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The following is part of an Organic Living Journey Guest Post Series now written by Mariana who has a mother’s heart and scientist’s brain.
Last week we began our journey through sugar-alternatives with aspartame. Today, we’re moving on to the most popular artificial sweetener, Splenda and sucralose. Unlike aspartame, sucralose is not a byproduct of E. coli – yay! So let’s take a look at the facts and learn some more about this little sweetener.
What is Splenda?
-Splenda is an artificial, sucralose-based sweetener|
-Splenda is actually 95% dextrose and maltodextrin and only 5% sucralose. Why? The dextrose and maltodextrin are used for bulk and volume, since pure sucralose is 600x sweeter than sugar.
-To put that into perspective, 1/8 teaspoon of 100% pure, uncut sucralose is equivalent to 1.5 cups of sugar.
-The bulking agents, dextrose and maltodextrin, are mildly sweet and add calories and carbs.
-Maltodextrin is derived from starch and is usually corn-based but may also be derived from wheat. It is processed as glucose in the body.
-Dextrose is a simple sugar and another form of glucose. Food manufacturers use dextrose in place of sugar, especially in candies. It’s the primary ingredient in Pixy Stix.
-Splenda is available in packets and in bulk.
-Thanks to the bulking agents, Splenda exchanges 1:1 for sugar.
-Sucralose is not calorie-free. Technically, sucralose is still a sugar and has calories. However, it doesn’t occur naturally in nature, therefore, the human body isn’t programmed to process it.
What is sucralose?
Chemically speaking, sucralose is: 1,6-dichloro-1, 6-dideoxy-BETA-D-fructofuranosyl-4-chloro-4-deoxy-alpha-D-galactopyranoside – AKA “fructo-galactose” (part fructose, part glucose – much like sucrose), a compound that does not exist in nature. It was discovered in 1976 and approved by the FDA in 1998. When Splenda first hit the shelves in the late 90’s, their slogan was “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” So, is it? Yes, but it’s definitely NOT natural. Let’s take a look at the chemistry: (Disclaimer: Yes, you can totally skip this part if you don’t want to delve into the chemistry.)
Sucrose (sugar) is tritylated with trityl chloride in the presence of dimethylformamide and 4-methylmorpholine, and the tritylated sucrose is then acetylated with acetic anhydride.
The resulting sucrose molecule TRISPA is chlorinated with hydrogen chlorine in the presence of tolulene.
The resulting 4-PAS is heated in the presence of methyl isobutyl ketone and acetic acid.
The resulting 6-PAS is chlorinated with thionyl chloride in the presence of toluene and benzyltriethylammonium chloride.
The resulting TOSPA is treated with methanol in the presence of sodium methoxide to produce sucralose. (Note- methanol is one of the questionable, toxic ingredients in aspartame)
– According to the Splenda International Patent A23L001-236 and PEP Review #90-1-4
The starting point is sugar (sucrose). The ending point is approximately 98% sucralose (according the FDA’s sucralose review), whose chemical composition looks very similar to sugar only with a few Chlorine (Cl) atoms replacing hydroxyl groups (OH). The presence of these chlorine atoms makes sucralose a chlorocarbon. The whole family of chlorocarbons is typically pretty toxic; other infamous chlorocarbons include PCB, carbon tetrachloride, and DDT.
So, if the final product is only 98% sucralose, what is the other 2%? That last, rogue 2% can include any of the chemicals from the production process or other byproducts. According to FDA labeling rules, that last 2% doesn’t have to be reported…even if it’s toxic or a known carcinogen. I’m sure that rule is there for a reason, but it doesn’t make me feel comfortable, as a consumer, knowing that manufacturers could be hiding just about anything in a food product without telling us. Is that just me? How do you feel about this little loophole?
After a few rounds of testing (including a whopping 36 humans over the course of three months), the FDA approved sucralose for use as a food additive. According to the FDA, about 10-30% of sucralose is absorbed by the body, and 2-12% of that accumulates in the body over time. This is bioaccumulation – the absorption and storage of toxins and synthetic chemicals from food, water, or air. These stored toxins hang out in your body’s fat stores, pretty much indefinitely, adding more and more with increased exposure. Looking at those numbers, there is a huge statistical difference between 10% and 30% absorption. So, what accounts for the difference? It depends on the person. Everyone’s biochemistry is unique and different, affecting how it processes and absorbs nutrients and chemicals. For this same reason, people will have varying degrees of sensitivity to every food and chemical out there, including sucralose.
Side Effects of Sucralose?
The FDA would not have approved sucralose if there was an overwhelming amount of evidence suggesting negative side effects or imminent peril, but that doesn’t mean side effects don’t happen. Although side effects are not common, these are the ones that have been documented in research studies:
-shrunken thymus glands
-atrophy of lymph follicles in spleen and thymus
-reduced growth rate
-increased cecal weight
-decreased red blood cell count
-hyperplasia of pelvis (thickened tissues, a precursor to cancer)
-decreased birth weights, placental weights
-increased glycosylation of hemoglobin (long-term assessment of blood glucose levels)
Other side effects reported by consumers but not confirmed in research studies include: migraines, headaches, irregular heart beats, nervousness, anxiety, flushing, weight gain and skin rashes.
Recently, in April 2013, a study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that sucralose does affect the risk of developing diabetes. Researchers found that consuming sucralose was associated with higher blood sugar peaks and 20 percent higher insulin levels. Let that sink in for a minute. This tells us that sucralose is NOT passing through our bodies, unnoticed. Despite fructo-galactose’s alien existence, our bodies have found some way to process this molecule, and that process is affecting our blood sugar levels. I find this both fascinating and concerning.
This was a short-term research study. How does sucralose fair in a long-term study? No idea. The longest peer-reviewed sucralose study I could find lasted three months. I’m sure we’d all love to see more thorough research to confirm or deny sucralose’s safety.
The purpose of choosing an artificial sweetener over sugar is to cut calories and protect your blood sugar levels. Chemically-speaking, sucralose should do that, but new research is suggesting that may not be the case. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. In addition, about 2-12% of this chemical is being stored in your body, accumulating over time. My concern is the lack of long-term studies. If this chemical, previously unknown to the human body, is bioaccumulating over time, I’d like to see some proof this won’t affect our health down the road. How do you feel about it?
If sucralose is a concern to you, get ready to start reading some labels and purging the pantry: sucralose is everywhere. I’ve seen it added to oatmeal, breath mints, yogurt, vitamins, hydration drinks, even products that already contain sugar! Why? It’s an easy way for products to shed calories and gain a sale. When you’re comparing instant oatmeal brands, you will probably compare calorie counts first. Equal serving size, similar cost, but a 40 calorie difference per serving? Check the ingredients list, and you’ll probably see sucralose near the end. Since it’s 600x sweeter than sugar, it only takes a tiny bit to kick up the sweetness and cut out some calories.
Next week, we will start looking for that silver lining. Let’s talk about some all-natural options for cutting sugar and calories. There are an overwhelming number of natural sugar alternatives (yay!), but it can be confusing (and sometimes a little deceiving) to figure out what you’re actually getting.