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Is Sucralose safe to use? Debunking the myths

Is Sucralose safe to use? Debunking the myths

SPOTLIGHT ON SUCRALOSE: A TINY PINCH PACKS A SWEET PUNCH

Sweeteners have entered the mainstream and they are here to stay. From nutritional supplements through to the multi-colored packets at the diner – it seems the US is growing fond of these sweet, calorie-free marvels. Sweeteners have been used for many years in the food and drink industry. Traditionally, sweeteners, such as aspartame and acesulfame potassium, led the way but as popularity in low carbohydrate diet has increased, so has interest in sweeteners. The industry is now moving towards a new generation of sweeteners, such as sucralose and stevia, in order to improve the quality of their end products or to offer the consumer a natural alternative. Sweeteners are added directly to foods by manufacturers to improve taste and reduce calories. They are also sold directly to consumers in a diluted format, so they can be used at home as a sugar replacement. Some common brands include Splenda (sucralose), Nutrasweet (aspartame), Sweet ‘N Low (saccharin) and SweetLeaf (stevia). So why is it that when we take the sugar out of the diet, we miss that sweet taste? Are we conditioned to enjoy sweet foods due to their abundance in modern diet or could it be ingrained in our biology?

NATURE GAVE US A SWEET TOOTH

Fresh baked cookies, sweet chocolate brownies, and New York cheesecake are just a few yummy delights that spring to mind when we visualize our favorite tasty treats. Sure, some lucky people out there don’t have a sweet tooth but for many of us, there is a strong pull towards sweet products. Why is this so? Much like our desire to consume fat, our preference towards sweet foods is grounded in our evolutionary story, it’s simply a survival mechanism. When babies are born, their first response is to search for their mother’s milk. Being close to mom is safe and provides a baby with all the nourishment it needs to thrive. Human milk is packed with lactose, giving baby a super sweet taste every mealtime, which is surprisingly sweeter than store-bought milk.

So, if we are programmed to like sweet stuff, why is sugar being linked to a raft of health conditions?  Like all things in life, balance is key and it appears that things have gotten a little out of sync lately. Excessive portion sizes combined with the type of carbohydrate we eat are playing a significant role in the current obesity epidemic and a clear link between sugar intake and increased risk of diabetes is also evident. More worrying still, new studies are demonstrating a connection between sugar intake and an increasing range of diseases. If we have the understanding that the growth of brain tumors is supported by the circulating of glucose in the brain, is it time to consider switching to fat as our main source of fuel?

RISE OF KETOGENIC DIET ~ TIME FOR CHANGE?

The increasing trend towards ketogenic diet is indicative of a shift in diet and lifestyle in the general population. Ketogenic diet is, in effect, like turning back the clock and returning to a caveman diet high in fat and protein. An abundance of carbohydrate was a luxury not afforded to our ancestors, they would seek out foods of high calorific value, such as meat and dairy.  

Like any big change to our daily eating habits, ketogenic diet has a modification period. The body needs to adjust and with this can bring a number of side effects. One of the main struggles cited for those on ketogenic diet is a craving for sweet foods. We associate sugar primarily with sweetness and mouthfeel but it also enhances desirable flavors, i.e. fruit, vanilla, and helps to mask unwanted flavors i.e. bitterness. Sugar helps to make food more palatable, but we need a lot of it to have the desired effect, a big no-no for those on keto!  Thank goodness then for sweeteners, they provide the best qualities of sugar with zero calories. So what are sweeteners, how are they used and how do they differ? Let’s take a closer look and put the spotlight on sucralose….

WHAT ARE SWEETNER?

High intensity sweeteners, also commonly known as artificial sweeteners, are used as substitutes or alternatives to sugar. All artificial sweeteners are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the regulations for food additives. Sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar on a weight for weight basis so only tiny quantities are needed. Their primary function is to deliver sweetness to food and drink without adding calories. For this reason, along with the fact that they do not affect blood sugar, they have proved to be very popular.

Sweeteners have been used for decades by food manufactures in a wide variety of food products. The diet drink industry is a prime example of their success. Take a 12oz can of regular soda and you will see it weighs in at just over 9 teaspoons of sugar and 150 calories. It’s diet alternative contains no sugar or no calories and yet they taste super sweet, why is this? Well, sweeteners are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar therefore only a very small amount is needed to achieve the same level of sweetness. Let’s take sucralose as an example. It is approximately 600 times sweeter than sugar, so for every 1g of sugar you need to replace, only 0.001g of sucralose is required. If we look back to that 12oz can of soda, we could replace the 39g of sugar with 0.065g of sucralose to achieve a like for like sweetness. Wow, impressive right!

