We know that to maintain a healthy diet it’s important to limit the amount of sugar and sweets that we eat. But what about artificial sweeteners? Sugar alternatives are popular among those who want to watch their carbohydrate and calorie intake.
The newest artificial sweetener is sucralose, also known as Splenda. Here’s what you need to know about this artificial sweetener.
What Is Sucralose?
Sucralose is marketed as Splenda, an artificial sweetener that often comes in a yellow packet. The difference between Splenda and other sweeteners, like aspartame (Equal) and saccharin (Sweet’N Low), is that it’s actually made from real sugar. This gives it a taste that is generally more preferable compared to other artificial sweeteners.
Sucralose is chemically changed so that it’s 600 times sweeter than real sugar with almost no calories. It doesn’t leave an aftertaste in your mouth, so sucralose is used in foods like yogurt, candy, ice cream, and soda.
In addition to being changed for taste, sucralose is also altered so that most of it passes through your body instead of being stored to later use as energy. To make sucralose almost calorie-free, some naturally occurring parts of the sugar molecule, called hydroxyl, are swapped out for chlorine.
Is Sucralose Healthy?
Since its introduction around 20 years ago, millions of people have turned to Splenda as a way to enjoy some of their favorite sweets with fewer calories. By making a simple swap of sucralose for sugar, it can help you limit calorie intake.
This can be especially helpful for people with diabetes who need to monitor their sugar intake. Splenda sweetens foods and drinks but doesn’t make your blood sugar levels to spike the way that regular sugar does.
Sucralose and weight. While sweeteners like Splenda are low in calories, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they help you lose weight. Some studies show that people who replace sugar with artificial sweeteners may weigh a pound or so less on average.
The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) is an ongoing study that tracks the habits of people who have lost 30 pounds or more and are able to keep it off. Many people in this study say that drinking beverages with sucralose or other artificial sweeteners helps them to better count calories and keep off weight.
Other studies, however, suggest that people who drink diet sodas sweetened with sucralose actually end up taking in more calories than those who drink sodas with regular sugar. This can result in higher overall body weight. Sucralose may stimulate your appetite, making you eat more. It’s important to note, however, that this research hasn’t been fully proven.
Sucralose and gut health. Your gastrointestinal tract (GI), or microbiome, is home to lots of different kinds of helpful bacteria. These bacteria help your body to maintain a healthy immune system. Some studies have shown that sucralose can change your gut microbiome by lowering the number of good bacteria by half.
Research done on animals shows that sucralose can also increase inflammation in the body. Over time, inflammation can lead to problems like obesity and diabetes. Since these studies have only been done on rodents, more research needs to be done to understand how humans can be affected by sucralose.
Is Sucralose Safe?
Sucralose is an approved ingredient in many countries around the world. You may find sucralose in items like:
- Packaged foods
- Ready-made meals
- Chewing gum
Studies in both the U.S. and the U.K. have found that sweeteners like Splenda don’t cause cancer, which was once a concern. The FDA has done extensive testing on animals to make sure that Splenda does not have any neurological, carcinogenic, or reproductive effects.
Even though sucralose is considered to be safe by the FDA and other international organizations, you should try to be mindful when it comes to artificial sweeteners. There are still studies being done on artificial sweeteners and how they affect our health. Read the labels of products you regularly eat, drink, or use to see if they contain sucralose or other sweeteners.
Other studies suggest that you can avoid any potential risks that artificial sweeteners may have by changing up the ones that you consume now and then. If you really like adding Splenda to your coffee or baked goods, try using other sweeteners or real sugar once in a while. The American Dental Association (ADA) even suggests that mixing sweeteners can increase overall sweetness.
Remember that sugar in small amounts is okay. Sweeteners like sucralose can have some benefits, but you shouldn’t demonize sugar if it doesn’t have a negative effect on your health when it's used in moderation.