Artificial sweeteners are an interesting topic. They took years to first get approved by the FDA and have been making lots of money as they are added into pretty much anything that is normally sweet. They have also been quite a recommended lot to people who have diabetes as an alternative to sugar. I mean it does make sense that if you have a sweet substitute with no calories that is a good thing, especially in diabetes right?
Lets take a look at some of the claims. I think this is really important to look at because if you’re not paying attention you too could be ingesting these artificial, lab cooked up molecules. Is this a bad thing?
We’ll start this journey with sucralose (Splenda). It’s a molecule that is anywhere from 320-1000 times as sweet as sugar. 1 That’s demonstrably sweet. Sucralose, if bought in small tablets can sweeten just about anything because it is so freaking strong. One of the problems though is that unless you buy the small tablet forms or pure sucralose you’re going to get a product that is typically mixed with glucose or maltodextrin as a bulking agent. Now sucralose may have no calories, but maltodextrin and glucose most definitely have calories as they are polysaccharides and a monosaccharide respectively (multiple linked sugar chain and single molecule). So every time you put a cup of Splenda or another generic brand you are actually putting a number of calories into your recipe. So again, unless you’re using the small tabs which are typically pure sucralose, and very potent, you’re eating more calories then what they lead you to think.
Another fault many people claim with sucralose is that it raises insulin levels. Many have stated this with other artificial sweeteners as well. So is it true? Lets find out.
In one study subjects took either sucralose in water or plain water before a glucose test. Blood sugar and insulin response was measured. Increased insulin secretion, area under the curve (total insulin exposure), and a decrease in insulin clearance resulted. 2 This study says YES, that there IS an effect.
In another study, intragastric infusions of sucralose were given to subjects. No increase in GLP-1 or insulin or gastric emptying was seen. 3 This study says there is NO difference.
Another study using sucralose, maltodextrin+sucralose, or a modified feeding protocol. There was no increase in insulin or other factors after the sucralose but not after the maltodextrin. This means maltodextrin raised insulin levels as expected but sucralose did nothing. 4 This study also says NO.
In the UK subjects were given 1gm/day of sucralose for 12 weeks. Again no differences in blood glucose or insulin levels were seen. 5 This study says NO.
So it appears that with the exception of 1 study, sucralose doesn’t really cause insulin increases on ingestion, at least in the short term. I haven’t seen any long term studies and really those are the studies that are super important and hard to perform. But in the short term sucralose doesn’t raise insulin except maybe when paired with other carbohydrate. This may or may not pan out but it also may be important to keep this study in mind because there may be some sort of synergy between surcralose and another carbohydrate source where none is seen with sucralose alone. Longer term studies are needed to really know if this causes problems in the long term. I would suspect it would. Anytime you raise insulin levels for the same load of glucose, that’s not a good thing.
On its own though there doesn’t seem to be an issue with raising insulin. So apparently you can enjoy sucralose without other carbs, but can it do anything else?
Gut bacteria is becoming a hot topic in the realm of health sciences. We are learning more and more about the relationship of our gut bacteria and our health and are beginning to find associations between different bugs and different conditions. On study looks at what happened in rats after 12 weeks of taking sucralose.
Rats were fed, 100, 300, 500 or 1000mg/kg for 12 weeks. I have to say that this a a huge dose. For a person weight 75kg or 165 lbs, that’s 7.5gm and at the high dose that’s 75gm. It wasn’t clear if that was the total dose of sucralose or the branded version this is cut with maltodextrin or glucose. If it was the latter then it makes much more sense, but again they weren’t clear. According to the study,
“the numbers of total anaerobes, bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, Bacteroides, clostridia, and total aerobic bacteria were significantly decreased” 6
After 12 weeks of recovery these changes did not revert back to what they were at baseline. This could have consequences on people in the long term as we learn more and more about our gut flora. The other thing this experiment showed that the sucralose affected p-glycoproteins and cytochrome p-450 in the gut. These are responsible for the metabolism and excretion of various other chemicals, including drugs. That could mean a change in the long term for people that may need to be on a specific medication. (Not that we’re hoping that someone has to be on medications long term). It may also affect nutrient absorption.
Anecdotally I’ve read and heard about rashes, migraines, increased blood sugar, dizziness, gut problems and some have claimed weight gain. I have no doubt that these effects could be contributed to sucralose, especially the gut problems and increased blood sugar. Although I just showed that on its own it doesn’t seem to affect blood sugar, in combo with other carbohydrate loads insulin increased over baseline. Ultimately you have to find out for yourself, but my advice is to stay clear.
Personally I don’t like sucralose. I don’t care for the taste (when I used to drink fruit juices regularly I thought it made my grapefruit juice taste like crap) and I’m just not a fan of artifical sweeteners. I try to stay away from sugar as much as possible. I’d be interested in hearing what you think or any personal experiences you have.
1. Michael A. Friedman, Lead Deputy Commissioner for the FDA, Food Additives Permitted for Direct Addition to Food for Human Consumption; Sucralose Federal Register: 21 CFR Part 172, Docket No. 87F-0086, April 3, 1998
2.Pepino, M. Yanina, et al. “Sucralose Affects Glycemic and Hormonal Responses to an Oral Glucose Load.” Diabetes care (2013).
3.Ma, Jing, et al. “Effect of the artificial sweetener, sucralose, on gastric emptying and incretin hormone release in healthy subjects.” American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology 296.4 (2009): G735-G739.
4.Ford, H. E., et al. “Effects of oral ingestion of sucralose on gut hormone response and appetite in healthy normal-weight subjects.” European journal of clinical nutrition 65.4 (2011): 508-513.
5.McNeil (1996) A 12 week study of the effect of sucralose on glucose homeostasis and HbA1c in normal healthy volunteers. Submission
to FDA: McNeil Specialty Products Company Internal Report no. E169. Mcneil Specialty Products Company Food Additive Petition
6.Abou-Donia, Mohamed B., et al. “Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats.” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A 71.21 (2008): 1415-1429.