Is Sucralose Dangerous?

Edited by Peter

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that goes by many brand names, but the one most will be familiar with is Splenda. The sweetener is synthesised by the selective protection, chlorination, and then deportation of table sugar, resulting in a compound which is approximately 650 times sweeter. It is found in many lower-calorie foods including chewing gum, cereals, and diet pop, and is considered to be safe for human consumption. However, there are some online who disagree and believe that the artificial sweetener poses a real health risk. Why do these people believe this? and is there any validity to their claims? As I did with aspartame, I believe the best way to answer these questions is to give Natural News a visit.

The blog post ‘Sucralose vs. aspartame: which of these top two artificial sweeteners is the better choice?’ pitches the two sweeteners against each other, before concluding that both should be avoided at all costs. The reasons it gives as to why you should be worried about sweeteners are badly researched – even by natural news standards.

“Splenda might taste like sugar, but it is pesticide poison in disguise”

“Splenda is an organochlorine pesticide compound similar to DDT, PCBs, and other harmful substances that nobody would ever willingly consume as food.”

Sucralose is NOTHING like DDT or PCBs! The only thing that these three have in common is that they are all chlorinated organic compounds (organochlorines) – that’s it!!! I tried to find even the most superficial connection linking sucralose to DDT, or any pesticide on the planet, but found nothing. It is true that some organochlorides are extremely toxic, but having chlorine present in an organic compound does not necessarily mean that the compound will be toxic. For example, Loratadine is an antihistamine and it contains chlorine, yet is on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines. Even for Natural News, this is poor and shows a complete lack of understanding of chemistry.

I honestly thought the bar could not go any lower, but then I stumbled upon another post on their site called ‘Splenda Essentials revealed as chemical sweetener containing chlorine atoms’. I think this level of chemophobia would even make the Food Babe blush. What makes this blog post even more hilarious is that when the author tries to explain the synthesis of compounds that contain “chlorine atoms”, they accidentally end up saying that chlorine has been removed from sugar to produce it.

“Sucralose is produced by substituting three chlorine atoms for three hydroxyl groups.”

This simple mistake could have been corrected by the most basic of Google searches, but apparently this is far too much effort for our author as they go on to say…

“Sucralose is not approved for use in most European countries, where national healthcare programs are prominent. Go figure.”

Sucralose is not banned here in Europe and has been sold throughout since 2004. Again, a few Google searches would have corrected this basic factual error. Although I can’t say this for sure, I think this myth came from a huge game of chinese whispers after a french advert for Splenda was banned for being misleading.

Another argument that the writers of Natural News give as to why you should stay away from this particular artificial sweetener is that scientists have discovered that sucralose will undergo thermal decomposition and make some undesirable products.

“When heated, Splenda undergoes a thermal degradation process that results in the formation of cancer-causing dioxin and dioxin-like compounds. During the process of this breakdown, certain chlorine compounds are released that possess genotoxic, carcinogenic, and tumorigenic characteristics.”

Here the author is referencing the review ‘Sucralose, A Synthetic Organochlorine Sweetener: Overview of Biological Issues’, which cautions people about the use of sucralose in cooking as it can generate a library of toxic compounds. The review claims that, amongst other things, dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls can be produced, and references the paper ‘Unintentionally produced dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls during cooking’. However, the review fails to mention that the paper reports that these polychlorinated biphenyls were already present in the food and that, though sucralose will help generate them, it will also help transfer them away from the food into the oil fumes – resulting in less of the compounds actually being ingested. The review also failed to mention that these compounds were detected on the pico (x10-12) scale and are not present in large quantities. The actual amount that humans are exposed to of this compound and its degradation products does not pose a threat to health.

Reading the Nature News blog posts about sucralose has shown me how easy it is to write a fear piece, relying on people’s chemophobia and lack of chemistry knowledge. For example, there is a compound out there found in food that I think people should be very worried about as, when heated, it also produces a library of potentially deadly chemicals. The compound is called…and 10 points to gryffindor if you can say this in one go… (2R,3R,4S,5S,6R)-2-[(2S,3S,4S,5R)-3,4-dihydroxy-2,5-bis(hydroxymethyl)oxolan-2-yl]oxy-6-(hydroxymethyl)oxane-3,4,5-triol. When heated, the compound decomposes to hundreds of different chemicals, including the known carcinogens benzene and furan. Ethyl acetate can also be generated, which causes irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and is actually an industrial solvent! Yet we are meant to eat this?!?!?!! Well… yes, because it’s the products of the caramelisation of normal table sugar. See how easy it is to make things sound scary!!!

Image from On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen

Image from On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen

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About Myles Power (578 Articles)
My name is Myles Power, and I run the educational YouTube channel, powerm1985. I spend what little free time I have sharing my love of SCIENCE! through home experiments, visiting sites of scientific interest, and angrily ranting at pseudoscience proponents. I am also one of the founding members of the podcast 'The League of Nerds' - which I co-host with James from 'The History of Infection'.

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