Sucralose: Just The Facts
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | January 27, 2005

The modern world has a sweet tooth. Every year, each person in the U.S. eats over 145 pounds of sugar from various sources (1). In an attempt to reduce the calories from the many forms of sugar, artificial sweeteners were developed with the idea that you can satisfy the sweet tooth without the calories. Market surveys show that calorie-conscious consumers want more low-calorie foods and beverages. And though artificially sweetened products are not magic foods that will melt pounds away, experts say they can be a helpful part of an overall weight-control program that includes exercise and other dietary factors (2).

One would think that this was a good thing--but not if you read what people have written about artificial sweeteners on the Internet and in e-mail chain letters. At least once a week this year, I’ve been asked about the artificial sweetener sucralose, so I listed all the questions raised and examined all the science I could find on each issue. Here’s what people have been saying about sucralose and the facts I’ve uncovered so far:

“Sucralose is a chlorinated sucrose molecule.”
That’s correct, but the innuendo is that sucralose is bad because it contains a form of chlorine. Not so. Sucralose does not contain elemental chlorine--it’s chloride, the same form of chlorine found in table salt, tomatoes, and many other vegetables and fruits.

“There are few studies that have examined the long-term effectiveness of sucralose.”
There are over 70 studies on sucralose published in peer-reviewed journals. None have demonstrated an increase in mutageneticy, miscarriage rates, birth defects, or anything else that would be a cause for concern. Sucralose was approved for use in Canada and some European countries 15 years ago; if there were health challenges associated with sucralose use, they should have emerged by now. They haven’t.

“Sucralose caused shrunken thymus glands in rodents.”
This accusation about the negative effects of sucralose on the thymus fails to note that the mice were given doses 5,000 times sweeter than a human would ever eat. In fact, the mice refused to eat because the food was too sweet--and since they didn’t eat, they lost weight. It was the weight loss that caused the thymus to shrink, not the sucralose. In spite of that, the rats fed the high amounts of sucralose were able to mate successfully; their progeny were also fed the high amounts of sucralose, also experienced the same effects on the thymus, and also reproduced successfully (3).

“Sucralose caused caecal enlargement in rats.”
The implication is that this is bad for the digestive system (the caecum is the first part of the large bowel). Two points: first, when rodents eat anything that changes the fluid levels in their gut, they experience caecal enlargement. It happens with many food additives that are given to rodents in amounts thousands of times greater per body weight than a human would ever ingest. Second, and even more interesting, is that sorbitol, one of the approved sweeteners endorsed by anti-sucralose websites, also causes caecal enlargement when given in large doses (4).

“Almost all of the websites critical of sucralose endorse Stevia as a sweetener.”
This is an extract of the Stevia rebaudiana plant from Brazil. But did you know that there have been only 92 studies on Stevia? Did you also realize that Stevia may cause infertility (5)? That’s the same type of fact-stretching employed by the anti-sucralose websites, but that study was done on Stevia in rodents and those are the results. The point is you can find a negative study on just about any food or food additive, but you don’t judge a product on the strength of one study. The sum total of research should be examined in order to come to a conclusion--something the anti-sucralose advocates refuse to do.

“The manufacturer did the research.”
True. But who should pay for the research? A competitor? The sugar industry? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration--in other words, our tax dollars? If the research arm of the U.S. government, the National Institutes of Health, funds research on all food additives, who’ll decide the order in which things get tested? These websites state the obvious and then imply that it’s bad. Fine. They should prove it by showing that the published results were tainted in some way. Better yet, they should raise the money and fund the research. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and take cheap shots. In my opinion, they should put their money where their mouth is or be quiet.

There are more accusations and innuendo I could examine, but I think I’ve made my point. Sucralose is as safe an artificial sweetener as there is. The Food & Drug Administration has approved the use of this low-calorie sweetener. The American Diabetes Association accepts the FDA's conclusion that these sweeteners are safe and can be part of a healthy diet. The position of the American Dietetic Association is that consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners when consumed in a reasonable diet (6). Countries world-wide including Canada and the European Union have approved Sucralose for use in their countries. These associations and countries came to this conclusion based on research and science, not innuendo, misrepresenting the research, and exaggerating anecdotal observations.

Bottom Line: People can't have it both ways. Either eat sweets high in calories from naturally processed sugar or eat sweets with artificial sweeteners that lower the calories. But don't complain because it's synthetic--and certainly don't try to scare people by misrepresenting the research.

Here’s a thought: people could eat raw fruit when they want something sweet. Natural foods--what a concept! That’s the better life way.

References:
  1. Putnam, J., at al. U.S. Per Capita Food Supply Trends: More Calories, Refined Carbohydrates, and Fats. Economic Research Service, USDA. Food Review, Winter 2002.

  2. Henkel, John. Sugar Substitutes: Americans Opt for Sweetness and Lite. FDA Consumer Revised December 2004.

  3. Kille JW, et al. Sucralose: lack of effects on sperm glycolysis and reproduction in the rat. Food Chem Toxicol. 2000;38 Suppl 2:S19-29.

  4. MacKenzie KM, et al. Three-generation reproduction study of rats ingesting up to 10% sorbitol in the diet--and a brief review of the toxicological status of sorbitol. Food Chem Toxicol. 1986; 24(3):191-200.

  5. Melis MS. Effects of chronic administration of Stevia rebaudiana on fertility in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999 Nov 1;67(2):157-61.

  6. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Use of Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004;104:255-275.
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