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Blog Nutrition Sucralose Vs Aspartame: Which Is The Clear Winner In This Long-Running Debate?

Sucralose Vs Aspartame: Which Is The Clear Winner In This Long-Running Debate?

sucralose vs aspartame

Consumption of sugar has long been a controversial topic. Taking too much or too little of it can prove counterproductive to your health. In excess, sugar can lead to depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. However, when your body is deficient in sugar, you may end up being generally tired (14). Therefore, when it comes to sugar, moderation is always key. This applies to both natural and added sugars. Sucralose vs aspartame are both sugar substitutes with tiny amounts of calories. So, which of the two is the healthier option? Keep reading to find out.

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What Is Sucralose?

Sucralose is a sweetener that is used when you want to lower your intake of added sugars. It is calorie-free despite being made from ordinary sugar. A multistep process is involved in making sucralose, where three pairs of hydrogen-oxygen atoms are replaced with chlorine atoms (14).

Sucralose is about 600 times sweeter than sugar. Therefore, only small quantities of it are used to achieve the same sweetness as sugar (1). Bulking agents like maltodextrin and dextrose are often mixed with it before it is used. Fillers like these are known to add a few but insignificant numbers of calories.

For instance, fillers found in most sucralose-based sweeteners like Splenda have about 3 calories and 1 gram of carbs. That, of course, is in every 1-gram serving. For instance, when maltodextrin and dextrose are used in combination with sucralose, the total calories become 3.36 (16).

This means that Splenda will only have 11% of the total calories in 2 teaspoons of granulated sugars. Thus, sucralose is considered a low-calorie sweetener. However, you should always keep your consumption of sucralose within the recommended limits. The FDA recommends that the daily intake limit of sucralose be 5 mg per kilogram of your body weight (1).

It is also important to note that sucralose is permitted for use as a general-purpose ingredient by the FDA. This essentially means that you can use it as an ingredient in whichever food or beverage you fancy. Also, the sweet taste in foods and drinks sweetened by sucralose tends to stick in many conditions. This is attributed to the high level of stability found in sucralose.

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What Is Aspartame?

Aspartame is probably the most popular artificial sweetener out there. One-fifth of Americans drank diet soda daily in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (4). However, a lot of controversy surrounds aspartame regarding the health impacts it’ll have on your body.

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener made from aspartic acid and phenylalanine, which are naturally occurring amino acids. Being an essential amino acid, phenylalanine can be obtained from food. Aspartic acid, on the other hand, can only be produced by your body.

Aspartame is broken down into methanol after being processed by your body. Certain fruits, fruit juices, fermented beverages, and some vegetables will also elicit the same response after consumption. In 2014, aspartame was the largest methanol source in the typical American diet (5).

Methanol can be harmful to your body when taken in large quantities. However, small amounts are also concerning when they combine with free methanol. That’s because this combination tends to cause enhanced absorption (5).

Free methanol is present in some foods and can also be generated when aspartame is heated. See, you’re not supposed to consume free methanol frequently. When it breaks down, it releases formaldehyde which is a carcinogen and neurotoxin in your body (5).

Here’s the good news: People rarely reach the maximum intake of methanol, even among children who are high consumers of aspartame.

So how do you know whether your food or drink contains aspartame? Well, most products having the label “sugar-free” contain some forms of artificial sweeteners. Some of the most common products include:

  • Diet soda
  • Gum
  • Sugar-free candy
  • Sugar-free ice cream
  • Reduced-calorie fruit juices
  • Low-calorie yogurt

Sometimes drug manufacturers can use aspartame to make medications taste better. Such medications include laxatives and chewable vitamin supplements.

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Sucralose Vs. Aspartame Taste

Sugar substitutes are typically sweeter than ordinary sugar. However, how does the taste of sucralose compare to aspartame? Let’s find out.

Sucralose Taste

Sucralose is very sweet. To be more specific, it’s about 600 times sweeter than sugar (1). It’s therefore required in very little quantities to achieve the same taste as common sugar. It’s also mixed with bulking agents like maltodextrin or dextrose before use (14).

Aspartame Taste

Aspartame is also sweeter than ordinary sugar, about 200 times sweeter, but less sweet than sucralose. Aspartame-based sweeteners also have filler agents meant to tone down the intense sweetness (1).

