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Sucralose (Splenda): how sweet it is ... or perhaps isn't?

Q. I've heard that sucralose is the safest sugar substitute. Is that true?

A. Of all the sugar substitutes, sucralose has indeed ignited the least controversy, though it's not without its critics. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1999 as a "general sweetener" for use in all foods by everyone (no warning labels are required, even for people with diabetes or for pregnant or nursing women). More than 110 studies conducted over 20 years have shown no toxic or carcinogenic effects, no genetic alterations, no effects on fetal development, no neurologic effects and no effect on blood sugar, says the FDA. Other public health and watchdog agencies agree.

Sucralose (brand name Splenda) is made by slightly altering the sugar molecule. The resulting product is intensely sweet--about 600 times sweeter than sugar. The body does not recognize the new molecule as sugar, so most of it passes through the intestinal tract undigested, thus contributing negligible calories. Sucralose can be used in cooking and baking, has a long shelf life and doesn't leave a bad aftertaste. Sounds perfect. So what's the problem?

Safety Challenge. Critics contend that preliminary animal research has shown organ damage and that independent human studies are lacking. The company itself notes that about 2% of sucralose consumed is "biotransformed into toxicologically insignificant components that are rapidly excreted in urine." Critics say more of these "toxicologically insignificant" substances are absorbed than the manufacturer acknowledges, with potential ill effects, as they are metabolized into chemicals of questionable safety.

EN's Take. Before ingesting any sugar substitute, you might want to question your reasons for consuming it in the first place. There's little evidence it helps people lose weight. Moreover, most foods that contain substitute sweeteners, such as soft drinks, frozen desserts, baked goods and candy, are foods you should limit anyway.

If you do choose to use sugar substitutes, we suggest doing so in moderation, just as you would with sugar. Keep in mind that sucralose in packets contains bulking agents that add more calories than you might realize--about four per packet versus 16 for sugar. Honey makes a suitable sugar alternative and the herb stevia is another natural sweetener option. Better yet, replace unnaturally sweet foods with naturally sweet fresh fruits.

Write to us if you have a question. We'll answer those of most interest to our readers. We regret, however, that we cannot personally respond. Send to:

Environmental Nutrition, Inc. 52 Riverside Drive, Suite 15-A New York, NY 10024-6599

fax: (212) 362-2066 www.environmentalnutrition.com: click "Contact Us"

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Publication:Environmental Nutrition
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
Words:424
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