Is sucralose bad for you

Digital marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to anywhere from 4,000 – 10,000 marketing messages every single day. Amongst the sea of advertisements, brand messages, Instagram rambles and your friends circulating fake news on Facebook, the vetting process between what’s fact or fiction these days, is a subtle art form. One of those misguided headlines circulating for the past several years is the contempt that’s been shown for the artificial sweetener, Splenda.

It’s a well-known fact, that consuming too much sugar can be detrimental to your health. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines Committee, recently reported that Americans get 13% of their total daily caloric intake from added sugars. Added sugar can raise blood pressure, produce chronic inflammation, and increase your risk of obesity, heart disease, and type-2 diabetes. Zero calorie sugar substitutes, such as Splenda were created to help mitigate the risks of contracting chronic disease and obesity, by providing a sugar alternative without sacrificing the taste. But does replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners like Splenda make them any better for you?

Is Splenda Bad For You 

Research about sweeteners like Splenda is often misrepresented and sensationalized by the media and health experts, when the truth is health organizations across the globe, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), World Health Organization (WHO), European Food Safety Authority and Health Canada have researched and found Splenda safe to consume. However, all non-nutritive, no calorie sugar substitutes are generally recognized as safe (GRAS), either wise, they wouldn’t be available for consumption.

According to the FDA, sucralose along with all other artificial sweeteners have GRAS status. New ingredients must meet certain FDA requirements and obtain GRAS status in order to be used in a commercially available product marketed to consumers.

All artificial sugar substitutes with GRAS status are on the market because current research states, that if consumed in recommended amounts reasonable for human consumption, they are generally recognized as safe and will not cause long-term health effects. 

Artificial sweeteners come in a variety of different forms; saccharin, aspartame, Acesulfame potassium, and sucralose. Yet despite the heavy scrutiny, common misconceptions, and negative connotation the word “artificial” may devise, sucralose is not bad for you.

Splenda, which contains 1% sucralose is the only sugar substitute that is derived from real sugar molecules (sucrose). Sucralose is made through a patented, multi-step process that starts with sugar and selectively replaces three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule with three chlorine atoms. The result is an exceptionally intense sweetener that is 600 times sweeter than conventional sugar but without sugar’s calories [R].Sucralose is the most commonly used sweetener due to its, sugar-like taste, lack of bitterness, stability at high-temperatures, and long shelf life.

Now before you go grab yourself a 24-pack of Diet coke, the mantra “everything in moderation” still full applies, even with sucralose. Too much of anything, is never a good thing.   

Sucralose has been subjected to extensive short-term and long-term studies in both animals and humans (more than a hundred of which were reviewed during the FDA approval process for sucralose), and none of them have demonstrated any significant risk to humans associated with the consumption of sucralose in normal amounts.

What Does The Research Say

Although sugar substitutes like Splenda are generally recognized as safe, some health and nutrition experts may not agree. Some in vivo animal studies have found that non-nutritive sugar alternatives may cause cancer. Yet, these studies investigated extremely high amounts of sucralose or Splenda consumption, which is unrealistic and hard to replicate in human clinical trials.

Other reports show and suggest that consuming sugar infused drinks or artificially sweetened drinks makes no difference amongst chronic disease states such as heart disease and obesity [R].

Gut Health

One of the most common myths and misinterpretations, is that Splenda harms gut health. Your gut microbiome is comprised of billions of healthy bacteria, that help aid in digestion, boost your immune system, and lower your overall susceptibility to chronic illness and disease.

Numerous studies have concluded that splenda is safe and that your body does not acquire any calories from the ingestion of splenda. Most ingested splenda moves through the gastrointestinal tract unchanged. So, why all the hype about sucralose, splenda and gut health? Well, it all comes down to one, short, inconclusive 12-week study conducted on rats, in 2008.

In a 12-week rat study published in the journal of toxicology and environmental health, researchers investigated the health effects of sucralose on the gut microbiome. The results indicated that there was a reduction in the total number of healthy gut bacteria, a reduction in beneficial fecal microflora, and an increase in fecal pH [R].

The study also indicated that sucralose increased the expression of certain cytochrome P450 (CYP450) enzymes and the transporter protein, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), the latter of which was considered evidence that Splenda or sucralose might interfere with the absorption/bioavailability of nutrients and drugs [RR].

