In recent years, the truth about sugar, its horrible side effects on health and its contribution to the obesity epidemic have come to light. Due to this, many people have started dropping this sweetener in preference to sugar substitutes that have not only been said to be healthier, but they also have few or no calories, which makes them perfect for weight loss.
Sucralose (aka Splenda) is one such substitute that has gained popularity as a sugar substitute. However, despite its popularity, some in the scientific community claim that sucralose is bad for you. In this article we shall be answering the question ‘Is sucralose bad?’. How bad is sucralose for your health and exactly why is sucralose bad for the body?
What Are Sugar Substitutes?
Also known as artificial sugars, these sugar substitutes act as sweeteners to drinks and some foods. Artificial sugars have gained popularity in recent years and have been approved by The American Heart Association (AHA) and American Diabetes Association (ADA) as a means to help combat obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes, all risk factors for heart disease.
1. Nutritive sweeteners. Also known as caloric sweeteners or sugars, they provide energy in the form of carbohydrates. They are often found naturally in foods such as fresh fruits. Examples of these include agave, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, sucrose, and table sugar.
2. Non-nutritive sweeteners. Like nutritive sweeteners, they are used to add to the pleasure of eating, however unlike the nutritive options, non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS):
- add little or no calories to your diet
- can be added to both hot and cold beverages and in some cases, they can be used for baking
- Are usually much sweeter than sugar so only small amounts are needed to achieve the desired taste
- Are said to help increase the palatability of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain breads/cereals and thus have the potential to increase the nutrient density of the diet while promoting lower energy intakes – Because they provide fewer calories per gram than sugar as they are not completely absorbed by your digestive system.
Examples of NNS include aspartame, stevia, and sucralose.
What Is Sucralose?
As seen above, this is an FDA approved non-nutritive/artificial sweetener that can be used as a substitute to table sugar. Commonly known by the brand name Splenda, sucralose was first discovered (accidentally) in 1976, by a British sugar company.
This sugar substitute is made from sucrose, through a process that substitutes three chloride atoms for three hydroxyl groups on the sucrose molecule. This specific artificial sweetener is said to be anywhere between 450 to 600 times sweeter than table sugar. The FDA approved this sugar substitute as a general-purpose sweetener in 1999 (7).
Sucralose Vs. Stevia: What Is The Difference?
When it comes to sucralose and stevia, they are both FDA approved artificial sweeteners that offer a sweet taste to both foods and drinks without the extra calories. Despite this, these two sugar substitutes have some significant differences that are worthy of noting. The table below outlines the sucralose vs stevia differences that you should take note of:
|Source||Sucralose is an artificial sweetener made by replacing some of the atoms in sugar with chlorine||Stevia comes from the plant Stevia rebaudiana (aka candyleaf) that is native to South America|
|Calorie per serving||While sucralose might be essentially calorie free, the packaged version that we often use is not. A packet/serving size of this sweetener has about 3.36 calories (13)||It is a zero calorie sweetener|
|Sweetness||It is 450 to 600 times sweeter than sugar||Stevia is about 200 to 250 times sweeter than sugar (12)|
|Taste||It is very sweet with no aftertaste||The sweetener, like many other artificial sweeteners, can have a bitter aftertaste (1)|
|Uses||Like stevia, it is found in beverages and can also be used in baking. A point to note, however, is that while this sugar alternative can be used for baking, some research warns against using it. A 2013 study states that sucralose may decompose at high temperatures, and participate in chlorination reactions, generating highly toxic compounds (5)||Often used in the cooking of sauces, baking desserts, in salad dressing, and in beverages|
How Bad Is Sucralose For The Body?
Despite its seemingly great benefits as a sugar substitute, many sources still claim that consuming this sweetener will cause more harm than good. So what is bad about sucralose? Here are some reasons on why some believe that the sugar substitute is not as healthy as one may think:
May Cause Cancer
When it comes to ‘how bad is sucralose for you’, the threat of cancer is enough to warn many people off. This theory and fear may have come from a study posted online in early 2016. The research in question showed that sucralose had the potential to cause cancer in Swiss lab mice.
In the study, the mice were fed varying amounts of this artificial sweetener for about 12 days and at the end of the study period, the mice who were fed the highest amounts of sucralose were showing signs of malignant tumors and hematopoietic neoplasms (8). While this study did not explicitly say that the sweetener would cause cancer, the findings were enough to give some a pause.
