Have you heard of sucralose and are wondering what it is and what it does? Maybe you've heard it can help with weight loss or perhaps you’d like to know how it stacks up against sugar and artificial sweeteners? Or maybe you’re wondering if sucralose is bad for you or not?
This Q&A article is designed to tackle your sucralose-related questions, with the help of one of our nutritionists, Isabel. Once you’ve reached the end, hopefully any queries you may have had about this artificial sweetener will have been answered and you’ll feel a lot clearer on the way sucralose works and how it can impact the human body.
Sucralose, which is also referred to as Splenda, is a chemical that’s made in a laboratory. It’s been created to provide a zero-calorie alternative to sugar, that reportedly tastes very similar to, but isn’t actually sugar.1
It’s possible to buy sucralose (Splenda) sugar substitute products. You’ll also find sucralose sweetener has been added to certain brands of diet sodas, yogurts and breakfast cereals. Sucralose is also heat-stable, which means you can cook and bake with it.2
You could say that it’s clever in the fact it’s been created by tweaking some of the bonds within sugar molecules to create something that isn’t digested or absorbed by the body as sugar is (more on this below).
So to clarify, sucralose does technically stem from sugar molecules, but it isn’t sucrose (table sugar). As for whether it’s safe for us to use instead of or alongside sugar, sucralose is believed to be a safer and healthier alternative to other artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame.
However, as great as sucralose and artificial sweeteners are for helping you cut back on your sugar intake or completely remove sugar from your diet, they should only really be used on a short-term basis to help you initially kick your sugar habit, as they can affect our health in certain ways. You’ll find more details on how and why below…
Sucralose, which goes by the brand name of Splenda, is an artificial sweetener that’s made by altering the molecules in sugar to create a sweetener that isn’t digested or absorbed by the body like sugar is.
Compared to sugar, sucralose sweetener is significantly lower in calories, but 600 times sweeter in taste; sucralose contains 0 calories vs. approximately 16 calories per teaspoon of table sugar. Therefore, sucralose can help keep your calorie intake low and is seen as the superior option for those wanting to lose weight.
Additionally, unlike sugar, sucralose and artificial sweeteners in general don’t cause dental cavities. Refined sugars, such as regular table sugar, are fermented by bacteria in the mouth, known as the oral microbiome, which results in the production of acid that erodes the enamel surface of the tooth, causing decay. However, artificial sweeteners, including sucralose, are not fermented by oral bacteria, meaning they do not contribute to tooth decay.
Furthermore, sucralose doesn’t cause the same spike in blood glucose levels you get with sugar. This makes it a great alternative to sugar for individuals with diabetes because it enables them to control their blood sugar levels that bit better.
However, in comparison to ‘natural’ sugars (e.g. honey, maple syrup, molasses and agave), although significantly higher in calories, they contain many other nutritional and health benefits that simply aren’t found in artificial sweeteners.
For instance, raw honey has natural anti-microbial and anti-viral properties to help support a healthy immune system. It’s also a rich source of prebiotic fibres that help promote the growth of friendly gut bacteria, rather than negatively impacting your gut microbiome in the way artificial sweeteners do.
Similarly, good quality pure maple syrup (ideally B grade+), although higher in calories than sucralose, is rich in a range of antioxidants that help to protect our cells from free radical damage and reduce inflammation within the body. Maple syrup also provides a good source of potassium, magnesium, zinc and manganese, minerals that aren’t found in artificial sweeteners.
Therefore, although natural sweeteners are higher in calories, they can provide extra nutrients and health benefits that simply aren’t present in artificial sweeteners.
Handpicked content: ‘8 natural sugar substitutes.’
Sucralose contains zero calories compared to sugar that contains 16 calories in every teaspoon. It doesn’t cause blood glucose level spikes or contribute to tooth decay. It doesn’t contain any extra nutrients the way natural sweeteners do though either.
There is a large amount of controversy regarding the safety of aspartame, with some studies suggesting it may have harmful effects. However, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), along with other governing bodies, have extensively reviewed the literature and concluded that aspartame is safe for consumption. The EFSA have recommended a safe Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 40mg per kg of body weight (mg/kg) a day.
Despite the classification of aspartame as a safe artificial sweetener for human consumption attracting widespread discussion, there’s less controversy over the safety of sucralose.
Research has suggested that sucralose is safer than aspartame in terms of potential adverse effects, making it the preferred option for some people. However, having said that, there is no ‘one-size fits all’ sweetener that’s best for everyone. We all react differently to different ingredients/sweeteners, therefore it’s best to go with whichever works best for your body.
Sucralose is safer than aspartame based on potential adverse effects, there’s also generally less controversy in relation to how safe it is for human consumption. However, it can impact people in different ways.
There is a significant amount of controversy over the safety of artificial sweeteners, with inconsistent evidence.
However, both Cancer Research UK and the US National Cancer Institute have conducted comprehensive research analysis on the safety of artificial sweeteners and concluded there is no strong evidence that the sweeteners approved in the UK (including sucralose) cause cancer.
Large robust studies have confirmed that artificial sweeteners are safe for humans to use in moderate consumption. The EFSA carries out rigorous safety testing on all artificial sweeteners before they can be used in food and drink.
The following artificial sweeteners have all been approved as safe for consumption:
Comparing these sweeteners, there are no significant differences in terms of safety, therefore you don’t need to get hung up on which are the ‘safest’ or ‘most harmful’ artificial sweeteners to use. They’ve all been approved as being safe for human consumption.
Several extensive studies have confirmed that artificial sweeteners are safe for humans to use in moderate consumption.
