Sucralose is a synthetic sweetener made from reacting sugar with chlorine. Marketed as “Splenda,” it was approved for sale in the United States in 1998, though it had been previously sold in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere. Since then, Splenda has become popular as a “no calorie sweetener,” according to its paper packaging. Sucralose has long been considered a safer alternative for sweetener than aspartame because it doesn’t break down at high temperatures, but now researchers have discovered a scary side effect to heating sucralose.
A study review recently published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health says that baking or cooking with Splenda releases cancer-causing dioxins into the food. The process of heating and cooking generates chloropropanols, a potentially toxic class of chemicals that may be linked to higher risk of cancer.
The study also found that sucralose reduces the quantity of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract; and it does get metabolized in the GI tract, despite earlier studies claiming that sucralose passes through the body without undergoing metabolism. Both humans and rats exhibited changes in glucose and insulin levels after ingesting sucralose. The researchers stated: “These findings indicate that sucralose is not a biologically inert compound.”
This is bad news for Splenda manufacturer McNeil Nutritionals, which had promoted the earlier, above-mentioned study claiming that ingested sucralose is not metabolized. McNeil had also funded all long-term animal-feeding studies up until 2012, when an independent Italian group of researchers came along and found that sucralose increased levels of leukemia when eaten by rats.
Although the Italian study has not yet been published (it’s pending review right now), it has been influential enough to cause the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to downgrade sucralose in its 'Chemical Cuisine' ranking of food additives. Sucralose has fallen from “safe” to “cautionary” status. The CSPI warns the public that artificial sweeteners are prolific and often not disclosed on front labels, so it’s important to read the list of ingredients carefully.
I think the bigger problem is that our whole society is addicted to the taste of sweetness. Rather than searching for zero-calorie sweetening options, which are merely Band-Aid solutions and still enable poor eating habits, a much healthier idea would be to wean ourselves off that addiction. There’s nothing wrong with using a small amount of real sugar while baking and cooking at home once in a while, but it should only be a rare, special treat. So I welcome this bad news about Splenda and hope it forces some people to reconsider before they reach for a paper package. Coffee, either black or with milk, is actually quite delicious, once your taste buds adjust!