Skip to content

What Is Sucralose? And Why It's In Your Food

While approved by the FDA, the ingredient is controversial for several reasons.

Sucralose, also known as Splenda, is a zero-calorie sugar substitute sweetener, and it is intensely sweet, almost 600 times as sweet as sugar. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved sucralose for use as a general-purpose sweetener in 1999, and it's been popular ever since. So, why the controversy over this non-nutritive sweetener? Here's what you need to know.

What is sucralose?

artificial sweetener
Shutterstock

If you've ever scrutinized the ingredient lists on the food you consume, you've probably at some point come across sucralose. Sucralose is a white, odorless, water-soluble artificial sweetener commonly used in "sugar-free" and "zero-calorie" foods and beverages. It is 600 times sweeter than table sugar and exceptionally stable, so foods made with sucralose remain sweet under a wide range of conditions and temperatures.

Sugar-free foods such as frozen desserts, canned fruits, condiments, salad dressings, chewing gum, baked goods, and beverages contain sucralose. Its use as a substitute for table sugar makes it popular among dieters and those monitoring their sugar intake. For more on what you need to know, check out What Are Alternative Sweeteners? And Why They're In Your Food.

How is sucralose made?

Sucralose is not sugar, but it does start off as such. The patented sucralose manufacturing process contains multiple steps. To create this semi-synthetic sweetener, three hydroxyl groups within the sugar molecule are selectively substituted for three chlorine atoms. This molecular change results in the super sweet, zero-calorie, powdered sweetener we know as sucralose.

How does the human body process sucralose?

The human body does not recognize the sucralose structure as regular sugar, so it is not stored or metabolized as such. Instead, sucralose is excreted in the feces, unchanged, and a small amount is absorbed and rapidly eliminated in the urine. Studies indicate that sucralose can be passed on by nursing mothers in their breast milk. This fact gives reason to believe that sucralose lingers around in the body's adipose (fat) tissue long after its excretion.

Why is sucralose controversial?

Sugar is an ingredient most people avoid when dieting, so low-calorie sugar substitutes naturally sound like the perfect alternative, right? But sucralose, like other artificial sweeteners, is highly controversial. The FDA has reviewed over 110 safety studies on sucralose, and these studies focused on toxicity, including adverse effects on neurological and reproductive systems. None of these adverse effects were found, so the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved sucralose for consumption as a general-purpose sweetener.

There are, however, reasons for concern over sucralose consumption. Some studies claim that sucralose negatively affects metabolism.

Does sucralose cause weight gain?

Zero-calorie sweeteners are trending among dieters, but we still don't know whether these non-nutritive sweeteners actually help with weight loss. Some studies find no link between low-calorie sweeteners and weight gain, while others saw an interesting increase in the brain activity responsible for food cravings and appetite. This increase in food cravings and hunger resulted from the consumption of sucralose-containing beverages compared to those containing natural sugar. Turns Out, Diet Soda May Actually Make You Gain Weight.

Does sucralose make you crave sugar?

It is said that sugar is addictive, and artificial sweeteners may be too. Sugar substitutes may be related to changes in gut bacteria that lead to the storage of fat. Studies conducted by the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine indicate that artificial sweeteners do not activate the reward pathways as natural sweeteners do. Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, for the sole reason they taste sweet, encourage sugar dependence and cravings.

Does consuming sucralose affect blood sugar?

When you eat natural sugar, your body releases insulin to stabilize blood sugar levels. Alternatively, it is thought that sugar substitutes don't raise insulin or blood sugar levels in healthy people. But, one study found something different. In this study, the blood sugar and insulin levels in obese people were raised when they consumed sucralose. In more recent studies, sucralose increased the insulin response to sugar when taken ten minutes before glucose. The body's insulin response to sweeteners is something that requires more research. Of course, more studies are needed to know the effects of sucralose on blood sugar. Here are The Best Sweeteners For Your Blood Sugar-Ranked!

Which products contain sucralose?

Sucralose is readily available in many pre-packaged items on store shelves. Since this artificial sweetener is very stable, it is found in various food items. These products include:

  • Diet sodas
  • Chewing gum
  • Sugar-free gelatin
  • Salad dressings
  • Maple syrup alternatives
  • Flavored coffee syrups
  • Barbecue sauces
  • Sugar-free jams and fruit spreads
  • Baked goods
  • Sugar-free candy
  • Frozen desserts
  • Condiments labeled "sugar-free" or "low-calorie" most often contain sucralose.

Bottom Line

splenda
Shutterstock

Sucralose (Splenda) is a controversial sweetener, and it affects insulin and glycemic responses, metabolism, and cravings. Science has raised concerns over sucralose, so it is essential to become aware of your sugar intake from all food sources. Read labels and consider alternatives to sucralose and other chemically altered sweeteners. Click here to learn more about The Most Underrated Sweetener You're Not Using.

Shaye Glisson
Shaye was born and raised in Houston, TX. She is a freelance Lifestyle/Beauty/Wellness writer and a licensed Cosmetologist with several years of writing experience. Read more about Shaye