What is Sucralose?
We Americans love our sugar. Most health experts would agree that we love sugar far too much. Two hundred years ago, the average American ate around two pounds of sugar each year. Today, the average American consumes more than 150 pounds of sugar in a year .
Over consuming sugar can lead to various health problems, including tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and more.
This is what makes the sugar substitute sucralose so attractive to many people. But what is sucralose, and is it the right choice for you?
As with most food science, the answer can be tricky. Special interest groups often have a hand in how research is conducted and disseminated. And scientists are also continually learning new things about how nutrition affects our bodies.
What Is Sucralose Made From?
You might not have heard of sucralose before. But you've likely heard of its brand name, Splenda. But what exactly is sucralose?
Sucralose is a laboratory formulated chemical. It's a zero-calorie, non-nutritive sweetener that's very similar to sugar in molecular structure. With a slight modification of sugar's molecular bonds, sucralose is not recognizable as a source of nutrition the body would like to exert energy on digesting.
This means that even though sucralose technically comes from the sugar molecule, you shouldn't confuse it with "sucrose" - the chemical name for table sugar.
Splenda's slogan used to be "Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar," which many people claimed to be misleading. Splenda's competitor, Equal, whose main ingredient is aspartame, sued Splenda for this reason .
People claimed it was misleading because it leads consumers to believe that Splenda is a natural product, which it isn't. And this can make people assume that sucralose is healthier than it is.
The sugar molecule is natural and contained within foods all over the planet. However, once you introduce it to a laboratory and start tampering with it, it's no longer sugar. And it no longer functions as sugar in the body.
Regular sugar is absorbed and digested by the body.
It doesn't matter if the sugar comes from sugar cane, maple syrup, honey, or even high-fructose corn syrup. However, sucralose doesn't provide nutrients or calories. Not to mention, it's also 600 times sweeter than real sugar. And when it comes to affecting the body, sucralose doesn't have many benefits to it, either.
It's also important to note that you won't find artificial sweeteners listed on the nutritional facts panel of food products. You'll only find them on the ingredients list. In general, choosing supplements like a whey protein powder with less than 3 ingredients is ideal.
How Is Sucralose Made?
Sucralose comes from sugar via a multistep chemical process . In this process, three hydrogen-oxygen groups are replaced with chlorine atoms.
This chemical compound was discovered by scientists from Tate & Lyle in 1976. This discovery happened when the scientists worked with researchers Shashikant Phadnis and Leslie Hough at Queen Elizabeth College in London.
While looking for new uses of sucrose and its synthetics derivatives, Phadnis was asked to "test" a chlorinated sugar compound. Phadnis mistakenly thought he was being asked to "taste" it. So he did.
He was pleased to find that the compound was exceptionally sweet. The companies Tate & Lyle and Johnson & Johnson then started to develop Splenda products together. Splenda was finally introduced to the United States in 1999. It's now one of the most popular sweeteners in America.
Today, Splenda is commonly used as a sugar substitute in both baking and cooking. It's also added to a variety of food products all over the world.
While sucralose doesn't contain any calories, Splenda does contain maltodextrin and carbohydrates dextrose (glucose). This means that the calorie content is actually brought up to just over three calories per gram in Splenda.
With that said, the total carbs and calories that Splenda contributes to your diet are negligible since you only need to consume tiny amounts each time.
Sucralose is significantly more sweet than table sugar, and it doesn't give a bitter aftertaste that many other common sweeteners give off.
Below is an illustration the shows us the taste profiles of various high-intensity sweeteners like sucralose. Although they all try, it's been a food science challenge for the last 50 years to cover as much of the natural sugar profile as possible.
What Are Sucralose Side Effects?
There have been many studies on the effects of sucralose. Let's look at some of the most concerning effects and the studies that back them up.
Sucralose Effects on Insulin and Blood Sugar
There exists a belief that sucralose has little to no effects on insulin and blood sugar levels. However, science points to a dependency on the consumer as individuals and whether they're used to consuming artificial sweeteners.