WHAT IS SUCROLOSE?

We know sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar but did you know it is the only high-intensity sweetener derived directly from sugar? This goes some way to explaining why sucralose has the closest profile to sugar in terms of taste and mouthfeel, making it the sweetener of choice for many in the food industry. Sucralose is three times as sweet as both aspartame and acesulfame potassium and twice as sweet as sodium saccharin. It is heat stable and can be used across a wide range of pH conditions. It is the perfect choice for baked goods and long shelf-life products. It’s commercial success stems from its favorable taste, stability, and safety.

Sucralose is produced by the chlorination of sucrose and, like most sweeteners, it was discovered by accident! British sugar manufacturer, Tate and Lyle, stumbled upon this sweet delight in 1976, when studying the effects of combining sugar with halogens. Excited by their discovery, sucralose was taken to market under the branding SPLENDA®. The FDA granted sucralose marketing approval in 1998. Splenda was introduced to the US market in 2000 after Johnson & Johnson were granted the rights to develop and market sucralose under the company name McNeil Nutritionals.

IS SPLENDA JUST SUCRALOSE REBRANDED? IT’S SO CONFUSING… 

Well yes and no, let’s clear up the confusion!

There are a plethora of Splenda products available in the USA; granulated, sachets, sweet mini’s, liquid, brown sugar blend, to name but a few. If that wasn’t confusing enough, they have just launched stevia under the Splenda branding as the Splenda Naturals range. Splenda products contain different levels of sucralose and carbohydrate as they are designed specifically for different end uses i.e. baking, coffee. If you look a little closer at the ingredients list you can see that none of the Splenda products contain pure sucralose. All Splenda products contain a diluting agent to make the product more consumer friendly. No surprise really, could you imagine weighing 0.0001g sucralose into your coffee every morning, let alone finding a set of scales that could measure this low!

As pure sucralose is difficult for the end consumer to use directly, Splenda products are diluted with a neutral bulking agent like maltodextrin or dextrose. The UK website confirms that the granulated product contains 1g of sucralose and 99g maltodextrin and the sweet mini’s contain 40% sucralose and the remaining coming from lactose, cellulose gum, and leucine.  

Sucralose is used in its pure form by food manufacturers – dealing in kilograms is way easier than micrograms. Sucralose is the sweetener of choice for many food companies. Kashmir Nutrition uses sucralose in their Keto Xtra range, because it is safe, has the closest taste match to sugar and has both enhancing and masking properties to boot. Sucralose can add a little zing to your lemon & lime juice drink or depth of flavor to your chocolate chip cookie. But the real sting is in its tail, the ability to mask bitter and metallic notes. This is the reason why sucralose is so popular in the nutritional supplements industry as concentrated nutrition comes with a vast set of taste challenges. Minerals are chalky, trace elements have metallic aftertastes, exogenous ketone supplements can be bitter and amino acids, well, they have just about every taste profile you can imagine, from beefy to sour to bitter.  This is where sucralose really stands out as superior to other sweeteners, its ability to add sweetness, whilst also reducing the intensity of undesirable flavors, is truly unique.

IS SUCRALOSE SAFE AND DOES IT AFFECT BLOOD GLUCOSE LEVELS? 

Sucralose has been deemed safe by leading industry experts and has been used for years by some of the largest global brands in the food and drink sector. Sucralose was granted GRAS (Generally recognized as safe) status by the FDA. This designation shows that a chemical or substance added to food is considered safe by experts. The recommended ADI (acceptable daily intake) is 15mg/Kg.

Sucralose does not contain hidden carbohydrate and it should not be confused with the sucralose-based Splenda range that does contain carbohydrates as bulking agents. Consuming sucralose while on a ketogenic diet, will not affect ketosis as blood sugar is not raised. If you are following a ketogenic diet, it is good practice to look at the nutritional table rather than the ingredients list as it is the level of carbohydrate that can be critical in maintaining ketosis, rather than any given ingredient. If sucralose is listed as an ingredient, it refers to the pure form and has no relation to the Splenda branded products.  So, go forth and conquer your carbs, safe in the knowledge that sucralose is a friend, not the foe, on your quest for ketosis.

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