Sucralose is an artificial sweetener with no calories; the most common sucralose product on the market today is Splenda.
As the disastrous health effects of added sugar in the diet become more widely recognized, many people have turned to artificial sweeteners to satisfy the desire for sweet foods.
Concerns about the safety of artificial sweeteners may have you wondering which ones are best and what risks you might take if you use them.
We’ll take a detailed look here at sucralose, including how it’s made, how it affects blood sugar, gut health and weight control.
An Accidental Discovery
The sweet flavor of sucralose comes from sugar; hydrogen oxygen groups are replaced in a 3-part chemical process with chlorine atoms.
Sucralose has been around since 1976, when it was discovered by a British researcher who incorrectly heard instructions given in the lab: instead of testing the substance he was working with, he tasted it, finding it very sweet.
Two major companies, Johnson & Johnson and Tate & Lyle, entered into a joint venture to develop the substance into a marketable product, which became available for purchase just before the turn of the century.
The substance is free of calories, but Splenda also contains maltodextrin and dextrose, so you’ll get 3.36 calories for each gram of the product you consume. (1)
Sucralose is among the most popular artificial sweeteners you can buy today; thousands of food products worldwide contain sucralose, and it is claimed to be safe when used as a sugar substitute in both cooking and baking at home.
The Effect of Sucralose on Blood Sugar and Gut Health
Insulin and blood sugar levels are believed to be unaffected or minimally altered by sucralose, but experts say this may depend on whether or not you regularly include artificial sweeteners in your diet, as well as the variations of response found between individuals.
One study with 17 obese participants who were not accustomed to using sucralose indicated that insulin response increased by 20%, and blood sugar readings were elevated by 17%. (4)
It appears that a physical adjustment to the effects of this artificial sweetener may occur over time.
The importance of gut bacteria and the inner environment of the entire digestive system on overall health has become the focus of more attention as researchers continue to learn about the role of these vital micro-organisms in various physical functions.
Not only are gut bacteria important in the digestive process, but they can also impact immune system function. Studies indicate that establishing and maintaining healthy gut bacteria cuts the risk of developing many chronic diseases as well. (7, 8)
One trial showed that the population of anaerobes, a type of gut bacteria that does not require oxygen to function, was reduced by 47% to 80% in lab animals consuming sucralose. (9)
During the course of this 12-week study, researchers found that other beneficial gut bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria also decreased, while the harmful types of bacteria appeared to be less affected by sucralose consumption.
But the worst news could be that when tests were run on the animals’ gut environment three months after the experiment was finished, flora had not yet returned to normal.
Whether or not sucralose would impact human gut flora in the same manner has not yet been explored, but it’s certainly something to keep in mind when making a decision about using sucralose.
Weight Control and Safety Considerations
While artificial sweeteners like sucralose are marketed as being supportive for anyone trying to lose weight, this has not been scientifically verified.
Observational studies indicate the use of low-calorie or calorie-free sweeteners likely has little long-term effect on weight or body mass.
Some studies found no association between reduced body weight and the use of artificial sweeteners; other trials indicated there could even be a slight increase in body mass index (BMI). A review of study results, which is considered the most reliable method for gathering data, showed that using artificial sweeteners resulted in an average weight reduction of 1.7 pounds. (10)
Splenda has been marketed as safe for high-heat applications like baking, but recent studies cast doubt on this statement.
It appears that separate ingredients in Splenda begin to break down when exposed to heat, leading to undesirable interactions. (11)
Researchers found that when Splenda was heated with glycerol (made up of fat molecules), harmful chloropropanols were formed; these compounds are thought to elevate the risk of developing cancer. (12)
To avoid the potential dangers of inducing decomposition of sucralose, you may want to consider baking at lower temperatures to decrease the chances of dangerous degradation; sticking with less than 350° F (120 C°) could circumvent this issue, but using sucralose to sweeten foods and beverages that don’t require heat may be the best choice until more research has been done. (13)
The elevation of blood sugar levels and insulin response is also a safety concern, especially for people with specific medical problems, and damage to gut bacteria, which has not yet been studied in humans, could have detrimental effects on health as well.
While the FDA considers sucralose safe for general use, the lack of long-term studies makes it a question of personal choice.
There is no clear evidence indicating that the use of sucralose is harmful, and if you enjoy the taste and feel confident consuming it, it may be a good strategy for reducing overall calorie intake.
Avoiding sucralose for baking and other high-heat applications seems like a good precaution, but keep in mind there are other low-calorie alternative sweeteners that are heat stable, some of which have known health benefits.
Summary: Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that is deemed safe by the FDA and has been on the market since 1999; long-term studies on how it affects the human body are not available, and safety concerns include the impact on blood sugar and gut health.