Got a sweet tooth? Everyone knows sugar is bad for you, but sucralose is a replacement that tastes similarly sweet but doesn’t come along with all the health baggage of sugar (aka sucrose).
Need a a run-down on the benefits and side effects of sucralose, especially as compared to regular sugar? Our research team has got you covered. Here’s what the nutritional and medical research has to say about this sugar substitute.
1. Sucralose has no calories
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.
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.
2. Sucralose can help with weight loss
Observational studies indicate the use of low-calorie or calorie-free sweeteners likely has little long-term effect on weight or body mass, but a range of different studies have come to different conclusions.
A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, which is considered the strongest way to aggregate study results, was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010 and attempted to pool all results on low calorie sweeteners for weight loss (4).
The review found that low calorie sweeteners like sucralose “modestly but significantly” reduced outcomes like body weight, body mass index, fat mass, and waist circumference.
3. Sucralose does not affect blood sugar or insulin
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% (5).
4. Sucralose is non-carcinogenic
When non caloric sweeteners came onto the scene, there were rumors and even some scientific reports suggesting that they could cause cancer.
Something that tastes as sweet as sugar but has zero calories sounded too good to be true. In response to public queries about the safety of sucralose, nutrition researchers looked in detail at reams of research on sucralose.
In 2016, a review article analyzed the findings and concluded there was no evidence for carcinogenic effects of sucralose, even when consumed in large amounts (8).
5. Sucralose does not negatively affect your glucose metabolism
In a somewhat analogous situation to the research on the carcinogenicity of sucralose, other research in animals or in individual cells under the microscope had suggested that sucralose might negatively affect your body’s ability to process real sugar.
A randomized controlled trial published in 2017 in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology directly addressed this question (9).
The study split a group of healthy volunteers into two groups. Both groups took capsules filled with a white powder every day; one group’s capsules were filled with an inert placebo, while the other group was taking capsules filled with sucralose. The researchers followed both groups over the course of 12 weeks and tested to see if there were any changes in blood sugar regulation.
Since there were no differences between the groups, the researchers concluded that, contrary to animal research, sucralose does not negatively affect blood sugar regulation.
Sucralose side effects
Sucralose might have negative effects on gut bacteria. One study 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.
Moreover, 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.
Sucralose might form harmful chemicals during high-temperature baking. Sucralose 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 sucralose begin to break down when exposed to heat, leading to undesirable interactions. (10)
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. (11)
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. (12)
Sucralose is considered safe for general use, with no limit on usage. Despite the mostly theoretical considerations above, the United States Food and Drug Administration considers sucralose “safe for general use,” meaning there aren’t any specific restrictions on how it can be incorporated into foods.
Because regular sugar does have quite a few negative side effects associated with chronically high intake, like fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes, replacing much of your sugar intake with sucralose is a good place to start if you can’t figure out how to reduce your cravings for sweet foods and drinks.
Sucralose benefits FAQ
Q: Is sucralose as bad as aspartame?
A: Sucralose has a number of advantages compared to aspartame, which is a much-maligned artificial sweetener used in diet soda and other processed foods.
Sucralose, in contrast, is not as bad as aspartame because the evidence is conclusive: sucralose is not carcinogenic (13).
Other than this front, sucralose and aspartame are fairly similar in that they are both synthetic non-caloric sweeteners that are generally regarded as safe, but with some hypothetical concerns about long-term effects on your health due to how they affect your reward systems, and their potential for interactions with gut bacteria.
Q: How is sucralose made?
A: Sucralose is a synthetic (or artificial) sweetener, which means that it’s made at industrial scales via chemical synthesis.
Interestingly, it’s often synthesized from table sugar (sucrose) since the two are quite similar in terms of their chemical structure. So, unlike stevia or monk fruit, when you eat sucralose you aren’t getting a natural plant extract, but a compound synthesized at industrial scale.
Q: Does sucralose cause diarrhea?
A: Short-term diarrhea does not appear to be a side effect of sucralose, unlike sugar alcohols like erythritol. The only worries with regards to gastrointestinal tract disturbances in people who use a lot of sucralose would be the potential for disturbances in the probiotic bacteria in the gut.
Disturbances in the levels of your gut microbiome could hypothetically lead to increased gastrointestinal issues, but it should be stressed that this is entirely theoretical, not supported even in medical case studies.
Q: What does sucralose do to your body?
A: In short, not much. The very reason sucralose is useful is that it does not interact very much with your body, aside from stimulating your sweet taste receptors in your mouth.
Once you swallow it, your body cannot digest it, so you extract no energy (i.e. no calories) from sucralose. Then it passes through your system without interacting much.
Some research has indicated that sucralose could alter the activity of certain bacteria in your gut may change in response to sucralose, so some people have expressed concerns over the shift in the gut microbiome that could occur if you consume a lot of sucralose on a regular basis for a long time.
Q: Does sucralose cause cancer?
A: While many people have worried about the potential for many different artificial sweeteners to cause cancer, with regards to sucralose, the evidence is clear: sucralose is not carcinogenic (it does not cause cancer).
This was the conclusion of a comprehensive scientific review published in 2016 that looked at cellular metabolism studies, animal models, and experiments in humans (14).
Put simply, sucralose consumption (even in large amounts) does not cause any biochemical reactions that could be plausibly be linked to the development of cancer.
Related: Our best sucralose picks
If you need to cut down the amount of sugar in your diet, sucralose is a good substitute. Its non-caloric sweetness means you can add it to drinks or bake with it, without having to worry about the negative effects that come along with sugar, like increased risk for type 2 diabetes and weight gain.
However, other sugar substitutes are better for high-temperature baking, and sucralose might have some negative impacts on your gut bacteria when used for a long time, so make sure you make other healthy changes to your diet, and ideally only use sucralose to satiate your sweet tooth as you get used to a healthier routine.