Is Sucralose Safe? The Shocking Truth

Last Updated 24th October 2019
sweeteners for meal replacement shakes

There are a whole host of sweeteners on the market to add a dash of non-sugary goodness to your food and drink, usually low calorie and often completely artificial. First gaining mainstream popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, many people continue to opt for synthetic sweeteners over adding extra sugar to their diet.

With so many available on supermarket shelves making different marketing promises and claims, it can be difficult to differentiate one product from another.

Here, we investigate one of the most popular sugar substitutes available; that is, Sucralose.

What is Sucralose?

Sucralose is a zero-calorie sugar substitute that’s most commonly marketed in the UK as Splenda. It is a common additive to meal replacement shakes due to the fact that it is low in calories.

Sucralose is artificial and was originally accidentally done so! A scientist at university misheard instructions to test out a substance and inadvertently created Sucralose. It is made from sugar in a three-step chemical process during which three hydrogen-oxygen atoms are replaced with chlorine atoms. The result is super sweet, and safely edible.

Sucralose is used as a sweetener around the world in drinks, cooking and baking. It’s considered to be over 400 times sweeter than sugar, and unlike its nearest competitors in the sweetener arena, does not have a bitter aftertaste.

young woman using computer to research shake ingredients

Is Sucralose Bad for You?

Sucralose is a very popular sweetener, and many people choose to consume it rather than adding more sugar to their diets; for a variety of health and wellness reasons. Of course, this substitution alone won’t change much, and it’s important to maintain a well-rounded lifestyle alongside healthy dietary choices.

However, Sucralose is a synthetic substance and so it’s important to know exactly what it contains and how it could affect you before you consume it.

Whereas several sweeteners can have positive effects on your body, studies have yet to conclude or suggest that Sucralose has any of these health benefits. Although this doesn’t necessarily mean that Scrualose is bad for you, it suggests there may be more helpful sweeteners out there such as stevia.

However, there is reason to believe that Sucralose could have side effects on some people and may not be the healthy alternative it is so often assumed to be. Is it right for you? Read on to find out.

Sucralose Side Effects

Sucralose may be void of calories, but it’s not a ‘nothing’ ingredient and there can be side effects to its consumption in some people. 

Sucralocse has Effects on Your Blood Sugar and Inulin Levels

Your body manages the consumption of an artificial sweetener in a different way to the consumption of normal sugar. Those who regularly consume synthetic sugar substitutes essentially ‘train’ their body to compute them correctly without any great impact on insulin or blood sugar levels.

However, those who don’t have been shown to experience large spikes in both insulin and blood sugar levels in clinical trials; and this could be dangerous for those with other conditions including (but not limited to) diabetes.

woman looking concerned

Sucralose May Negatively Impact Gut Health

The impact Sucralose has on gut bacteria is yet to be properly tested in humans, but studies have already been completed on rats. The bacteria found in the gut are delicately balanced, and there needs to be a good degree of friendly bacteria maintained alongside that which is usually not so helpful. In the animal tests, healthy (aka friendly) gut bacteria such as lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria were significantly reduced with the consumption of Sucralose – and the levels of such bacteria didn’t return to normal even after 12-weeks of no Sucralose consumption at all! Therefore, if you have existing stomach or bowel issues, approach Sucralose with caution, as it could cause further problems.

Some studies Suggest Consumption of Surcalose Could Lead to Weight Gain

It is a popular misconception that consuming Sucralose instead of sugar will cause rapid weight loss. Indeed, it should be used as part of a well-balanced healthy diet, but this is not a proven side effect of its consumption: and clinical tests have found zero correlation between sweetener consumption and body mass. In some instances, it even caused an increase in weight!

There has not been a great deal of in-depth medical testing carried out on Sucralose with publicly available results, and it’s likely that most testing happening is actually being completed by Sucralose manufacturers as opposed to publicly-owned health organisations.

Low-Sugar Meal Replacement Shakes

Has Sucralose been Linked to Cancer?

There has been no directly proven link between the consumption of Sucralose and the development of cancer in the body, but there are some increasing risk factors that should be considered.

Surcralose, when Heated can become Carcinogenic which is Known to Cause Cancer

Sucralose is frequently marketed as a sweetener well suited to baking, as it is heat resistant. However, recent scientific studies have challenged this; and there’s yet to be any formal rebuke or contradictory evidence presented by Sucralose manufacturers.

Despite being sold as a sugar substitute for baking purposes, when tested at high temperatures comparable to those found in an oven environment, the sweetener was found to break down and to interact with other ingredients. One study yielded very worrying results and found that Sucralose, when heated, mixed with glucose negatively and began to produce chloropropanols – which is carcinogenic in humans and is known to cause cancer.

This study, therefore, suggests that individuals looking to bake with a sugar substitute should avoid using Sucralose until further testing has been done. 

Some Studies Suggest Surcalose can Cause Inflammation which can Develop into Cancer

There is evidence to suggest that Sucralose can cause inflammation, which if chronic, could develop into cancer – so causation would be indirect, but it could happen. Testing has found that those with Crohn’s Disease could be the most at risk, as Sucralose sustains and even worsens the inflammation already caused by the condition. For those without a pre-existing condition, studies suggest that large levels of Sucralose consumption could cause inflammation of the liver: which increases the risk of bowel cancer. However, again, these clinical trials have only been carried out on animals and not yet humans. 