There was one small study done with seventeen people who had severe obesity . These people didn't consume artificial sweeteners regularly. The studies suggest that sucralose elevated insulin levels by twenty percent and blood sugar levels by fourteen percent.
Other studies conducted on average weight people who didn't have any significant medical issues did not experience any effects on blood sugar levels . However, these kinds of studies included people who regularly used sucralose.
The takeaway seems to be; If you don't consume artificial sweeteners like Splenda regularly, you are more likely to experience some changes to your insulin and blood sugar levels. However, if you're used to consuming sucralose, the science suggests that you are likely to go unaffected.
Baking with Sucralose Might Be Dangerous
A belief held by many suggests that Splenda is suitable for baking and cooking because it's thermally stable at the typical baking temperature of 350°F (175°C). Some studies, however, have challenged these beliefs.
It appears that Splenda begins to break down and interact with other ingredients when exposed to high temperatures . Another study found that heating sucralose with glycerol produced harmful substances known as chloropropanols .
What are Chloropropanols?
Chloropropanols are harmful carcinogens proven in the long term to produce cancerous tumors. Chloropropanols are the result of a chemical reaction between chlorine molecules and fatty acids.
The exact cause of the reaction is still undetermined; however, the existence of chloropropanols and their dangerous impacts go hand in hand with the rise of processed food consumption.
Although more research is ongoing, it might be best to use other sweeteners when baking at temperatures higher than 350°F (175°C) until that research "pans out," see what we did there ?
Sucralose Effects on Gut Health
The beneficial bacteria in your gut are essential to your overall health. These bacteria might improve digestion, reduce your risk of many diseases, and boost immune function. We go into much more detail about the importance of gut health and upkeep of digestive enzymes in the link below.
It's critical to understand that our ability to absorb nutrition depends mostly on our body's gastrointestinal tract health. Being picky over the quality nuances of sourcing plays second fiddle to the health condition of our gut.
Interestingly enough, it was found that sucralose might have adverse effects on gut bacteria. At least, according to one study on rats .
After two weeks, rats that consumed the sweetener had 47– 80% fewer anaerobes in their guts. Anaerobes are bacteria that don't require oxygen.
Advantageous bacteria, including lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria, also declined in concentration significantly. More harmful bacteria appeared to be less affected.
The gut bacteria still didn't return to normal levels after the study was completed, even more fascinating. When whey protein enters your stomach with artificial sweeteners, the combination is less effective from a bioavailability perspective.
Learn More: Whey Protein Bioavailability Explained
Sucralose Can Make You Eat More
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons people decide to consume artificial sweeteners over regular table sugar has to do with weight management. Because of sugar's links to obesity and type 2 diabetes, many people see artificial sweeteners as a way to sweeten their food without weight gain.
After all, the calorie content of sucralose is practically negligible. Unfortunately, it's not that easy when it comes to sucralose and other sweeteners. Opting for sweeteners like sucralose might lead you to eat more food and thus gain more weight.
How can this be? Researchers at the University of Sydney found reward centers inside of the brain . They noticed that a sweet sensation was integrated with energy content.
So the more sweet something is, the more energy the brain assumes it has. This is mostly true in the natural world, as it's mainly fruits that are sweet.
Of course, because sucralose doesn't have any calories, it doesn't have any energy content. When there's an imbalance between the sweetness and energy content, the brain will recalibrate and seek more calories.
Researchers found that animals who were given food laced with artificial sweeteners were eating more even though they already consumed enough calories. This is because the animals were motivated to eat more food due to the increased sweetness.
The scientists then found a new neuronal network in the brain that balances energy content with how tasty food is. When you're starving, food is going to taste better. And eating artificial sweeteners like sucralose triggers that neuronal network.
These findings reinforce the belief that 'sugar-free' varieties of processed food might have unintended effects on consumers.
The researchers also found that these sweeteners promoted decreased sleep quality, insomnia, and hyperactivity. These are characteristics that are consistent with mild starvation.
