What You Should Know About Sucralose

<p>VadimZakirov / Getty images</p>

VadimZakirov / Getty images

Medically reviewed by Allison Herries, RDN

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener commonly found in products like diet soda, sugar-free candy, and low-calorie baked goods. It’s calorie-free and is about 600 times sweeter than sucrose, or table sugar.

Currently, sucralose is the most commonly used artificial sweetener in the world and is FDA-approved for use in a variety of foods, including baked goods, beverages, candy, and ice cream.

Even though sucralose is considered safe by most health organizations, research has linked sucralose intake to an increased risk of several health conditions, including heart disease.

What Is Sucralose Supposed to Do?

Low-calorie sweeteners are categorized based on their origin, sweetness, and the number of calories they contain. Sucralose is considered a high-intensity, null-calorie, artificial sweetener. It’s derived through the chemical modification of sucrose, or table sugar.

Sucralose is calorie-free and hundreds of times sweeter than regular sugar, which is why it’s commonly added to diet products like diet soda, sugar-free candy, and light ice cream. It can also be found in the popular sweetener Splenda, which contains sucralose and the fillers maltodextrin and glucose.

Sucralose enhances flavor in foods without adding the additional calories of sweeteners like table sugar and corn syrup. Sucralose is also promoted as a diabetes- and weight loss-friendly alternative to table sugar since it's calorie-free.

Sucralose generates a sweet sensation by activating sweet taste receptors in the mouth. It also activates several bitter taste receptors, but it has a less bitter aftertaste than other popular artificial sweeteners like saccharin and acesulfame-K.

Of all artificial sweeteners, sucralose most closely resembles the taste of sugar, which is why it’s the most commonly used artificial sweetener worldwide.

Is Sucralose Healthier Than Sugar?

Sucralose contains zero calories, so it’s often preferred over caloric sweeteners like table sugar and corn syrup. A two-teaspoon serving of granulated sugar contains 32.6 calories, while a tablespoon serving of corn syrup contains 53.4 calories.

The average American consumes around 17 teaspoons of added sugar every day, so calories from added sugar can add up quickly. Plus, eating a diet high in added sugar can increase the risk for a number of health conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

As a zero-calorie, non-sugar sweetener, sucralose is often seen as a “healthier” alternative to table sugar and other sweeteners. Healthcare providers may recommend sucralose to people looking for a way to cut back on calories and control their blood sugar levels.

However, research suggests artificial sweeteners may actually increase body weight and the incidence of type 2 diabetes. For example, a review of studies that included data on 405,907 people found the consumption of artificial sweeteners over a median of ten years was associated with an increase in body mass index (BMI), body weight, and waist circumference.

Evidence also showed an elevated risk of obesity, high blood sugar levels, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

One theory of why this could happen is that consuming artificial sweeteners may cause a disturbance between the association of sweet taste and calorie intake. Sweet foods usually contain calories, so when a sweet taste isn’t accompanied by caloric intake, the body looks for the expected calories elsewhere and consumes more.

However, the research is mixed. Some studies suggest artificial sweeteners may improve blood sugar regulation and decrease body weight while others show the opposite effect. Researchers believe these contradictory findings may be due to study design flaws as well as a lack of human-based studies.

While more research is needed to understand how artificial sweetener intake impacts body weight and overall health, it may be best to reduce your intake of both added sugar and artificial sweeteners like sucralose.

Is Sucralose Safe?

The FDA considers sucralose safe for human consumption and has set an acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 5mg per kilogram of body weight per day. For instance, if you weigh 150 pounds, you can safely consume around 340mg of sucralose per day.

However, some health experts warn artificial sweeteners like sucralose may harm health and increase disease risk if consumed regularly over long time periods.

A study that included 103,388 people found that higher artificial sweetener consumption, including sucralose, was associated with an increased risk of overall heart disease and cerebrovascular diseases, or conditions that affect blood flow to the brain.

Artificial sweetener use, including the use of sucralose, has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer and obesity-related cancers.

It's also been shown to negatively impact gut bacteria and promote a pro-inflammatory environment in the gut.

A small study found adults who consumed 48mg of sucralose every day for ten weeks experienced a three-fold increase in Blautia coccoides, a type of bacteria abundant in the gut of people with glucose intolerance and high insulin levels. They also had a decrease in Lactobacillus acidophilus, a type of bacteria that helps regulate blood sugar and insulin levels.

The study also found sucralose consumption increased insulin and blood sugar levels. The researchers suggested sucralose ingestion may induce gut dysbiosis (bacteria imbalance) that contributes to elevated insulin and blood sugar levels.

Even though sucralose and other artificial sweeteners like aspartame are deemed safe by the FDA and other regulatory organizations, researchers continue to investigate their long-term effects on human health.

A Quick Review

Sucralose is a zero-calorie artificial sweetener that’s often promoted as a healthy alternative to added sugar. Even though sucralose contains zero calories, regularly consuming sucralose may negatively impact health in several ways.

Some study findings suggest diets high in sucralose and other artificial sweeteners may increase the risk for health conditions like heart disease and certain cancers. Sucralose intake may also harm gut health and blood sugar regulation.

Even though sucralose is deemed safe by the FDA, more research is needed to fully understand how sucralose and other artificial sweeteners impact long-term health.

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