Sugar Substitute: Sucralose

Ask EatingWell

Q: Is Sucralose safe?

A: We’ve received several letters expressing dismay at our occasional use of sucralose (Splenda®) as an alternative sweetening ingredient in some of our recipes. That’s understandable: ever since cyclamates (artificial sweeteners) were taken off the U.S. market in the 1970s, the history of sugar substitutes has hardly been a sweet one. For some substitutes the issue is a lingering concern about safety; for others it is poor performance in the kitchen. Sucralose, however, is the exception. Health experts and cooks agree, this substitute is safe and performs well in cooking and, when blended with sugar, in baking.

“After a critical review of the evidence presented in toxicological studies, we concluded that the research exonerated and confirmed the safety of sucralose. We find it to be the safest alternative to sugar out there,” says David Schardt, senior nutritionist at Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer nutrition and food policy advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., and a long-time critic of other artificial sweeteners, such as acesulfame-K and aspartame.

Yet Internet sites dedicated to disputing and questioning sucralose safety abound, often citing small studies where rodents fed large doses of sucralose (over 450 times the amount an average person would get by substituting sucralose for all other sweeteners, including sugar) developed shrunken thymus glands, and enlarged livers and kidneys. However, these are the same studies the scientific community, the Food and Drug Administration and consumer advocacy groups considered before concluding in 1998 that the sweetener did not pose a public-health risk. Since that time, no new studies have contradicted those findings.

The real issue is that people distrust, often with good reason, any food additive that is artificial. This fact is not lost on the marketers of Splenda, who claim the sweetener is “made from sugar so it tastes like sugar.” Consumer groups including CSPI argue that this slogan deliberately misleads. In a recent CSPI poll, 47 percent of people questioned incorrectly identified sucralose as a “natural food product.” Even though sucralose may start out as sugar, it is still the result of a laboratory intervention that replaces one group of atoms on the sugar molecule with another.

At EatingWell, our approach is to use wholesome natural ingredients and any sweetener in moderation; we don’t regularly include sucralose in our recipes. However, we recognize its useful place as a tool for those who want to moderate their sugar intake, including people with diabetes. Our approach is to offer directions for substituting sucralose for sugar where appropriate, so readers can make the choice themselves.
—Sylvia Geiger, M.S., R.D.