Sweet But Dangerous – The Truth Behind Artificial Sweeteners
A client recently asked,
“What’s the deal with artificial sweeteners, particularly sucralose? It seems to be in everything these days. Are artificial sweeteners safe to consume? What is sucralose and how might it be dangerous?”
Ask me about artificial sweeteners and you will get a very passionate response – one that is NOT in favor of them.
Marketing ploy of manufacturers
Artificial sweeteners have been promoted by big manufacturers and government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for years as low-calorie or no-calorie substitutes to natural sugar. Through trickery and marketing hype, people across the world have been given a false sense of security with these products. If you are still consuming such products, you too are being misled and I urge you to stop.
Artificial sweeteners provide no health benefits
In my opinion, there is nothing beneficial about artificial sweeteners. In fact, I cannot think of a single reason why anyone should consume them. Not one. Studies have shown that synthetic sweeteners wreak havoc on the body and are linked to health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, behavioral issues, allergies, weight gain (yes, weight gain – despite the claims that they aid in weight loss) and much more.
My father passed away after a brutal battle with cancer, I have several members in my family who have been diagnosed with cancer and as a cancer-wellness specialist, I have worked with many clients who have struggled with the terrible disease. When I first learned that an ingredient that is abundant in our food had the potential to cause cancer, a red flag appeared and led me to research artificial sweeteners, what they are, and what they do to the body.
Avoid them like the plague
The research I have done over the years has led me to be very cautious when it comes to these substances and as a nutrition coach, I now do my best to educate others about the potential risks involved in eating foods with artificial sweeteners. I now strongly believe that any food product (or food-like product) that contains artificial sweetener(s) should be avoided like the plague. No exceptions.
Artificial sweeteners are found in more than 3,500 products
Avoiding sweeteners can be challenging because artificial sweeteners are widely used in more than 3,500 products. They are found in processed foods, including:
- Baked goods
- Canned foods
- Dairy products
- Flavored water
- Ice cream
- Powdered drink mixes
- Soft drinks
…and several other foods and beverages. It takes a lot of food label reading to avoid artificial sweeteners and because of this, it is important to know what to look for.
Common artificial sweeteners: their commercial and chemical names
Companies disguise sugar substitutes by using other names. To help clear up some confusion, here is a breakdown:
- Equal, NutraSweet = Aspartame
- Neotame (E number E961 in the European Union) = Similar to aspartame (manufactured by NutraSweet)
- Splenda (E number E955) = Sucralose
- SugarTwin, Sweet’N Low (E number E950 in the European Union) = Saccharin (sodium cyclamate in Canada)
- Sunett, Sweet One = Acesulfame Potassium (also known as ACK)
How sweet are they? Relative sweetness scale of real sugar versus artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are sweeter than table sugar. Below outlines the relative potency of sugar compared with artificial sweeteners:
- Sucrose (sugar) – 1x
- Aspartame – 180x
- Acesulfame K – 200x
- Saccharin – 300x
- Sucralose – 600x
- Neotame – 13,000x
Splenda (sucralose) is one of the nation’s top selling artificial sweetener
Wrongfully marketed as a healthy alternative to regular sugar, ‘made from sugar so it tastes like sugar’, Splenda is one of the most dangerous forms of artificial sweeteners. It is more chlorinated than aspartame and is responsible for causing many adverse health effects. Sucralose, the chemical name for Splenda, was created in 1976 and has been implemented in the food industry as an alternative to sugar since 1991.
What is Splenda/sucralose?
- Sucralose is a non-nutritive artificial sweetener derived from sugar that is sold under the name “Splenda.”
- Sucralose is derived from sugar, except that three of the hydroxyl groups in the sugar molecule have been replaced by three chlorine atoms.
- In the European Union, it is also known under the name “E number E955.”
- Sucralose is used in foods, pharmaceutical products, beverages, diet and vitamin supplements.
- It is 600 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar) and very stable at high temperatures.
The discovery of sucralose
- Sucralose was discovered in 1976 by the British sugar company Tate & Lyle and researchers at Queen Elizabeth College, University of London.
- Sucralose was originally created accidentally when Tate & Lyle was looking for ways to use sucrose as a chemical intermediate. Some reports claim they were attempting to create a new insecticide (pesticide used against insects). At the time, a foreign graduate student, Shashikant Phadnis, misunderstood a request by his supervisor for “testing” of a chlorinated sugar as a request for “tasting.” He then tasted it and observed that it was sweet, which ultimately led to the birth of sucralose.
Production, approval, and marketing of Splenda
- Sucralose-based Splenda products were developed in partnership with the pharmaceutical company, Johnson & Johnson, through its subsidiary business, McNeil Nutritionals.
- Splenda used to be manufactured in Alabamba, United States but is now produced at a plant in Jurong, Singapore.
- Canada became the first country to approve the use of Splenda in 1991, and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted American marketing approval in 1998.
- Its use is permitted in over 80 countries.
- Johnson & Johnson has invested about $40 million per year in advertising to convince consumers that Splenda is safe and similar to sugar.
- Splenda is marketed as a zero-calorie sugar-substitute and sweetener.
How sucralose is made
- While the process to make sucralose begins with sucrose (table sugar), the final product is very different from sucrose. Sucralose is NOT natural, it is a chemical substance that is created in a laboratory, using a complex process involving dozens of chemicals.
- Sucralose is chlorinated and because it is not from a natural source, the body does not have enzymes that can break down and metabolize it (hence the zero calorie claim). Since it is highly processed and unable to be metabolized, it is deemed as potentially unsafe when ingested.
- Although advertised as a harmless sugar substitute, sucralose actually is the chemical compound: 1,6-dichloro-1, 6-dideoxy-BETA-D-fructofuranosyl-4-chloro-4-deoxy-alpha-D-galactopyranoside.
- According to the Splenda International Patent A23L001-236 and PEP Review #90-1-4 (July 1991), sucralose is synthesized by this five-step process:
Sucrose is tritylated with trityl chloride in the presence of dimethylformamide and 4-methylmorpholine and the tritylated sucrose is then acetylated with acetic anhydride.
- The resulting TRISPA (6,1′,6′-tri-O-trityl-penta-O-acetylsucrose) is chlorinated with hydrogen chloride in the presence of toluene.
- The resulting 4-PAS (sucrose 2,3,4,3′,4′-pentaacetate) is heated in the presence of methyl isobutyl ketone and acetic acid.
- The resulting 6-PAS (sucrose 2,3,6,3′,4′-pentaacetate) is chlorinated with thionyl chloride in the presence of toluene and benzyltriethylammonium chloride.
- The resulting TOSPA (sucralose pentaacetate) is then treated with methanol (wood alcohol, a toxic substance) in the presence of sodium methoxide to produce sucralose.
- As mentioned above, sucralose’s chemical makeup involves chlorine, a carcinogen that is linked to cancer in lab animals. Its chemical make-up has more similarity to DDT (dangerous insecticide) than to sugar.
Splenda contains sucralose and other ingredients
- Splenda packets are not pure sucralose. As with all artificial sweeteners, they also contain bulking agents in the form of sugar.
- Splenda consists of a combination of sucralose, dextrose, and/or maltodextrin (both forms of sugar). Maltodextrin is a food additive composed primarily from fructose and glucose in a starch form.
Other hidden chemicals found in Splenda
- Food laws state that if a product includes an ingredient that is a proven cancer-causing chemical but is less than two percent of the product’s total chemical make-up, it does not have to be listed as an ingredient, nor does it have to be tested for product safety nor labeled as a carcinogen.
- The FDA states in their Final Report on Splenda that sucralose is “produced at an approximate purity of ninety-eight percent.” The other two percent does not have to be reported to the FDA, nor listed as added ingredients. The other 2% consists of residual chemicals left from the 5-step chemical process that converts raw sugar to sucralose. Some of these chemicals include:
- Ammonium chloride
- Benzene (known carcinogen)
- Chlorinated sulfates
- Ethyl alcohol
- Formaldehyde (known carcinogen)
- Hydrogen chloride
- Sulfuryl chloride
Splenda DOES contain calories and CAN lead to weight gain
- There are 4 calories per packet of Splenda, but because of a labeling loophole, the FDA has let manufacturers label Splenda as “0 calories.” The FDA allows for any product containing less than 5 calories per serving to be labeled as “0 calories.”
- One cup of Splenda = 96 calories and 32 grams of carbohydrates. Consuming an additional 100 cals/day of a non-nutrient like Splenda can lead to a weight gain of TEN pounds per year!
Uncertainty about the safety of Splenda and humans
- It is believed that 15% of sucralose is not excreted from the body in a timely manner. When chemicals stay in the body for any amount of time, there is reason for concern.
- There is uncertainty about the long-term health effects on the body because Splenda has not been thoroughly tested. There have not been any long-term studies on the effect and safety of sucralose on humans. This is partly because the manufacturers will not fund research for this (most likely because they know it is potentially harmful to humans and do not want that information to be exposed).