The chemical make-up of Sucralose has been tested to ensure basic food and drink safety but has not been tested vigorously further by third party sources. More testing is needed!

woman concerned researching weight loss shakes

How Does Sucralose Compare to Other Sweeteners?

Sucralose is not the only sweetener on the market, and whilst most convenience stores will only stock one sugar substitute, it’s not uncommon to find four or five on the shelves of a supermarket. Most will be marketed with a brand name rather than their chemical name (just like Sucralose is usually known as Splenda), so read the back of the packaging to ensure you know exactly which is which and can make an informed purchase decision based on the sweetener’s nutritional merits, rather than just packaging and price.

Sucralose Vs Stevia

Stevia is probably the most popular mainstream sweetener available after Sucralose. It’s marketed as a direct competitor to it, and rightly so, as it has one huge advantage over it: it’s natural.

Where Sucralose is an artificial ingredient, Stevia is a plant derivative and so cannot be considered to be in any way artificial (although its processing can be varied). 

Stevia has slightly better nutritional value than Sucralose. One teaspoon (about half a gram) of Stevia contains a negligible amount of carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals; and the same amount of Sucralose contains 0.5g of carbs and 0.02mg of potassium.

Where Stevia has a great advantage over Sucralose is when you look at the ingredient’s health benefits. Studies have shown that Stevia can lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, contrasting directly with Sucralose’s negative effects on blood sugar levels. Stevia certainly seems a safer alternative for those with diabetes.

Other studies suggest that Stevia may be able to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. There have also been several studies on rats which have yielded results suggesting Stevia can improve inulin sensitivity, reduce cholesterol and reduce plaque build up in arteries.

stevia plant
The stevia plant

Stevia, when unrefined and without any artificial additives, is 200 times sweeter than sugar, so is less sweet than Sucralose. This means that more of it may be needed to achieve the consumer’s desired sweetness. 

One area where Sucralose may have the upper hand is in terms of flavour. It has no aftertaste making it favourable on the palette whereas Stevia does have a slight after taste.

When looking at the possible side effects of both sweeteners, Stevia has considerably less. Furthermore, some of Sucralose’s potential dangers are rather concerning such as a study that suggested a possible link to cancer in mice.

Therefore Stevia is the clear winner here being a natural ingredient with fewer side effects and links to adverse health effects than artificial Surcalose. Stevia also carries some promising health benefits to its name.

Sucralose Vs Aspartame

Aspartame is the most widely consumed sugar substitute in the world and is usually found in the ‘diet’ or ‘light’ versions of fizzy drinks and other cold beverages. Despite having been widely available for decades, it is only in recent years that it has faced controversy; but this has yet to come to a head or to produce any coherent or consistent results.

Aspartame is made up of aspartic acid and phenylalanine; both of which are essential amino acids. However, when your body processes aspartame, it produces methanol. Methanol is a byproduct of other ingredients, but rarely in high amounts. In large quantities, methanol is toxic, but usually in smaller quantities, it is digestible. Whilst you’re unlikely to exceed the safe levels of methanol through aspartame consumption, it can have negative effects regardless. Sucralose does not create methanol.

woman researching products and ingredients

The chemical make-up of Aspartame can make it harmful to some people: and in those cases, other sweeteners should be used as a substitute instead. Those with phenylketonuria will not benefit from further phenylalanine consumption, and those taking medication for schizophrenia should also avoid Aspartame, as it can interfere negatively with active ingredients within the drugs.

Further medical testing on any possible side effects of Aspartame is desperately needed, but indicative early research seems to prove that it increases blood sugar levels and that is increases the risk of developing several critical conditions and diseases.

Widespread understanding of the side effects of Aspartame is often seen as an “artificial sweetener issue” rather than an “Aspartame issue”, and so many of those avoiding it may actually choose to avoid all non-natural sweeteners. However, the amount of criticism and controversy attracted by Aspartame is completely separate to Sucralose and concerns have been considerably less.

In the Sucralose vs Aspartame battle, Sucralose easily rules supreme with Aspartame being one of the worst sweeteners on the market. However, if you are looking at sweeteners overall, there are many natural sweeteners which have the upper-hand over Scrualose.

Conclusion

So, there you have it: there’s a whole host of sugar substitute sweeteners out there, and a whole host of ingredients to be understood and tested. It seems unlikely that much specific medical testing will be carried out on these products by unbiased third parties unless there is some indication of an epidemic of side effects or direct causation of conditions. It’s essential, therefore, for consumers to understand what it is that they’re absorbing into their bodies as they use sugar substitute sweeteners.

When shopping for sweeteners, natural is always best. It is also very important you research any potential side effects. After weighing up different sweeteners, Stevia seems like the safest option. Being natural is a massive plus-point. Plus, with some suggested health benefits and minimal side effects, it appears to be safest to consume.


Stock image credit: UnsplashPexels & Pixabay

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Nutribuddy Ltd.

Author Bio!

Post by Lex

I’m a full-time Marketing Manager and Copywriter but also a qualified yoga teacher and keen runner; so I know a thing or two about maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a good dose of fitness! My previous roles include marketing and social media for the likes of the household names including the Cabinet Office and Aviva. Outside of work, I’m a Mum, passionate social rights campaigner and bookworm.