseng, which reportedly supports the immune system and aids in the prevention of cancers (7). In addition, liquorice, honeysuckle, and dandelion teas can help with detoxifying the body’s systems for more effective functioning.
How To Start An Intermittent Fasting Plan?
Once you have resolved to start intermittent fasting, the following are particular tips that you should take into consideration:
Stay Hydrated Always
Drink enough water and other liquids which are calorie-free is a very good idea when you engage in this practice.
Don’t Obsess Over Food
As much as possible, plan for things that can take your attention off food. For instance, you may choose to go see a movie or occupy yourself with some other activities.
Take Time To Rest And Relax
During your fasting period, you should avoid any activities that might stress you. Light exercises like yoga will sustain you positively.
Improve Taste Without Increasing Calorie Intake
Interestingly, you can add spices and seasonings to your meals. These are the addition of vinegar, garlic, and herbs without increasing the level of calories that you take. Rather than adding sugar, opt for stevia as an excellent and healthful sweetening agent.
Watch Your Calorie Intake
Depending on the plan that you have chosen for your fasting and the purpose you have for this practice, choose among foods that are rich in healthy fats, fibre, and protein. Meals composed of things like avocado, nuts, fish, lentils, beans and eggs will be right for you. Certain fruits that are low in calories and contain a high volume of water like melon and grapes are good choices. Raw vegetables and air-popped popcorn are also functional in proper usage.
After Fasting, Eat Meals That Have Enough Nutrients
When ending a fast, consume food that is high in minerals, vitamins and other essential nutrients. This will help you to regulate your body glucose levels while preventing nutrient deficiencies.
The Bottom Line
From all that has been discussed so far, it is evident that intermittent fasting’s promising health benefits are not compromised with the use of stevia. If you have a sweet tooth and can’t resist the temptation while fasting, this sweetening agent is a perfect alternative as it is calorie-free and does not increase blood sugar levels in the body. Just remember that while stevia does not affect intermittent fasting, add-ins like milk, sugar, cream, and other ingredients that contain calories can end up breaking your fast.
If you are interested in healthy meal plans, you may be curious about other methods of supporting your body health.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for Use in Food in the United States (2018, fda.gov)
- Can you drink coffee while intermittent fasting? Yes, and other drinks you can have while fasting (2020, insider.com)
- Chamomile Consumption and Mortality: A Prospective Study of Mexican Origin Older Adults (2015, academic.oup.com)
- Do intermittent diets provide physiological benefits over continuous diets for weight loss? A systematic review of clinical trials (2015, sciencedirect.com)
- Does caffeine help with weight loss? (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Ginseng, the ‘Immunity Boost’: The Effects of Panax ginseng on Immune System (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- How to begin intermittent fasting (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
- How to lose weight (2020, dietdoctor.com)
- Seven ways to do intermittent fasting (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- The Amazing and Mighty Ginger (n.d., ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Wait, Can I Drink Coffee When I’m Intermittent Fasting, Or No? (2019, msn.com)
- What is stevia? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)