Potential health side effects caused by the consumption of sucralose
- Some concern has been raised about the effect of sucralose on the thymus (a specialized organ of the immune system). High doses can suppress the thymus and decrease its weight.
- Although there have not been many tests on the effects of sucralose on the body, many individuals have reported adverse reactions after consuming sucralose. Some common symptoms reported within 24 hours of consuming Splenda include:
- Head: headaches and migraines, swelling of the face, lips, throat or tongue
- Eyes: itchy, swollen eyes
- Nose: sneezing, runny or stuffy nose
- Chest: chest pain, tightness in chest
- Heart: heart palpitations and fluttering
- Joints: aches and pains
- Lungs: wheezing, cough, shortness of breath
- Skin: allergic reactions like hives, blistering, acne, itchiness, redness, and swelling
- Stomach: gastrointestinal distress including diarrhea, gas, bloating, nausea, pain, vomiting, bloody stools, and depletion of good bacteria in the gut/intestines
- Neurological: anxiety, anger, depression, mood swings, dizziness, decreased ability to concentrate
- Other: weight gain, decreased red blood cells (sign of anemia), increased male infertility
Artificial sweeteners like sucralose effect appetite, food cravings and intake. Sucralose has been found to:
- Increase appetite and food intake.
- Increase food cravings (particularly to carbohydrates).
- Cause weight gain. The overstimulation caused by frequent consumption of artificial sweeteners has been linked to inducing taste preference to revert to an infantile state (creating a limited tolerance to more complex tastes). This causes people to find more satiating but less intensely sweet foods like fruit less palatable, and encourages them to eat less healthy foods. This reduces the overall quality of their diet and can contribute to weight gain.
Studies on lab animals show adverse health effects
- In lab rats, sucralose was found to decrease the absorption of medications – both prescriptive and non-prescriptive.
- In studies involving rabbits, results showed a 23 percent death rate to those consuming sucralose, compared to a 6 percent death rate in the control group.
- Study results have displayed spontaneous abortions in nearly half of a rabbit population given sucralose, compared to zero aborted pregnancies in the control group not given sucralose.
- Lab testing has shown sucralose to be responsible for male infertility by interfering with sperm production and vitality, as well as brain lesions at higher doses.
- Studies have shown sucralose to disrupt brain chemistry – impacting the way the body processes these chemicals – which can cause they body to work against itself.
Artificial sweeteners are prevalent in several food products such as baked goods, yogurt, breads, fruit juices, and soda.
There is nothing natural about synthetic sweeteners. Tricky marketing of products containing artificial sweeteners have made many individuals believe these foods are healthy, but the facts state otherwise.
All artificial sweeteners contain chemicals that have been created in a lab, and not by nature. When you consume synthetic substances like sucralose, aspartame and saccharin, your body is unable to recognize these items as having any nutrient benefit, and therefore will not be able to metabolize them. When the body cannot break something down, you place your body at risk for developing short and long-term health problems such as illnesses relating to the circulatory, digestive, endrocrine, immune, and nervous systems. Artificial sweeteners are linked to weight gain, disruption of brain chemistry and even cancer.
This is why it is best to take a precautionary approach to sugar substitutes. Read food labels and avoid the consumption of ALL types of artificial sweeteners, including Equal and Nutrasweet (aspartame), Neotame, Splenda (sucralose), SugarTwin and Sweet’N Low (saccharin), Sunett and Sweet One (Acesulfame potassium). So next time you reach for that tidy and convenient little blue, pink, or yellow packet containing a “no calorie sweetener,” I urge you to rethink your choice.
What do YOU think?
As I mentioned in this article, non-nutritive sweeteners like Splenda do not provide health benefits and have the potential to cause serious health issues. This scares me and has caused me to avoid any product that contains artificial sweeteners.
I would love for you to share your thoughts.
- Do you consume artificial sweeteners? Why or why not?
- Do you believe they are dangerous to your health?
- Mercola, Joseph. Sweet Deception: Why Splenda, Nutrasweet, and the FDA may be hazardous to your health. Thomas Nelson, 2006.
- Rodero, A. et al. (2009) Toxicity of Sucralose in Humans: A Review. International Journal of Morphology, 27 (1), p.239-244.
- Russell Blaylock, MD, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, Health Press (NM), 2006
- Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Aspartame, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspartame (Accessed 2/20/09)
When she is not slaying fat and building muscle, Jennifer can be found trekking barefoot, traveling, cooking and refining her photography skills. She also enjoys reading and writing about food culture, history and the science of human movement.