Sucralose sweetener can be used in the same way you use sugar, so you may have a spoonful of it in your coffee or tea in the morning, sprinkle it over your cereal to make it taste sweeter or use it to bake cakes, biscuits or other sweet treats with.
But remember, sucralose isn’t sugar. This means that for certain things, especially baking, the end product may look or taste slightly different compared to if you were using sugar.
You see, sugar makes food and drink taste sweeter and in baked goods it helps make them lighter, tender and gives them volume. It can also help trap and hold moisture; the result of which can help create chewy cookies as opposed to rock hard cookies. Sugar can also help brown cakes due to the way it crystalises and creates an added crunch and texture. And if you’re baking bread, then it can help feed and activate the yeast.3
But because sucralose and other artificial sweeteners don’t have the same chemical composition as sugar, it doesn’t react in the same way when cooked or baked.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use it, it’s just that you may need to adjust your quantities and be prepared for differences, such as lighter-looking baking with less volume and a slightly drier and denser consistency. You may find that your baking may need to stay longer or be taken out of the oven sooner when using sucralose instead of sugar.
You can use sucralose in the same way you’d use sugar, e.g. by putting it in your drinks and cooking and baking with it. But be aware of the fact that the end result, particularly with baking, may differ slightly compared to using sugar.
Sucralose isn’t a magic weight loss fix, however it can help with weight loss for those who would otherwise be consuming large amounts of sugar.
Sucralose sweetener contains zero calories, whereas one teaspoon of refined sugar contains approximately 16 calories, with the average can of fizzy drink containing 10 teaspoons of sugar, which equates to a whopping 160 calories just from the sugar content alone!
Research has shown significantly greater weight loss in individuals consuming low-calorie sweetened drinks vs. standard higher calorie sugar drinks.4,5 Therefore, in terms of weight loss, sucralose can be a great zero calorie alternative for individuals who tend to consume a lot of sugar.
A further benefit of sucralose is that, unlike sugar, it doesn’t cause a spike in blood glucose levels, which means it’s a great sugar alternative for individuals with pre-diabetes or diabetes.
Sucralose allows people to still eat sweetened foods and treats while keeping their blood sugar levels under control. However, this isn’t to say that if you’re diabetic you should actively add sucralose or artificial sweeteners to your diet. Ideally, you should be focusing on making sure you’re eating plenty of healthy whole foods and avoiding packaged, sugary and artificial foods as much as possible.
But if you are somebody who struggles to avoid eating excessive amounts of sugar and sweet treats, sucralose is a healthier alternative in terms of blood sugar control. It’s also worth noting here that sucralose isn’t recommended as a long-term dietary choice; it’s more of a short-term tool for gradually weaning yourself off sugar.
Sucralose isn’t a magic weight loss fix, but it can help with weight loss for people who would otherwise consume large amounts of sugar.
The negative aspects of sucralose mainly relates to its impact on our gut microbiome.
Research has suggested that artificial sweeteners, including sucralose, can negatively impact the gut microbiome, the trillions of beneficial bacteria that live inside our guts.
For instance, a recent study found that mice that were fed a sucralose-rich diet developed a decreased diversity of friendly gut bacteria and negative bacteria and inflammatory markers compared to mice who ate a sucralose-free diet.6 This is due to the fact that artificial sweeteners can promote the growth of negative bacteria while preventing positive bacteria from thriving at the same time.
This imbalance in gut bacteria is known as microbiome dysbiosis, which is associated with increased inflammation in the body and digestive issues. As research demonstrates how crucial our gut microbiome is for all aspects of health including immune system functioning, brain health, skin health, weight management and digestive health, looking after your gut is paramount for good health.
Therefore, as a nutritionist, I wouldn’t recommend using artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, on a long-term basis due to the negative impact they can have on the gut.
Furthermore, some research has suggested that artificial sweeteners may potentially impact reward and hunger signalling due to their extreme sweetness (sucralose is approximately 600 times sweeter than sugar), which can lead to an increased appetite and sugar cravings.
However this evidence is inconsistent, meaning conclusive statements cannot be made, and further research is therefore needed to fully confirm the impact of artificial sweeteners on appetite.
Other sucralose side effects include bloating, gas and diarrhoea. When consumed in large quantities, it may also have a laxative effect. These side effects apply to sucralose that’s been added to food and drink during production, as well as the sucralose sweetener products you can purchase yourself.7
Handpicked content: ‘Guide to microbiome.’
Summary: Artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, can negatively impact your gut microbiome by encouraging more bad bacteria to grow and preventing good bacteria from thriving. It may also lead to an increased appetite and greater hunger cravings.
Sucralose, and other artificial sweeteners, can be a great alternative to sugar for certain individuals. All artificial sweeteners that have been approved for consumption in the UK can be taken safely in moderation.
However, it’s best, particularly for your gut health, that you use sucralose and other artificial sweeteners as a short-term sweet fix. You ideally want to be focusing on having a balanced diet that’s more about whole, unprocessed foods, such as wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds, and less about artificial additives, sucralose included.
If you’d like to reduce your sugar intake, this article can help, ‘How to give up sugar.’
Last updated: 28 April 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Sep 2020
MSc in Clinical and Public Health Nutrition
Registered Nutritionist with an MSc in Clinical and Public Health Nutrition from University College London.
Isabel has expertise in gut health and the role of the gut microbiome in digestive health, immunity and brain health.
Isabel is passionate about improving the wellbeing of customers through evidence-based nutrition and lifestyle advice and keeps up with the latest nutritional science to continually enhance her practice.
Isabel believes a well-balanced holistic approach of evidence-based nutrition and lifestyle practices are key to improving wellbeing and happiness.