Sucralose, better known as Splenda, is an artificial sweetener that has led to several low-calorie food choices for American consumers. Good news for dieters and the calorie conscious alike.
Splenda stands in a long list of artificial sweeteners approved for use in the United States; this list includes saccharin (Sweet N' Low), aspartame (Nutrasweet), acesulfame K (Sunette), and neotame (Neotame).
Sucralose is the only artificial sweetener that is made from sugar molecules. By substituting part of the sugar molecule with chlorine, an extremely stable molecule is created that has a sweetness about 600 times sweeter than table sugar. But fear not, the chlorine is of no health risk; think of the chlorine in salt (sodium chloride).
And, with its sugar-like taste and excellent stability, sucralose can be used in place of sugar in virtually every type of food and beverage. It is even available in a granular form that measures just like table sugar.
Unlike the other artificial sweeteners, sucralose is unique in that it is not efficiently absorbed by the body. 85% of sucralose eaten passes through the digestive tract intact and is simply excreted, unchanged. The 15% that does get absorbed is excreted in the urine, unchanged.
Sucralose was scrutinized for more than 20 years and its safety was intensely reviewed by many authoritative regulatory agencies. Before reaching a decision on the safety of sucralose, more than 100 animal and human studies were evaluated by an expert panel appointed by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
No artificial sweetener is allowed on the market until the FDA has deemed them safe for use by the public, including people with diabetes. And, because sucralose is not recognized as a carbohydrate by the body, it has no effect on blood glucose levels. But, as with any nutrition concerns, people with diabetes should consult their doctor for individual dietary advice.
Although the safety of sucralose has been confirmed for all people of all ages, good judgment must prevail when allowing children to consume low-calorie products. A child's body is growing so quickly that substituting nutritious, growth-supporting carbohydrates with non-nutritive sweeteners is not a good idea. Energy from carbohydrates is extremely important to a growing child's body, and artificial sweeteners supply no growth-supporting energy whatsoever. Children who fill up on empty foods are unlikely to sit down to a nutritious dinner. And, besides running the risk of your child missing essential nutrients, allowing over-consumption of low-calorie foods lays the foundation for a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits.
Sucralose has been approved for use in baked goods and beverages to frozen desserts, gelatins, and even salad dressings.
The good news is that products that have never before been offered in a low-calorie form are now available as food manufacturers creatively develop products with sucralose. The bad news is that, much like in the case of fat replacements, a wide range of reduced calorie food choices can propel unhealthy eating habits. The wise choice is to use products with artificial sweeteners sparingly—use them as an indulgence, rather than as an essential part of your conventional diet.