Sucralose is one of the five FDA-approved non-nutritive sweeteners that are widely used in processed foods. It is one of those non-nutritive sweeteners, also referred to as artificial sweeteners or alternative sweeteners, which are used to reduce the calorie content in food and beverages. Marketed under the brand name Splenda, it is found in around 4,500 food and beverage products across the world.
More recently, sucralose has come under the scanner for a series of alleged side effects, which have raised some serious questions about its safety. In a bid to find out whether it is safe for your health, we decided to do a crosscheck, and the results that we came across were far from bad.
Is Sucralose Bad for Your Health?
Sucralose is chemically engineered to pass through our body without being digested. It is considered non-caloric because our body cannot break it down directly, and therefore, a bulk of it is directly excreted in the feces. Only around 11 - 27 percent of the same is absorbed by our body from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, of which only 20 - 30 percent is metabolized. The remaining is removed from the bloodstream by kidneys and eliminated by the urine.
As it is 600 times sweeter than table sugar, sucralose is used in various products in small quantity. Of this small quantity, a bulk is either directly excreted in the feces or removed by the kidneys and eliminated through urine. The little sucralose that is left in our body is not considered harmful as such.
Sucralose belongs to a class of compounds known as organochlorides, which are notorious for their tendency to accumulate in the fatty tissues. However, the fact that it is highly soluble means it doesn't cause harm when ingested in small quantities.
If the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is to be believed, sucralose is safe for human consumption, as it doesn't pose any carcinogenic, reproductive, or neurological risks. On an average, Americans consume 0.5 mg/lb (1.1 mg/kg) sucralose a day, while the FDA guidelines put the acceptable daily intake (abbr. ADI) for the same at 2.3 mg/lb (5 mg/kg) of body weight a day.
Does the FDA approval imply that it is not harmful for human health? That would be the apt way to put it, considering that the coveted approval comes only after numerous animal and clinical trials by the premier organization.
What About the Side Effects?
So what is this hue and cry pertaining to the side effects of sucralose all about? Basically, it is the fact that chlorine is used in production of sucralose that has put it under the scanner for its alleged ill-effects on health. It is believed that chlorine being a carcinogen, can cause a range of health problems, including GI problems, skin irritations, headaches, etc.
There are studies that suggest that sucralose is not safe during pregnancy, as it results in developmental problems in fetuses. Owing to this, it is also considered unsafe for kids. While long-terms effects of sucralose are yet to be ascertained, there do exist studies that associate it with a range of neurological problems, including depression and anxiety.
Most of these side effects are based on anecdotal evidence. Contrary to this, the fact that it has been approved by various food safety regulatory bodies, including the FDA and World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Food Additives, does speak in its favor.
Some experts suggest that sucralose is safe for diabetes, as our body cannot absorb it―so it doesn't interfere with the blood sugar levels. (Note: In case of diabetes, it is always wise to consult a doctor or dietitian when resorting to artificial sweeteners.)
The Calorie Myth
One of the most important things that you need to take into consideration is the fact that all products containing sucralose are not exactly calorie free as they are marketed to be. The fillers, like maltodextrin and dextrose, that are used in these products add 2 - 4 calories to them. However, FDA guidelines suggest that any product that has less than 5 calories can be marketed as zero-calorie product, which gives the manufacturers the liberty to market their products as zero-calorie products.
At the end of the day, it is safe to conclude that sucralose is not bad for your health, as it is not absorbed by the body. But then, it is because of this very reason that it is of no help for the body―except for the fact that it helps you do away with high-calorie table sugar and its hazardous effects on your health.