Is Splenda Bad For You? The Truth Behind This Sweetener
It’s well-known that eating too much sugar can increase the risk of obesity, type-2 diabetes, and other health conditions. But does replacing sugar in foods and beverages with artificial sweeteners make them any better for you?
Chances are you’re wondering, “Is Splenda bad for you?”
It's no secret that sugar, particularly added sugar, is abundant in our food supply. This truth is what drives many people to look for alternatives, such as calorie-free artificial sweeteners. These include popular sugar substitutes like aspartame (commonly found in diet soda), saccharin, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium (ace-K).
The most common one is sucralose, also known as Splenda (despite being a misnomer — more on this later). Even though artificial sweeteners sound like the perfect way to have your cake and eat it too, they're controversial for several reasons.
Before getting rid of your table sugar and start buying bulk Splenda, read on. In this article, we'll explore what sucralose is, how it is used in the food industry, and the possible health effects it may cause.
What Is Sucralose?
Sucralose is a sugar-free, non-nutritive artificial sweetener, meaning it contains no calories or nutrients. It is commonly known by the brand name Splenda, but it’s important to note that Splenda is the brand name for a sugar substitute product that contains sucralose and small amounts of filler (dextrose and maltodextrin).
In other words: Sucralose itself is not Splenda, but Splenda contains sucralose.
Sucralose is made by processing regular sugar, which then goes through chemical reactions to replace hydrogen-oxygen groups in the sugar molecules with chlorine atoms. Hence, sucralose is essentially “chlorinated sugar.”
This change in the chemical structure gives sucralose an intense sweetness while making it calorie-free (since the body can’t convert it to energy like it does sugar).
Sucralose was discovered in 1976 by a young scientist at a British college who misheard the instructions to test the sucralose compound and rather tasted it and was surprised by its sweetness.
Decades later, in 1992, the American brand Splenda launched its iconic yellow-packaged low-calorie sweetener featuring the compound, and the rest is history.
Splenda became an instant hit in households in all corners of the United States, having sold more than 100 billion packets since its debut.
But is Splenda bad for you? It almost seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? All the sweetness of sugar with none of the guilt?
Before we dive into that, let’s find out how sucralose has rapidly and inconspicuously infiltrated the products we consume.
How Is Sucralose Used?
Artificial sweeteners are food additives or sugar substitutes used in baking, cooking, and as a condiment in many foods and beverages, especially low-calorie and sugar-free products.
They are added to certain foods and drinks in the manufacturing stage so, when we buy them, the product label can state that it’s zero-calories or zero-sugar..
So, if you're trying to stick to a keto diet or a healthy eating lifestyle by switching to sucralose as a means of reducing your daily intake of sugar, think again.
Although sucralose has no calories or sugar, some artificial sweetener brands may contain a small amount of both. Splenda, for example, contains 3.36 calories per gram (from sugars), though many consider this amount trivial.
Is Splenda Bad For You?
While artificial sweeteners sound great, sucralose can have side effects that need to be considered.
Insulin problems and eroding gut bacteria balance seem to be two of the main concerns dietitians and other health experts have expressed about sucralose.
And while the big companies behind zero-calorie sweeteners claim that these alternatives can aid in weight loss, there's not enough scientific and reliable research to back these claims.
Ironically, sucralose may harm the very people who require a sugar substitute more than anyone else: diabetics.
It Can Spike Your Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels
Recent research published in the Diabetes Care Journal showed that obese individuals saw a 14% greater increase in blood sugar levels and a 20% greater increase in insulin levels after consuming sucralose in conjunction with glucose (compared to consuming water with glucose).
It's worth noting that the subjects involved in this study did not regularly use artificial sweeteners, which may have affected the results. However, it’s possible you could be at a greater risk of blood sugar and insulin issues if your body isn't used to regular sucralose consumption.
Although the results of that particular research may be somewhat inconclusive for individuals with healthy body weight, there have also been studies on patients with a normal body mass index (BMI).
Congruent with the study above, research published in the Science News Journal shows artificial sweeteners can affect your blood sugar even more than if you were to consume sugary sodas and desserts. So you can see how that may be a problem for those struggling with insulin issues.
While there are still no published studies about the connection between artificial sweeteners and diabetes, clinical trials conducted by the University of Adelaide suggest that high-doses of non-nutritive sweeteners can add to the risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
Does Sucralose Harm Your Gut Health?