So what’s the verdict? Sucralose is sweeter than aspartame, but both are sweeter than common sugar. What about safety? How will a sucralose vs aspartame safety ranking turn out? We find out in the next section.

Read More: Agave Nectar Vs. Honey: Tracking Down A Healthier Way To Sweeten Up Your Cup Of Joe

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Sucralose Vs. Aspartame Health Effects

When it comes to sucralose vs aspartame dangers, which of the two sweeteners is worse for your health? Both sugar substitutes are bound to have some health effects on your body depending on how you consume them. First, we look at how aspartame will affect your overall health:

Effects On Your Immune System And Oxidative Stress

According to this review done in 2017, aspartame may adversely affect the immune system leading to oxidative stress and inflammation. The findings, mostly based on animal studies, indicated that aspartame affects several body organs, including the brain, heart, liver, and kidneys (10).

Effects On Your Body Weight

Every gram of aspartame contains 4 calories, which is similar to common sugar. It is, however, 200 times sweeter than ordinary sugar (1). You, therefore, require very small amounts of it to sweeten your foods and drinks. This has particularly made it a popular option with people who are on a weight-loss diet.

However, this review done in 2017 finds no solid evidence that low-calorie sweeteners like aspartame are effective in weight management (8). Other long-term studies discovered a link between increased weight and waist circumference and frequent intake of these sweeteners. The participants also exhibited increased Body Mass Index (BMI).

Your BMI is particularly important since it’ll help you judge whether you have a healthy weight or not. If your BMI is in one of the obesity categories, the more vulnerable you become toward metabolic diseases. The study also suggested that frequent users of sweeteners like aspartame may have higher chances of developing diabetes, stroke, and heart diseases (8).

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Effects On Your Appetite

Aspartame and other nonnutritive sweeteners can significantly increase your appetite. This may trigger increased food consumption, creating a domino of weight gain. A review was done in 2013 that backed up the notion of increased food consumption triggered by nonnutritive sweeteners (2).

The results suggested that sweeteners like aspartame disrupt your signaling processes that occur when eating foods with calories (2). What happens is that sweet taste will alert your body that food is entering your gut. In turn, your body prepares to receive calories and will signal you when it’s time to stop eating. This is how you feel full or satiated.

See, you experience the same sweet taste when taking aspartame. And each time you do, your body gets fewer calories than it expects to. Over time, your body will unlearn the association between sweet taste and calories. As a result, high-calorie foods will not elicit feelings of fullness or satiety. Thus, you’ll end up overeating because of the increased appetite.

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Effects On Your Metabolism

The process of disrupting your appetite control can also expose you to the risk of metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes (2). As explained earlier, your body will no longer expect calories alongside sweet tastes. You’ll therefore be ill-equipped to handle dietary sugars when they arrive in your gut.

This review done in 2016 further explores the connection between low-calorie sweeteners like aspartame and metabolic diseases. The results suggest that the balance and diversity of gut bacteria are significantly disturbed in regular, long-term users of sweeteners. Also, this kind of disruption can lead to glucose intolerance, which is a risk factor for diabetes type 2 (9).

Aspartame use particularly leads to greater glucose intolerance among people with diabetes, according to this study (3). These effects were, however, minimal in people with healthy weight. However, this is not an incentive for overconsumption of aspartame. To completely avoid the risk of glucose intolerance, always maintain a balanced consumption.

Other risks associated with aspartame include possible increased risks of (3):

  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Lupus
  • Congenital Disabilities

Given the mentioned health risks of aspartame, certain groups of people should not use it. If you have the following conditions, consider using alternatives.

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Tardive Dyskinesia (TD)

This is a neurological disorder that causes sudden and uncontrollable movements in your face and body. It’s often caused by using antipsychotic medications over a long period. Research suggests that phenylalanine can elicit muscle movements similar to TD (17).

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See also  Stevia Vs. Sucralose: Sweeteners That Pack A Ton Of Flavor Into Few Or No Calories

Phenylketonuria (PKU)

PKU is a metabolic disorder that is usually inherited. It increases the levels of phenylalanine- and essential amino acid -in your blood. People with PKU cannot metabolize phenylalanine correctly (17). Therefore they should limit or avoid its intake in foods and beverages.