This study was released in 2008, and created a whirlwind of controversy, and shed negative light on sucralose and Splenda as a non-nutritive sweetener. However, one year later in 2009 the journal of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology conducted an expert panel review, to investigate the findings of the study. The review found that the study design had many flaws and deficient in many areas and concluded that results cannot be interpreted as evidence that either Splenda, or sucralose, produced adverse effects in male rats, including effects on gastrointestinal microflora, body weight, CYP450 and P-gp activity, and nutrient and drug absorption [R].

A recent study, investigating the effects of sucralose on gut microbiome, was able to replicate the expert panel review in its critical findings, confirming that sucralose does not in fact alter gut microbiome [R].

Obesity

Americans get around 13% of their total daily calories from sugar per day. That translates to more than 1,800 calories per week from added sugars alone, which is more total calories than most people consume in a day. The CDC reported that 70% of Americans are overweight or Obese with 88 million who are pre-diabetic. 

Obesity is due to the over-consumption of foods, most notably sugar or simple carbohydrates. By consuming more calories than you burn in any given day, over time you will add more body fat. Sugar substitutes such as Splenda and sucralose can help provide a steppingstone to make small changes in your diet to improve overall health. In order to lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit, therefore, replacing your sugar intake with “sugar free” substitutes, will help you cut more calories and translates to a decrease in body fat.

With that said, there have been some studies which have shown that there is a positive correlation between consuming beverages with artificial sweeteners and weight gain. Of course, this could not in fact be due to the calories or nutritional makeup of the product since Splenda and sucralose have zero calories. Experts suggest that individuals will generally consumer more calories through their diet, knowing they did not consume any calories through a diet drink [R]

Another theory suggests that when you taste something sweet from a zero-calorie sugar alternative, your pancreas secretes insulin to process that sugar. But because there aren’t any calories, your body becomes confused, disrupting the normal metabolic process.

Zero calorie sugar substitutes such as Splenda, can also help maintain or lower blood sugar levels, since it does not influence blood sugar.

Is Splenda Bad For You: Takeaway 

The fact is Splenda and sucralose are not bad for you. The media has propagated that Splenda has negative and long-term health and may contribute to diabetes, weight gain, gut dysbiosis, and cancer, when in fact, it does not. The term artificial gets a bad rap because it’s been molecularly altered. But it’s important to recognize that “natural” sweeteners such as stevia or Truvia also go under a refining and chemical process. The word “natural” is very loosely regulated by the FDA and gives manufacturers the right to use the word for marketing purposes, even when only one component of an ingredient or product is derived from a natural source.

Every regulatory agency, that has ever reviewed the scientific research on sucralose, deems it as non-toxic and safe. Based upon a wide range of studies, sucralose does not cause cancer, or have any associated harmful effect upon the digestive system, long-term health, or affect blood glucose levels [R].

Working with a certified nutrition coach is a great way to balance sugar alternatives and to create sustainable lifestyle change to create a wholesome healthy diet for long term success.


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References

Thomson P, Santibañez R, Aguirre C, Galgani JE, Garrido D. Short-term impact of sucralose consumption on the metabolic response and gut microbiome of healthy adults. Br J Nutr. 2019 Oct 28;122(8):856-862. doi: 10.1017/S0007114519001570. Epub 2019 Sep 13. PMID: 31258108.

Ruiz-Ojeda, Francisco Javier et al. “Effects of Sweeteners on the Gut Microbiota: A Review of Experimental Studies and Clinical Trials.” Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.) vol. 10,suppl_1 (2019): S31-S48. doi:10.1093/advances/nmy037

Abou-Donia MB, El-Masry EM, Abdel-Rahman AA, McLendon RE, Schiffman SS. Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2008;71(21):1415-29. doi: 10.1080/15287390802328630. PMID: 18800291.

Schiffman, Susan S, and Kristina I Rother. “Sucralose, a synthetic organochlorine sweetener: overview of biological issues.” Journal of toxicology and environmental health. Part B, Critical reviews vol. 16,7 (2013): 399-451. doi:10.1080/10937404.2013.842523

M, Soffritti et al. “Sucralose administered in feed, beginning prenatally through lifespan, induces hematopoietic neoplasias in male swiss mice.” International journal of occupational and environmental health vol. 22,1 (2016): 7-17. doi:10.1080/10773525.2015.1106075

Thomson P, Santibañez R, Aguirre C, Galgani JE, Garrido D. Short-term impact of sucralose consumption on the metabolic response and gut microbiome of healthy adults. Br J Nutr. 2019 Oct 28;122(8):856-862. doi: 10.1017/S0007114519001570. Epub 2019 Sep 13. PMID: 31258108.

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