However, these findings were refuted just a few months later in November 2016. A study by the Nutrition and Cancer: An International Journal stated that long-term carcinogenicity studies in animal models provide no evidence of carcinogenic potential for sucralose in humans. In studies in healthy adults, sucralose was well-tolerated and without evidence of toxicity or other changes that might suggest a potential for carcinogenic effects (10).
May Contribute To A Higher Risk Of Heart Disease
One of the reasons why artificial sweeteners are desirable over sugar is because they help fight against weight gain, which leads to obesity and other chronic illnesses including heart disease. However, some suggest that this might not always be true.
According to a study by the European Journal of Public Health, artificially sweetened beverages which are often marketed as a healthier alternative may be just as bad as sugar-filled drinks. The study had over 104,000 participants and took about 10 years (2009 to 2019).
In the end, researchers found that those who consumed higher amounts of artificially sweetened beverages had a higher risk of overall cardiovascular disease, similar to what was seen with sugary beverages (11). While the study did not specifically point a finger at this specific sugar alternative, it would be smart to be cautious that heart disease may be one of the sucralose side effects – if consumed in high amounts.
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May Be Associated With Diabetes
Diabetes may not be the first issue you think of when wondering ‘is sucralose bad for you’. In fact, the MayoClinic states that most artificial sweeteners are good for blood sugar control since they affect it in no way. While this might be true in theory, some people who consume these sugar substitutes may find themselves suffering from this chronic illness.
According to a 2009 study, the daily consumption of diet soda was associated with a 36 percent greater relative risk of incident metabolic syndrome and a 67 percent greater relative risk of incident type 2 diabetes compared with non-consumption (2). Diet soda is often sweetened with either sucralose or aspartame.
Another study in 2013, also showed that this sugar alternative is not as safe as we may think. The study done on 17 obese and insulin-sensitive subjects showed that not only did sucralose consumption prior to a glucose load led to a greater increase in peak plasma glucose concentrations but it also led to a 23 percent decrease in insulin sensitivity, which prevents glucose absorption in cells (9).
May Increase The Risk Of Irritable Bowel Syndrome And Crohn’s Disease
While more research on this is required, a 2011 article posted on The Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology suggested that sucralose might be the culprit behind inflammatory bowel disease including both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (14).
Negatively Affects Gut Bacteria
In 2008 a study was done on male rats using splenda, the artificial sweetener that currently contains the highest amounts of sucralose. The 24 weeks study was done to find out is sucralose bad and sucralose side effects on the gut. At the end of the first 12 weeks researchers found that this sweetener causes a reduction in beneficial fecal microflora, increased fecal pH, and enhanced expression levels of P-glycoprotein, CYP3A4, and CYP2D1 – which can limit the bioavailability of drugs taken orally (6).
Is Sucralose Keto Friendly?
Yes, it is.
While there are many types of the ketogenic diet, the standard or traditional keto diet is quite strict, requiring dieters to closely monitor how many carbs they consume in a day. Because of this, sugar, sugary drinks, and even a large number of fruits are not allowed on keto – as sugar adds carbs and calories to your diet.
Thankfully, because sucralose is not metabolized in the body – meaning that it passes through your body undigested – it does not provide calories or carbs to your body (1) and thus is the perfect sweetener on keto.
The Bottom Line: Is Sucralose Bad For You?
It depends on who you ask. Like many other sugar substitutes, sucralose is highly controversial. Some believe that it is a perfectly safe alternative while others claim that it is in no way safe for your health. As for now, more long-term studies of sucralose effects in humans need to be done for us to truly understand it and how it affects us. Seeing as the FDA has approved of it and considers it safe for human consumption, you can still use it but try to stick to the recommended amounts – or switch to natural sweeteners which are less controversial.
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. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Artificial sweeteners – a review (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Diet soda intake and risk of incident metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) (2009, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweetener Resources (n.d, nal.usda.gov)
- Nutritive Sweetener (n.d., sciencedirect.com)
- Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans formed from sucralose at high temperatures (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Sucralose (n.d, sciencedirect.com)
- Sucralose administered in feed, beginning prenatally through lifespan, induces hematopoietic neoplasias in male swiss mice (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Sucralose affects glycemic and hormonal responses to an oral glucose load (2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Sucralose Non-Carcinogenicity: A Review of the Scientific and Regulatory Rationale (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Sugary drinks, artificially sweetened beverages and cardiovascular disease in NutriNet-Santé cohort (2020, academic.oup.com)
- Sugar substitutes: Health controversy over perceived benefits (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Sweeteners, tabletop, sucralose, SPLENDA packets (2019, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- What made Canada become a country with the highest incidence of inflammatory bowel disease: Could sucralose be the culprit? (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)