Why Pepsi Next and Coke Life are bad for you & what happened when I consumed one.

Dear Stevia,

Look at how you've grown.    You've become so popular, and now you're hanging around Coke and Pepsi.  Please stop changing.  I love you just the way you are.

L. S. Naturally

Why Stevia Sweetened Soda Pop?

I remember when stevia was just a dork like myself.  It was a supplement.  I had to buy it in the health food store.  Now it's a "sweetener" available everywhere, including in Coke and Pepsi.  How did this happen?

In 2013, Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi stated that diet soda sales were down because consumers wanted healthier alternatives.  Pepsi said it would explore more natural, low-calorie sweeteners.  Wait!  Is Pepsi admitting that artificial sweeteners were not so healthy after all?  And just how long was this 'healthier" pop in the planning?

Would you be surprised, if I told you a stevia sweetened Coke and Pepsi had been in the making for close to a decade... possibly more?   I'm not sure exactly when they took notice of the humble stevia plant, but both Coke and Pepsi had stevia products READY for FDA approval by 2008.  Pepsi was teamed up with Merisant (makers of Equal/Aspertame).  CocaCola was partnered with food giant Cargill.  After lots of lobbying, the FDA approved their extracts as 'Generally Regarded As Safe'.

These stevia extracts were released as Purevia and TruVia and marketed as stevia sweeteners.  What they really are though is a blend of sweeteners (including erythritol and isomaltulose).   Both companies slowly introduced these blends in various Coke and Pepsi products, in various markets, all over the world.

In 2012, Pepsi launched Pepsi NEXT.  The Canadian formula contained 30% less sugar than regular Pepsi. It continues to be sweetened with sugar and Reb-A.  The US formula had 60% less sugar but it contains high fructose corn syrup and "a blend of low calorie sweeteners", including Aspertame, Sucralose and Acesulfame, all chemicals that the stevia crowd would not be impressed with.   (As a side note, how appropriate is it that my auto correct tried to change Acesulfame to Shamefaced). 

The old Pepsi Next Look
By 2015, Pepsi NEXT realized it had to ditch the aspartame (but still contains the HFCS and the other two artificial sweeteners).  It also made another big change.   Pepsi NEXT now comes in a green can, because Green = Healthy.

CocaCola Life's birth seems a bit more straightforward.  After being tested in a few target markets, it hit American store shelves in 2014.  It has about 30% less sugar and is sweetened with cane sugar and Reb-A.

Isn't using Stevia in pop a good thing?

Here's where things get tricky.  There are different forms of stevia, each a little more ambiguous than the previous.  There's pure stevia leaves, stevia concentrates, processed stevia, highly processed stevia, and finally Reb-A, a 1/10th component of the stevia leaf , which even the FDA states is not stevia.

Coca-Cola and Pepi both use the highly refined Reb-A (also known as Rebiana) extract.

There's also good quality expensive stevia plants and mass produced (gmo/hybrid?) cheap crap.

There's patented processing with water.  Then there's patented processing with solvents.

(For more on all this, see What's in stevia, Truvia, Purevia)

Hmm?  So for years, Coke and Pepsi claimed Aspertame and artificial sweeteners were healthy for us.  What kind of stevia do you trust them to use?

A spoonful of sugar makes the stevia go down.......

I've always been a proponent of using stevia in conjunction with a wee bit of sugar.  This makes for the best taste and physiologically, you're not tricking or confusing your body with mixed sweetness signals.  In other words, your body should have something to process when your brain registers sweetness.  That's why it's always a good idea to drink homemade stevia sweetened drinks as part of a greater meal. 

So less sugar + stevia sounds like a great idea, except Pepsi Next and Coke Life contain between 4-6 teaspoons of sugar (16-24 grams).  While anything is fine is moderation, remember, Coke Life and Pepsi NEXT are being marketed as healthy beverages. 

Studies have proven that people consume more quantities of foods they consider healthy.  Children also associate health claims (true or false) they see advertised, with making healthier choices.  But no matter how green the can, these beverages are simply a whole lot of sugar and chemicals.

I drank a Coca-Cola Life


While on vacation last December, my wonderful 16 year old, thinking he was doing a good thing (Green = Healthy), picked up some "stevia sweetened" Coca-Cola Life.  He even mentioned how I could review it for my blog.

At first I protested and did my usual "it's meant to look healthy, but it's not" spiel.  "But mom...it's better than me and dad drinking regular pop, right?"  As you can see, not all is perfect in the Less Sugar Naturally household.  I live in a pop divided household. 

Over the next few days, those green cans became the bane of my existence.  They stared at me wherever I went.  I hadn't had a pop in over two years and yet it had a strange hold on me...the memory of that sweet caramel taste mixed with my humble stevia plant.   I'm always more relaxed with my eating on vacation.  I'd had a Frappuccino or two.  What would be the harm in having one little can of soda?

Then it happened.  One night, while playing cards, I cracked.  Pop...Fizz...Gulp.  It was good... and sweet... and would go perfectly with those chips.

A couple days later, I cracked another one open.   And then another.   This turned out to be a VERY BAD THING.  All I could think about was having "one more" Coca-Cola Life.  At home, I resolved never to touch that stuff again.  It took two weeks for my cravings to subside.  

It's good to remember that no matter how "naturally made" a pop is, there are added colors and flavors.   Coke's Truvia FAQ's page compares flavors to salt and pepper.  However, food scientists have admitted these "flavors", natural or artificial, are purposefully addictive concoctions.  (See:  What are artificial flavors?).  Coke and Pepsi are not dumb.  Sales are down.  If they can convince you to drink it, they know you'll keep coming back for more.

So what brought you here today?  Are you struggling with a daily pop habit?  Are you trying to find a better non-addictive beverage choice?  Try fruit tisanes or iced teas.  You can also make homemade bubbly beverages for occasional treats.  Ditch the colors and chemicals.  Add natural flavors like lemon, lime, ginger or fruit concentrates.   These can be made with good quality stevia.

Looking for healthier alternatives to Soda?  Try Fruit Tisanes and Iced Tea!  Below you will find home-made soda recipes, and with a little perseverance, you can kick Pepsi and Coke to the curb for good!

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