I mentioned last month that I was trying to wean myself off stevia, and so many people had questions about why. So I thought maybe I’d share in more detail. **However, in the time it took me to actually write the post about this decision, so much has already changed and my choice to switch to agave is no longer applicable. Rather than elaborate on what led to my initial decision, I will give you the full story, and where I am now.***
I have a sweet tooth. A major sweet tooth.
Not that I’m proud of this, but I’ve eaten 50 dates as a single snack before. I’ve demolished a bag of carob chips without batting an eyelash. Nowadays, I try to be more mindful and practice moderation (and hopefully, the days of such extreme binges are behind me). However, the sweet tooth thing is still a serious problem (unless you’re cool with diabetes and obesity – which I’m not).
The worst part about loving sugary things is how it can spill over into every single meal/snack/food.
Flashback to the coffee-fueled college years and subsequent caffeine-dependent work life…
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t exactly love the idea of consuming 600 extra calories from the sugar in my coffee and oats. Who can afford that? When you drink ten cups of coffee before noon (circa 2008) and your oatmeal portion is triple the “recommended” amount, that adds up fast! Accordingly, I turned to fake sugars. Keep in mind this was before veganism and blogging entered my life. In college, I used to add 3 blue packets and 3 pink packets to my Starbucks coffees. Now I shudder at the memory alone. I’m really not proud of this, but I feel it’s necessary to give you some context about the sweet beast I’m dealing with here.
Once I started hearing the scary stats associated with aspartame and such, I turned to stevia. At the time (2009ish?) it was new on the market and hard to find…but tracking it down was worth the effort and $$$ because it was plant-based [and therefore deemed safe] and had no calories.
For a while, I was feeling pretty good about my sugar intake. I still required heavily sweetened foods, but I had discovered NuNaturals (love!) and was comforted by the fact that their products were allowing me to enjoy sweetened foods without massive amounts of kcals. The problem was that my taste buds were becoming accustomed to stevia and (like a junkie) I started needing more and more and more to get the same effect. It’s sick, but I’m trying to be honest here.
That wasn’t the only issue, though. I also had the problem of Starbucks. Starbucks doesn’t offer stevia at the milk/sugar bar, but being used to the insanely sweet fake sugars meant real sugar didn’t do it for me. I literally needed half a cup of sugar in the raw to achieve the same level of sweetness. So I was still using fake crap whenever I was out and about. And I felt so guilty about it, each and every time. How could I be so healthy in other parts of my life, but continue to put this cancer-causing-crap in my body!?!
I tried to quit cold-turkey several times. I tried to slow taper myself off the stuff. But weaning is hard and I never made it. When times got tough, I fell off the wagon (you know that whole “I had a horrible day at work, I deserve a damn soy misto with sugar free vanilla syrup” kind of self-talk). It seems so silly, but it truly was like an addiction. Every time I tried to break free I was sucked back in.
Cut to present day…
Last month I was getting headaches almost every day. They were bad and it was hard for me to do much of anything. At first I thought it was because I wasn’t drinking much coffee anymore (quitting caffeine is just as big of a beast to tackle as sugar). But when I made a small cup of half-caf java to try and help my throbbing brain, it only made things worse. As awful as this two week period was for me, three positives came out of it. (1) I lost my AM cravings for coffee, (2) my fried out taste buds started to re-set themselves, and (3) I realized that no sweet additives meant no headache.
Since I was already on the weaning path I decided to JUST DO IT. And so I made the commitment. No more fake sugar. Period.
Well, that lasted a week.
While I was enjoying consuming far less coffee (and thus far less sweetener), I didn’t feel great IBS-wise. Bloating showed up at my doorstep and brought his entire extended family. I’ll spare you the details, but at one point my stomach was more like a steel drum than a human body part. It was horrible.
So I started doing some research on agave nectar. Oh boy. There was a LOT I didn’t know, but that’s for a separate conversation (remember to take every source with a grain of salt).
The key thing I learned was how much my symptoms resembled those of someone with fructose malabsorption.
- Bloating (from fermentation in the small and large intestine)
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
- Stomach pain (as a result of muscle spasms, the intensity of which can vary from mild and chronic to acute but erratic)
- Vomiting (if great quantities are consumed)
- Early signs of mental depression
- Other symptoms include: aching eyes, fuzzy head, fatigue
WTF is FODMAPS you ask? I had a similar reaction.
FODMAPS stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides And Polyols. They are known to cause GI discomfort in susceptible individuals and more and more research has been proving that a low FODMAP diet has widespread application for managing functional GI disorders such as IBS and IBD.
Fructose and fructans, which are polymers of fructose, are FODMAPs. And here’s the real kicker, foods containing added sweeteners and agave nectar are the most aggravating.
Ironically, stevia is one of the best tolerated sources of sweetener for those on a low FODMAPS diet. Other well handled sugar sources include regular (vegan) sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, and coconut sugar.
Knowing which foods are low in FODMAPS is tricky. It has to do with the ratio of fructose to glucose. If a food has more fructose than glucose (tipping the ratio to >1) it will likely pose a problem for those with IBS or FM and contribute to the symptoms I listed above (namely gas/bloating).
I’m currently doing a great deal of research on the low FODMAPS diet, so expect more information to come. I’ve also scheduled a few MD appts to get testing done and purchased a bit of literature to educate myself (like the responsible hippie that I am). In the meantime, I’m happy to report that the first week has gone BEAUTIFULLY and I’m really optimistic about how this will affect my IBS management.