Do You Need to Worry about Splenda?

HonorHealth - Do You Need to Worry about Splenda?

You try hard to eat healthy food, but you have a SERIOUS sweet tooth.

It may be why you've turned to zero-calorie sugar substitutes like Splenda (sucralose). Sucralose is derived from sugar, but is chemically altered by replacing three hydrogen-oxygen groups with chlorine atoms according to the Splenda website. The result is a product that satisfies your sweet tooth without calories or carbohydrates.

Sucralose has been studied extensively. The FDA approved it in 1999 after reviewing more than 110 studies that showed it was safe for human consumption.

However, if you've been following recent health news, you might have seen a new study showing a strong link between sucralose consumption and leukemia.

Study links sucralose to leukemia in mice

Authors of a new study published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health wanted to put previous sucralose studies to the test. Researchers added varying amounts of sucralose to the feed of 457 male mice and 396 female mice to see how many developed malignant tumors.

The researchers found that male mice exposed to sucralose had a significant dose-related increased incidence of leukemia and other blood cancers. This finding was especially strong at dose levels between 2,000 and 16,000 parts per million (ppm). The authors argue that these findings do not back up previous research showing that sucralose does not cause cancer. They feel follow-up studies are urgently needed to show the safety of sucralose.

Should You Stop Consuming Splenda?

"It's important to remember that this study was done in mice," said Terri Taylor, a dietician at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at HonorHealth. "Study findings in mice do not automatically translate to humans. More research is warranted."

She also called into question the dosing used in the study. The lowest dose used was 500 ppm, which equates to about four times the amount that humans would normally consume. Furthermore, the most significant findings were between 2,000 and 16,000 ppm or between 16 times and 64 times the recommended dose for humans.

"The study does bring up important questions about whether chemically altered sweeteners are a healthy choice in general," Taylor said. "There is evidence that artificial sweeteners can alter gut bacteria, which can lead to obesity."

Terri's advice to her patients is to sweeten with more natural alternatives such as:

  • Erythritol: It's a sugar alcohol found naturally in fruits, but produced through fermentation of maize as a noncaloric sweetener. Erythritol is not quite as sweet as sugar, but has close to zero calories. Unlike most sugar alcohols, erythritol does not cause gastrointestinal side effects.
  • Fruit:
  • It can be a great sugar substitute in baked goods. For example these brownies use dates as a sweetener. Be careful, though. Baking with fruit can change the texture, volume and moisture of your food, so make sure you adjust your recipe accordingly.
  • Juice: Like fruit, 100 percent juice can add sweetness to dishes without added sugar, like this healthy cranberry walnut bread that uses orange juice as a sweetener to reduce the amount of sugar called for. Make sure you're using 100 percent fruit juice. Many of the juices you buy in the store contain added sugar or sweeteners.
  • Monk fruit: This zero-calorie sweetener is derived from the monk fruit, also known as Lau Han Gau, a melon-like fruit native to southern China and Thailand.
  • Stevia: Stevia is a non-caloric sweetener extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant, native to South America.

Key Takeaway

So, do you need to worry about Splenda? The jury is still out on whether sucralose causes leukemia when consumed in normal doses in humans. More research is needed. But there's a lot of evidence that artificial sweeteners like sucralose can lead to other problems such as weight gain. When seeking relief for your sweet tooth, a natural sweetener is probably a better choice.

Still have questions about sweeteners in your diet? Contact your HonorHealth primary care doctor to answer your questions or call 623-580-5800 to find a doctor who can.

Terri Taylor is a registered dietitian, board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition and an educator at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at HonorHealth. She teaches classes on nutrition and other topics for both cancer patients and community members.