On the market today are a variety of artificial sweeteners being used in everything from bread to cakes to orange juice. One of the newest sweeteners gaining notoriety on television ads and in new low carb products in Splenda. From where does Splenda come? How safe is it for people to eat? What separates it from other more common sweeteners like aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), saccharin (Sweet’n Low), or acesulfame potassium (Sunette)?
Splenda is the brand name created by McNeil Specialty from the chemical sucralose. The FDA approved Sucralose on April 3, 1998. Sucralose is created from sucrose, otherwise known as regular table sugar, the white stuff that you use in baking. You take a molecule of sucrose and substitute three chlorine atoms for three hydroxyl (OH-) groups, which creates 1,6-dichloro-1,6-dideoxy-Beta-D-fructofuranosyl-4-chloro-4-deoxy-alpha-D-galactopyranoside, better known as sucralose.
Splenda is a water-soluble sweetener, which means it can be dissolved in water. This is what allows Splenda to be used in beverages such as soda, orange juice, and flavored water. Splenda is 320 to 1000 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose). Why such a big range with respect to Splenda’s sweetness when compared to sugar? It is because it depends on the form of the food in which it is being used. Despite being so much sweeter than table sugar, Splenda contains no calories. Unlike some of the other artificial sweeteners, you can cook with Splenda since it is stable at baking temperatures. Simply replace sugar from your recipes with an equal amount of Splenda. Splenda also tastes like sugar without any unpleasant aftertaste, unlike other artificial sweeteners.
Now that you have heard some of the ways Splenda is an improvement over previous artificial sweeteners, let’s examine how safe it is. There are few studies demonstrating its safety in humans. However, doses up to 500 mg/kg/day showed no adverse effects in animals. Even rats fed up to 1500- 3000 mg/kg/day showed no ill effects. The breakdown products of sucralose also were found to be non-carcinogenic (causing cancer) and non-teratogenic (causing birth defects) in animals. Even though high doses of sucralose was found to be safe in animals, the FDA set the daily maximum for humans to consume at 5 mg/kg/day, 100 times lower than the amount used in animal studies. For a 150 lb person, about 70 kg, that would be 350mg per day.
One problem with other non-calorie sweeteners is that some cause an increase of Hgb A1C in diabetic patients. Hemoglobin A1C is the blood test which is based on the life of a red blood cell and tells a diabetic patient how well controlled his or her blood sugars have been for the previous several months. Where a finger stick blood sugar test is a measure of one’s sugar control at that exact point in time, the Hgb A1C test shows how well controlled the blood sugars have been over a longer period of time.
Many of the non-calorie sweeteners were marketed as a way for diabetic patients to eat sweets without experiencing a rise in blood sugar. However, studies have shown that this is not the case in real life. Sucralose does not cause a rise in blood sugar neither immediately after ingesting nor in the long term. One study tested men and women under 65 years old who had been diabetic longer than one year. All the subjects had Hgb A1C values less than 10. A normal Hgb A1C is between 4.4 and 6.0. The current guidelines state that a diabetic patient should have an ideal Hgb A1C below 6.5. Subjects were given an average daily dose of sucralose of 13.8 to 10.5 mg/kg/day. Splenda did not affect blood glucose control in patients with diabetes.
Splenda does have many advantages over other sweeteners. It is better for using in recipes for baking. It does not negatively affect a diabetic patient’s sugar control, and its taste more closely resembles sugar. Although Splenda appears to be a promising non-calorie sugar substitute, its long term safety is unknown. Because of the lack of information about long-term effects, it is best if pregnant women refrain from using sucralose.
1. Sucralose – A New Artificial Sweetener (July 3, 1998). The Medical Letter 40 (1030), pp. 67-68.
2. Mezitis, N.H.E., MD; Maggio, C.A., PhD; Koch, P., MS.; Quddoos, A., MD.; Allison, D.B., PhD.; & Pi-Sunyer, X.F., MD. (September 1996). Glycemic effect of a single high oral dose of the novel sweetener sucralose in patients with diabetes. Diabetes Care 19 (9), pp. 1004-1005.
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