Aspartame, however, will provide lower amounts of phenylalanine compared to daily food sources like meat, dairy products, fish, and eggs. It’s crucial that people with PKU monitor their daily intake of phenylalanine to avoid toxic levels. That’s why all products containing the amino acid are labeled in the U.S.

So what about sucralose? How does it affect your overall health? Next, we find out.

Effects On Your Blood Sugar And Insulin

Sucralose is believed to have very little to no effects on your insulin and blood sugar levels to a large extent. However, this will depend on your metabolic health and how often you use artificial sweeteners. Multiple studies have sought to explore the link between sucralose and blood sugar levels and insulin in different individuals.

In this small study, 17 people with severe obesity and who didn’t frequently take sweeteners were observed after consuming sucralose or water, followed by a glucose load. Those who had the sucralose had a higher peak blood sugar and greater insulin response than the control (water) group (15).

Other studies among people with average weight and were regular users of sucralose. The results showed no significant change in their blood sugar and insulin levels (6). Both studies generally concluded that the most difference would be observed in people who are not regular users of sweeteners.

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Effects On Your Gut Health

Your gut has friendly bacteria that are immensely beneficial for your overall health. They are attributed to improved digestion and an enhanced immune system, reducing risks of contracting several diseases (12).

This study found that sucralose had negative effects on these bacteria in rats. In 12 weeks, the rats which took sucralose lost 47-80% of anaerobes in their guts. The more beneficial bacteria like bifidobacteria were the most affected. The impact was least on the more harmful ones. Interestingly, the levels of gut bacteria did not return to normal after the study was completed (12).

Effects On Your Body Weight

Does having zero or low calories make a product good for weight loss? Theoretically, that is supposed to be true. However, it’s not always the case when it comes to sucralose and other artificial sweeteners.

Some studies indicate that there’s no significant connection between artificial sweeteners and body weight or fat mass. This review found that if sweeteners help reduce body weight, it’s a very modest amount. Others, however, do note a small increase in Body Mass Index (7).

Other risks associated with sucralose include:

  • Generation of toxic compounds when heated. This study shows that at high temperatures, sucralose can generate chloropropanols. Chloropropanols include a wide range of contaminants like carcinogens, genotoxins, and tumorigenic compounds (13).
  • Increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) due to alteration of gut microflora (13).

Read More: Healthiest Sugar Substitutes: 9 Alternatives For Your Sweet Tooth

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Sucralose Vs. Aspartame, Which Is Safer?

When it comes to sucralose vs aspartame, which is safer? Both sucralose and aspartame are manufactured to provide sugar’s sweetness without additional calories. The two are also considered to be safe as long as you take them within their recommended limits.

That said, before deciding which of the two sweeteners is the safest, take into account the following aspects of each sweetener:

Sucralose And Safety

It’s true that there’s a lot of controversy surrounding sucralose. Some studies indicate that it’s harmless, while others claim it may negatively affect your metabolism. Also, it may raise blood sugar and insulin levels in specific groups of people. Then there’s the issue of it possibly damaging the bacterial environment in your gut. However, that still needs further studies in humans.

Also, the stability of sucralose in high temperatures is increasingly being scrutinized. There’s the possibility that it can release harmful compounds, so you may want to avoid cooking or baking with it. That said, the long-term health impacts of sucralose remain unclear.

Health authorities like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still consider it safe for consumption. So is sucralose bad for you? Not really. The only catch is always to keep it below the recommended and approved limits.

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Aspartame And Safety

Like other sweeteners, there’s still much controversy shrouding aspartame. This is despite it getting approval from several authorities around the world. The more recent studies indicate that regular, long-term consumption of aspartame may have adverse effects on weight management. However, the results are not conclusive and more research is needed.

For people having a healthy weight, there is little evidence pointing to detrimental health effects. Especially if you only use it occasionally. On the other hand, aspartame and other low-calorie sweeteners might have adverse health effects in people who are obese. They may face an increased risk of metabolic illnesses like type 2 diabetes from regular consumption of aspartame.

However, it’s important to note that the FDA approves the use of aspartame in foods and drinks. Other organizations that have also approved it include:

  • World Health Organization.
  • United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
  • American Heart Association.
  • American Dietetic Association.

Back in 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reviewed hundreds of studies looking into the health effects of aspartame. Following that, it ruled aspartame is safe for human consumption. Also, an acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 40 milligrams per kilogram of your body weight was set. Interestingly, the EFSA’s ADI is about 10 mg/kg lower than the FDA’s specified amount (11).

It’s also important to note that both amounts set by the FDA and EFSA are more than what most people take daily. For instance, a can of diet soda has 190 mg of aspartame. If you weigh 70 kg, you’ll need more than 14 cans of soda to reach these limits. So is aspartame bad for you? It’s safe as long as you’re within the recommended limits.

Moderate consumption is a concept that you should apply when using all sweeteners. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about sucralose vs aspartame vs stevia. For them to serve their intended purpose, you need to strike a balance in how you use them. In this case, however, aspartame may be the better option compared to sucralose.

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Conclusion

Sucralose and aspartame are two well known sugar substitutes. Both contain fillers like maltodextrin and dextrose that smooth their extreme pleasantness. There’s some debate with respect to their wellbeing, however, the two are not known to have any long-term health effects. 

They might be interesting to those hoping to diminish their sugar consumption — along these lines conceivably diminishing their danger of certain constant conditions like diabetes. Anyway you go about it, decreasing your added sugar intake might be a decent way to better wellbeing.

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See also  4 Macronutrients: A Simple Guide to Macros

DISCLAIMER:

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!

SOURCES:

  1. Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for Use in Food in the United States (fda.gov)
  2. Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements (2013, cell.com)
  3. Aspartame intake is associated with greater glucose intolerance in individuals with obesity (2016, cdnsciencepub.mob)
  4. Consumption of Diet Drinks In The United States, 2009-2010 (2012, cdc.gov)
  5. Dietary methanol and autism (2015, sciencedirect.com)
  6. Effect of the artificial sweetener, sucralose, on gastric emptying and incretin hormone release in healthy subjects (2009, pubmed.gov)
  7. Low-calorie sweeteners and body weight and composition: a meta-analysis of randomied controlled trials and prospective cohort studies (2014, nih.gov)
  8. Nonnutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies (2017, cmaj.ca)
  9. Reshaping the gut microbiota: Impact of low calorie sweeteners and the link to insulin resistance? (2016, sciencedirect.com)
  10. Revisiting the safety of aspartame (2017, academic.oup.com)
  11. Scientific Opinion on the re-evaluation of aspartame (E 951) as a food additive (2013, efsa.europa.eu)
  12. Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats (2008, pubmed.gov)
  13. Sucralose, A Synthetic Organochlorine Sweetener: Overview of Biological Issues (2013, pubmed.gov)
  14. Sucralose (2013, pubmed.gov)
  15. Sucralose affects glycemic and hormonal responses to an oral glucose load (2013, pubmed.gov)
  16. Sweeteners, tabletop, sucralose, SPLENDA packets (2019, usda.gov)
  17. What are the side effects of aspartame? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
Jeremy Mukhwana
Jeremy Mukhwana

Jeremy is a writer and part-time soccer player who is keen on demystifying the matters of fitness, health, and weight loss. His articles are focused on providing factual information and helping readers enjoy their fitness journeys. He understands that wellness is an often misunderstood yet deeply rewarding avenue of improving one’s life, which is why he is so committed to encouraging people to live their healthiest lives through his work. When he’s not typing away at his keyboard, he’s indulging his passion for soccer. The motto that guides Jeremy through his life is  ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’

K. Fleming
K. Fleming

I am a U.S. educated and trained Registered Dietitian (MS, RD, CNSC) with clinical and international development experience. I have experience conducting systematic reviews and evaluating the scientific literature both as a graduate student and later to inform my own evidence-based practice as an RD. I am currently based in Lusaka, Zambia after my Peace Corps service was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for some meaningful work to do as I figure out next steps. This would be my first freelance project, but I am a diligent worker and quite used to independent and self-motivated work.

Kristen Fleming, MS, RD, CNSC

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