With the rising popularity of low carbohydrate diets, and increase in sales of sugar-free foods and drinks, is it any wonder that the market for sugar substitutes is becoming more and more competitive? Products such as NutraSweet, Equal, and Sweet’N Low have been on the shelves for years, even though it is widely known that they do pose some health risks.
Many people — American’s at the top of the list -— consume many times more sugar than recommended in their daily diets, so trying to cut down one’s sugar intake is a worthy goal. Of course, it’s common knowledge that the first step to losing weight is reduction of calories, and sugar is pure calories with no nutritional value. But sugar also acts like a drug, like an addiction, and cutting it out of one’s diet is easier said than done. Not only is there a mental dependence, but there is a physical one also. Sugar affects the body in complex ways—producing serotonin in the brain and causing the insulin spike, which is the ‘sugar rush’ that is the real craving, and the reason sugar addiction is so hard to kick.
Splenda is the newest product in a long line of sweeteners and substitutes promising the taste of sugar without the effects of sugar consumption. This can be construed as true in a literal sense. It is true that Splenda has none of the dangerous effects of sugar on the body – no calories, no insulin boost, no cravings. Unfortunately, while many hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, Splenda poses its own unique health risks and dangers, according to many experts. The fact that the FDA approves or doesn’t approve a particular product, really in no way assures it is safe. Powerful lobbies make their living pushing through products that have no business being in the marketplace, while blocking others that pose an economic threat to investment.
Splenda is different from other sweeteners in that it claims to be ‘made from sugar,’ and ‘natural,’ because Splenda is the trade name for sucralose. Sucralose is a synthetic compound, which — without going into too much scientific detail –is basically sugar modified by adding chlorine atoms. Sucralose, incidentally, was discovered in the 1970s by researchers looking to create a new pesticide. Chlorine is added to many products – drinking water, for example – and does not necessarily render the product dangerous. On the other hand, you are ingesting chlorine, which is not advised in large amounts.
The reason Splenda produces no calories, is that the majority passes through the body without being digested. Most studies show that only around 15% of Splenda is actually digested. The worrisome fact for some researchers is that people with healthier GI systems, will absorb more of the Splenda, and thus more of the dangerous chlorine.
The results of the tests done by Splenda’s manufacturers, McNeil Nutritionals, are also quite worrisome. Their studies revealed that test rodents suffered from dangerous side effects such as shrunken thymus glands, and enlarged livers and kidneys … and there were only short term studies. No long term studies were performed before Splenda was approved by the FDA. One could say that the long-term study is being conducted in households and supermarkets across America, with consumers as the test rodents.
Of course, Splenda is not likely dangerous in smaller doses, but what about larger ones in which larger quantities of chlorine are ingested? Herein lies the bigger problem. Perhaps the greatest reason for Splenda’s success in the marketplace is that, as opposed to the other sweeteners, Splenda remains stable at higher temperatures, meaning that it can be, and is, used in cooking. Many of the sugar-free, and low-calorie diet foods use Splenda in their recepies. People on diets are at greater risk, obviously, because they may consume this product many times a day without knowing it.
A small segment of the population is allergic to sucralose, and the reactions produced in this group can be everything from rashes, panic attacks, headaches, to intestinal cramping, diarrhea, muscle aches, and stomach pain. Findings for allergic reactions are well-documented, but for the rest of the population, the studies are murky, at best.
As with any nutritional supplement, caution and due diligence should be practiced. Read and learn all you can, and consult with you doctor before starting on any new diet. If you are already dieting, be sure to read the labels to see if the diet foods are using Splenda in the place of sugar, and make sure that you aren’t replacing the bad effects of sugar with the potentially dangerous side effects of Splenda.