A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a reader asking for help. Her husband had learned that most alternative sweeteners were bad, but that sucralose (Splenda) was ok and doesn’t do the harm that the others do. So he eliminated all the others but stuck to a sucralose sweetened drink twice a day. The Fooduciary reader, the wife, couldn’t help but feel that sucralose still couldn’t be ok, so she wrote to ask for some data to share her husband.
We’ve talked a lot about sweeteners a lot lately, and I hate to beat a dead horse, but the thing won’t die! Because the alternative sweeteners are so prevalent and can be very confusing, it seemed to make more sense to share this reply with everyone. So here’s my response.
First and foremost, our bodies were designed to consume products that are found in nature. We’ve been doing well with it for thousands of years. But than we tried to outsmart nature and create our own food imitations. Everything up for debate in nutrition news is “food” and chemical inputs that have been engineered in the last 70 years. These are substances our bodies just don’t know what to do with. The epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are not accidents. There is a correlation between these lifestyle diseases and engineered foods.
Artificial sweeteners are a major factor in the problem. They wreak havoc on the body. Those who consume diet drinks regularly have a 200 percent increased risk of weight gain, a 36 percent increased risk of pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome, and a 67 percent increased risk of diabetes. A study of 400 people found that those who drank two diet sodas a day or more increased their waist size by five times.
Your metabolism gets confused when it senses something sweet on the tongue but then discovers that it’s not really a sugar it’s seen before. These fake sweets alter the normal hormonal and neurological signals that tell you when you’re full and should stop eating. A study of rats that were fed artificially sweetened food found that their metabolism slowed down and they were triggered to consume more calories and gain more weight than rats fed sugar-sweetened food.
In another study, rats offered the choice of cocaine or artificial sweeteners always picked the artificial sweetener, even if the rats were previously programmed to be cocaine addicts. Did you catch that? It’s worth repeating. The rats, even those previously addicted to cocaine, always chose artificial sweeteners over cocaine.
The use of artificial sweeteners alters your food preferences. Your palate shifts from being able to enjoy fruits and vegetables and whole foods to liking only the sexy stuff – sweets, salts, bad fats.
Artificial sweeteners make you hungrier, slow your metabolism, give you bad gas, and make you store belly fat. Some may be worse than others, like aspartame that can cause neurologic symptoms like brain fog, migraines or worse. And some may just give you bad gas because they ferment in your gut, like the sugar alcohols (anything that ends in “ol” like xylitol). Others like stevia, which comes from a South American plant, may be slightly better and could be enjoyed from time to time, but they all keep us yearning for more and more – so our brains get confused, we eat more food and we get fatter.
Now with this specific question, is sucralose better than an aspartame. It’s easy to get confused about sucralose because even a lot of doctors still recommend it. To be clear, sucralose is just as bad, and maybe worse, than the other fake sweeteners.
Let’s talk about the engineering behind sucralose. Yes, it starts off as a sugar molecule, so that’s where the line “it’s made from sugar” comes from. But the sugar that goes into the factory is certainly not sugar when it comes out.
In the five step patented process of making sucralose, three chlorine molecules are added to a sugar molecule. The chemical process to make sucralose alters the chemical composition of the sugar so much that it is somehow converted to a fructo-galactose molecule. This type of sugar molecule does not occur in nature so your body does not even have the ability to properly metabolize it. Because it’s a freakish science experiment that the body can’t use, Splenda claims that it is not digested or metabolized by the body, making it have zero calories.
It is not that Splenda is naturally zero calories. If your body had the capacity to metabolize it then that claim would not be valid.
Frighteningly, very few human trials have been published on sucralose. Only two trials were completed and published before the FDA approved sucralose for human consumption. Those two trials had a total of 36 total human subjects and of those only 23 total were actually given sucralose for testing. And the real kicker is the longest trial was only four days long and looked at sucralose in relation to tooth decay, not human tolerance. No other human trials were conducted.
That being said, here are some reactions that have been reported since the FDA approved sucralose.
- Decreased red blood cells — sign of anemia
- Decreased thyroxine levels (thyroid function)
- Mineral losses (magnesium and phosphorus)
- Decreased urination
- Enlarged colon
- Enlarged liver and brain
- Shrunken ovaries
- Enlarged and calcified kidneys
Sucralose is generally associated with respiratory difficulties, migraines, seizures, gastrointestinal problems, heart palpitations, and weight gain.
Research published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health in 2008iii found that Splenda:
- Reduces the amount of good bacteria in your intestines by 50 percent
- Increases the pH level in your intestines
- Affects a glycoprotein in your body that can have crucial health effects, particularly if you’re on certain medications as it can cause the rejection of drugs such as chemotherapy, AIDS treatments, and treatments for heart conditions
- Is absorbed by fat (contrary to previous claims)
There’s no such thing as a healthy artificial sweetener, and deciding on which one is the worst is hard. But knowing that sucralose can destroy up to half of your beneficial gut flora is truly alarming. We’ve talked a lot about gut health and how important these bacteria are as a vital part of your immune system, in addition to supporting your overall health, both physical and mental. Many people are already deficient in healthy bacteria because of how much highly processed foods they eat. Cutting in half an already low amount of healthy gut flora simply by consuming Splenda is a scary thought. The general health ramifications are massive.
How do you know if you’re having a reaction to artificial sweeteners or how they affect you personally?
1 – Eliminate all artificial sweeteners from your diet for two weeks.
2 – After two weeks of being artificial sweetener-free, reintroduce one artificial sweetener in a significant quantity (about three servings daily). Avoid other artificial sweeteners during this period.
3 – Do this for one to three days and notice how you feel, especially as compared to when you were consuming no artificial sweeteners.
If you don’t notice a difference in how you feel after re-introducing your primary artificial sweetener for a few days, it’s a safe bet you’re able to tolerate it acutely, meaning your body doesn’t have an immediate, adverse response. However, this doesn’t mean your health won’t be damaged in the long run.
If you want something sweet, the best thing to do is to eat the real thing – sugar. I hesitate to say it, because I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Sugar is NEVER healthy and should not be consumed at the levels we see in the average diet. Obviously it needs to be an occasional treat. But we all want treats sooner or later. Make sure the sugar you use is a natural unprocessed variety like turbinado, sucanat, or just evaporated cane juice, all of which actually preserve some vitamin and mineral content from the sugar cane because they are not stripped of all nutrients and bleached white.
Other choices would be unprocessed maple syrup (comes from a tree), honey (comes from bees and flowers). See the point? Natural, real substances. We lump those into the sugar category still and emphasize that they can never be considered for something to gorge on, but they are far more natural and much preferred to any engineered alternatives. Many people may not like this, but we have to include agave nectar in the “engineered” list. Cactus plants don’t make sweet sap like that…it takes a lot of processing to get it to the finished product we see in stores.
So, we’re back to my first point. Our bodies are designed to eat naturally occurring foods. When in doubt, make sure it’s real. Read the ingredients list. Are they real foods? How do you know? Could you grow it in a garden? Can you pronounce it? Do you know what it is? Ask yourself, “Did this ingredient exist 100 years ago?” If it didn’t, you may be better off choosing to leave it alone. If it did, as long as your body tolerates it well, party on.
Artificially Sweetened Beverages by Dr. David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, Journal of American Medicine Dec 9, 2009 Vol 302, Num 22 Pg 2477-2478
Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Rewards
Blood Sugar Solution by Dr Mark Hyman
Altered processing of sweet taste in the brain of diet soda drinkers
Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats.