Sucralose is the sweetening flavour in many artificial sweeteners, the most popular of which is Splenda. Sucralose was first approved in Canada and other markets starting in 1991, and then brought into the US market after being approved by the FDA in 1999.
Prior to approval, there was extensive research on sucralose and the FDA rated sucralose as “safe” because it was considered an inert substance. This means it contains no calories and passes through the gastrointestinal tract remaining intact, having virtually no effect on the body at all. Sucralose is about 400-600 times sweeter than refined white sugar when measured by weight (Soffritti et al, 2016). This is important to keep in mind for later, when we discuss how taste affects hormone secretion.
The diet market in America is huge, so having a product that promises to reduce caloric intake at no cost is a no-brainer. The “Sugar and Sweeteners - Global Market Outlook” report for 2017-2026 reported that the total global market for all sugar and sweetening products was $116.24 billion in 2017 and is expected to grow to $164 billion by 2024 (2018). The possibility to make money in this industry is a great motivating factor when the diet industry is comparably large.
Sugar, and carbohydrates in general, are considered to be one of the primary causes of obesity in America because of overconsumption. Many diseases, including type 1 and 2 diabetes are managed by monitoring sugar intake. A sweetening agent with allegedly no impact on caloric intake or blood sugar levels, that still offers that addictive flavour has been a huge hit. Sucralose and other sweeteners have been added to an estimated 4,500 food products, including a number of health foods and junk foods, while marketed as a “healthy alternative”.
Getting in on a piece of the market share in the last 20 years are several other artificial sweeteners, appearing in gums, diet sodas, baking products, in prepared packaged foods, and even in many physical performance supplements, like protein powders and pre-workout aids to make it more palatable without adding unnecessary calories.
Other unnatural sweeteners to keep in mind when checking the food label include:
- Acesulfame potassium
In recent years research has caused the FDA to downgrade their rating of sucralose from “safe” to “caution” and then even further in 2016 as an additive to “avoid” (CSPI, 2016).
There have been several studies showing that we really do not know the full effects of using these chemicals on a regular basis and motivating the FDA to gradually change its rating of these products.
In a 2016 study on sucralose and cancer markers, a link was found to certain types of cancers in male rats, even though several other studies by the manufacturer failed to do so (Soffritti et al, 2016). This study in particular was a motivating factor for the FDA to reconsider its rating for sucralose.