A research review published in the Cell Journal makes it clear that our gut microbiome regulates our overall health and wellness. They do so primarily by aiding digestive functions and giving our immune system a boost, helping your body fight off pathogens.
In other words, your immune capacity depends largely on a healthy gut microbiome. Unfortunately, when you consume artificial sweeteners like Splenda, you might be doing harm to the microbiome in your intestinal tract.
In an animal study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, researchers found that rats that consumed Splenda had up to 80% fewer beneficial anaerobic bacteria present in their guts.
The rats that consumed sweetener also had lower amounts of bifidobacteria and acid bacteria (both beneficial bacteria), with little change to the number of harmful bacteria present. After the study ended, the bacteria did not return to normal and remained at unhealthy levels instead.
It May Increase the Risk of Developing Cancer
Artificial sweeteners like Splenda have dangerous chemical reactions when heated and mixed with things like glycerol (found in fat), which may increase your risk of cancer.
According to a study found in the Scientific Reports Journal, the heating alone creates chloropropanols—a class of compounds known to be harmful to your long-term health and affect the reproductive system.
To continue baking and avoid putting yourself at risk for such harmful diseases, you could use natural sweeteners like stevia — more on this later.
Otherwise, be particularly aware of your baking temperatures. Stick to temperatures below 350°F if an artificial sweetener must be used.
Splenda vs. Stevia: Comparing Sweeteners
Now that you're more aware of the possible adverse effects that sucralose may have on your well-being, it's time to learn about a natural alternative.
Stevia is also a sugar substitute, but it's made from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, making it a natural alternative to both sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Let's put them next to each other and acknowledge the differences.
Sucralose is considered a no-calorie sweetener, but Splenda still contains a small number of calories and carbs. However, because these amounts meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards for no-calorie foods, they can be marketed as such.
Unlike sucralose, stevia comes from a natural source, which is calorie-free and less-refined than artificial options.
Because sucralose is made from sugar, it tastes very much like sugar but is much sweeter. However, the naturally derived stevia sweetener is still about 300 times sweeter than regular sugar and just as flavorful.
Some people notice a unique aftertaste with stevia, but this distinction is usually negligible and doesn't take long to get accustomed to — as is the case with most other healthier food alternatives.
Sucralose is better used as a condiment, sprinkled over your food, or stirred into your drinks for a sweet boost. However, because of the harmful chemical reactions when heated to specific temperatures, natural sweeteners like stevia are smarter options.
In fact, stevia can be heated to higher temperatures in cooking and baking.
Health Benefits and Negative Effects
At first glance, both sucralose and stevia may be considered healthy sugar alternatives simply because they are not sugar. But once you start going deeper into the reality of sugar substitutes, you begin to notice they're not all cut from the same cloth.
Groundbreaking research published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine found a correlation between consumption of artificial sweeteners and higher sugar cravings and sugar dependencies.
In other words, if you opt for products like Splenda, your body may start craving the real deal and make you reach for items that contain regular sugar, possibly hindering your health goals and leading to weight gain.
Stevia, on the other hand, not only avoids the dangers that come with consuming sucralose, but may even have health benefits.
A study in the Appetite Journal revealed that the participants who consumed stevia not only had lower levels of insulin and glucose but also felt fuller after eating.
Whereas sucralose is known to cause issues with blood sugar and insulin levels, stevia is a safe and natural sweetener for people with diabetes, individuals with gut issues, and people with other health concerns.
One body of research published an article in the Studies of Ethno-Medicine Journal on stevia's effect on lipid profile, demonstrating stevia's ability to lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides and increase good cholesterol.
In addition, stevia as a sweetener underwent testing by the European Food Safety Authority and was determined as a natural alternative that poses no risk of toxicity when consumed.
So, Is Splenda Bad For You? The Takeaway
Sucralose isn't going to kill you, but regular use of it may lead to concerning health problems.
While it's always good to choose the healthier alternatives for your favorite foods, it's essential to know what those healthy alternatives are.
Splenda is marketed as a healthy, zero-calorie sweetener. Still, it does contain a small number of calories, and it also has properties that may be harmful to your health.
The good news is that sweeteners aren't a necessity and aren't a required food in the food pyramid. In fact, the food pyramid illustrates the sparing use of these sweet substances. Sugars and sweeteners alike should both be used sparingly.
And if your sweet tooth is really begging you for some love, it is best to use stevia. And if you need a bit of inspiration, check out these delicious and low-carb snack ideas to help you stay on track with your health goals.