Is Sucralose Bad for You?
This is where things can get a bit confusing. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sucralose is seen as “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS. This means that, based on the available research, experts consider the substance in question to be safe.
All artificial sugars are GRAS. And these products are on the market because the research that's available so far says that if they're consumed in the amounts that are reasonable for people, then they're safe. And they won't cause long-term or immediate health problems.
Unfortunately, it can be hard to obtain evidence on whether an additive substance causes cancer or other long-term effects on humans.
While there isn't any evidence of sucralose causing cancer in people, a lab study in 2013 found a possible link between the artificial sweetener and leukemia in mice .
Because sucralose might cause cancer in animals, some people are worried it can do the same to humans. At the time the study made this potential connection, the Center for Science in the Public Interest downgraded Sucralose from "safe" to "avoid" until further studies can be performed.
Is Splenda Bad For You?
This question is more of the same. Often answered on blogs in the nutrition industry from a perspective that all artificial sweeteners are harmful, Splenda is a registered trademarked brand name of sucralose. Although not exactly equivalent in chemical composition, Splenda does contain a very small amount of calories.
A decade ago, a study linked people with obesity that do not regularly consume non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) to an increase in glycemic and insulin response when consuming sucralose. The reason obese subjects are studied relates to the NNS market targeting consumers searching for weight loss solutions .
Does Sucralose Damage Your Gut?
Yes, various studies indicate the potential harmful toll consuming sucralose can take on your gut health. Below we lay out three high-level logic steps that summarize this point.
- Our gastrointestinal tracts house many microbes that our immune systems significantly use to fight viruses, bacteria, and disease.
- The health and makeup of these microbes are both genetic and developed via your environment. Various human populations are more or less susceptible to geographical specific illnesses based on where their microbes and gut bacteria develop .
- Studies conducted show a positive correlation with sucralose in the form of Splenda ingested orally and a reduced number and altered microbiota composition in the Gastrointestinal Tract . The data shows that the longer the pattern of consistent sucralose use is, the further the reduction in gut bacteria.
When it comes to the buzz word "bioavailability," at AGN Roots, we like to drive home the fact that there are two components that need your attention to ensure your body the best potential to absorb the nutrients you provide.
- The quality of the foods you eat
- The health and condition of your gut
Is Sucralose Ever Recommended?
A dietician or nutritionist might encourage or recommend people to use sucralose as a temporary solution or stepping stone to wean them off of sugar. For example, if the goal of a person is to lower their blood sugar levels because they're at risk for diabetes, then a zero-calorie sweetener like sucralose won't affect blood sugar or weight while satisfying the person's sweet tooth.
However, it's best not to use artificial sweeteners like sucralose as a long-term or permanent solution. Other sugar alternatives might be better suited for that kind of job.
Stevia leaf extract and erythritol (a low-calorie sugar alcohol) are generally seen as safe alternatives to sugar and sweeteners. However, if you consume too much erythritol, you might experience nausea.
Tips to Reduce Your Consumption of Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners
If you're worried or confused when it comes to sugar and artificial sweeteners like sucralose, you'd likely just be better off reducing your consumption of both kinds of products.
First off, it's best to stick to water whenever possible. Energy drinks, fruit drinks, sodas, and cocktails contain staggering amounts of added sugar. Many of these drinks fail to keep you hydrated and have zero nutritional value.
You should view these drinks as snacks and not as replacements for water.
It's also a good idea to make more food at home. You'd be amazed by how many products in the grocery store contain sugar. From sauces to salad dressings to yogurts, added sugar is everywhere.
Even if you have to add sugar yourself, you'd likely add less than what the food manufacturers are adding.
Sucralose in Moderation
Hopefully, after reading this article, you now have a better idea of what is sucralose and how it interacts with the body. Even though it's been deemed as safe by some entities, that could change with new research.
Because of this, you're probably better off limiting your consumption of sweeteners like sucralose and honestly, all artificial high-intensity sweeteners in general.