Let’s face it. We are a country of sugar addicts. With obesity affecting 4 out of every 10 people in the United States in 2020, it’s no wonder corporations are looking to capitalize on the “alternative” sugar market. For decades, companies have poured billions of dollars into researching and manufacturing artificial sweeteners, also known as sugar replacements, with the promise of helping people cut calories from their diet while still indulging that sugary craving. The results are typically the same: initially the products appear safe, but, over time, further studies reveal potential (or worse – actual) health hazards. The old adage, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is” might as well conclude most scientific studies conducted on the safety of sugar replacements. And while the fact that researchers must study a chemical we call “food” to determine whether it will poison us, cause cancer, or kill us should give us pause, we nevertheless imbibe at alarming rates. One such artificial sweetener which seems to be following this trajectory today is sucralose, the chemical better recognized as Splenda®. And consumers should pay attention.
What’s so different about sucralose, you ask? Like its competitive sugar “substitutes” Saccharin and Aspartame, for example, sucralose is also FDA approved and similarly fraught with studies suggesting that it causes adverse health effects. The differentiator here is volume: sucralose is the most common sugar replacement in the United States currently. And its prevalence in the U.S. and globally isn’t slowing down. According to the site Research and Markets, “The sucralose market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 5.43% to reach US$5.357 billion in 2024 from US$3.901 billion in 2018.” Sucralose can be found in everything from the obvious (diet soda, candy and gum), to the more subtle (flavored water, granola bars and salad dressings, for example). In other words, it’s everywhere.
Despite the FDA’s 1998 conclusion that sucralose is safe for consumption, several health studies have since contradicted that assertion. According to the website U.S. Right to Know, “sucralose consumption has been linked to leukemia, weight gain, obesity, diabetes, liver inflammation, metabolic dysfunction and other illnesses.” Yikes. Let’s think about that for a moment. The chemical meant to replace sugar and all of its known side effects – inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, brain fog, and cavities, to name a few – is actually just as harmful and maybe even worse than sugar. Sounds crazy, right? How can something that has been approved by the FDA potentially cause harm? Well, let’s think about the not so obvious considerations.
First, most scientific studies of ingestible chemicals are conducted on animals such as rats and dogs, not humans. So, if you’re neither rat nor dog, chances are that not all studies performed on the chemicals you ingest were studied on your species. Secondly, safety of consumption data is based on Estimated Daily Intake (EDI). Take sucralose, for example, whose EDI is based upon the notion that sucralose is not toxic for consumption if it were to replace all the sugar in an individual’s diet; however, this logic makes the broad assumption that an individual follows a healthful diet, and does not account for those individuals who consume a significant amount of sugar (which is basically most Americans). Said a different way, sugar addicts – and therefore potentially sucralose addicts – are not represented in these studies.
Now let’s take a look at what we don’t know and compare it to what we do know. Western medicine is just now catching up to what Eastern medicine has known for centuries: there is a direct relationship between the things we consume, our gut, and our overall health and immunity. According to assistant professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Dan Peterson, “A huge proportion of your immune system is actually in your GI tract.” Sucralose disrupts the function of the human gut, and has actually been found to potentially harm “good” gut bacteria. Because our gut regulates our immune system, depending on the level of gut damage incurred, we can be predisposed to short-term or even long-term illnesses. In other words, regular sucralose consumption can do pretty nasty stuff to our bodies. (Cancer and brain fog was probably not what you had in mind when you bought that calorie-free, artificially sweetened drink.) The irony – and the danger – is that we are consuming sucralose to avoid sugar’s side effects, but in doing so, are putting ourselves even more at risk for health consequences.
So, what do we do? Well, we can start by eliminating this sugar “substitute” from our diets immediately. We should seriously question why we are allowing a chemical sweetener into our cabinets, our refrigerators, and our bodies to begin with. Let’s take a real hard look at the for-profit corporations pushing chemicals into our foods. And, perhaps most importantly, we should appreciate and care for the amazing bodies we have been given; bodies that know what we need to survive and thrive. The more we educate ourselves on the impact what we consume has on our bodies and minds, perhaps the more we will come to find that we don’t need anything artificial. The truth never tasted sweeter.