Excessive consumption of sugar has been shown to have adverse effects on overall health. As such, many people have switched to artificial sweeteners to help decrease the likelihood of developing health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Sucralose, a popular sugar alternative, has been deemed safe for consumption. However, current research has called that claim into question.
A type of artificial sweetener, sucralose is actually made from sugar. The chemical process involves multiple steps in which chlorine atoms are used to replace three hydrogen-oxygen groups found in sugar. Interestingly, the body does not break down sucralose, and as such, it is categorized as a noncaloric sweetener.
A recent study conducted by researchers at Yale University and published in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Metabolism found that consuming sucralose in combination with a carbohydrate can, in a rather short period of time, cause high blood sugar in otherwise healthy individuals.
This finding is concerning because in addition to being a common ingredient in a variety of foods, most of these food products also contain carbohydrates.
Although the researchers stated that the study needs to be replicated, the results have sparked questions regarding the effect artificial sweeteners might have on weight gain as well as overall health.
These results add to previous research, which has shown that consuming two or more beverages containing artificial sweeteners per day increased the risk of death from circulatory diseases.
Additionally, a study conducted in 2008 found that artificial sweeteners were linked to weight gain and high blood pressure as well as an increase in the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes in rats.
The 2008 study is notable because the researchers compared the effects of feeding one group of rats yogurt sweetened with table sugar to a second group of rats that were fed yogurt sweetened with saccharin. Saccharin is an artificial sweetener that does not contain calories.
The results showed the group that ate the saccharin-sweetened yogurt consumed more calories, gained more weight, and experienced an increase in body fat. Based on these results, the researchers hypothesized a theory they described as uncoupling.
The uncoupling theory hypothesizes that when caloric intake is disconnected from a sweet taste, it results in a decreased ability to perceive satiation. When the body cannot perceive satiation, it cannot determine how much of a sweet food to eat. Consequently, people often eat way more food than they might otherwise eat.
The uncoupling hypothesis was thought to occur when the yogurt, which was high in carbohydrates, was combined with an artificial sweetener. The resulting health issues the rats in the second group experienced led the researchers at Yale to evaluate this hypothesized effect in humans.
The study was comprised of 60 participants who were randomly assigned to three separate groups. All participants were at a healthy weight at the time of the study.
The first group consumed a regular-sized drink that contained an amount of sucralose equivalent to two packets of the sweetener. The second group was given a beverage that was sweetened with regular table sugar. The third group was given a drink that contained sucralose and the carbohydrate maltodextrin, which is impossible to detect as these molecules do not bind to the taste receptors in the mouth.
All three groups consumed beverages that contained the same level of sweetness for a total of seven beverages over a period of two weeks.
Participants who consumed only the artificial sweetener or only regular table sugar showed no adverse effects. However, the third group, comprised of participants who consumed the artificial sweetener combined with a carbohydrate, developed glucose intolerance.
This is an important finding because glucose intolerance is a metabolic condition that is characterized by elevated blood glucose levels, which increases the risk for developing diabetes. Additionally, it is important to understand that people who consumed only the artificial sweetener did not experience any metabolic effects.
Frank Hu, a researcher at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, agrees that the findings are interesting but should be replicated because the study was relatively short.
For instance, he stated that it is unclear if there would be long-term effects, such as weight gain and obesity. Additionally, he referred to previous research conducted over six months to a year that showed consuming low-calorie sweetened beverages resulted in modest losses in body fat and weight.
Hu also noted that the research only included the combination of a liquid form of carbohydrate and sucralose. This is important to note as every low-calorie sweetener has its own unique metabolic makeup, which does not allow for the results to be generalized across sweeteners.
Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of a variety of artificial sweeteners, including sucralose. Moreover, there have been over 110 studies conducted over 25 years that have shown sucralose to be safe to consume. In fact, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association support the use of sucralose as a sugar substitute.
Finally, the chief executive of Heartland Food Products, which happens to own Splenda, stated that the consumption of sugar is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity while Splenda, which has been available since 1998, has played an important part in helping individuals lose weight.
Interestingly, sugar consumption has declined over the past 20 years. Even more interesting is the fact that the rates of obesity continue to climb. In fact, approximately 40 percent of adults in America are obese.
The researchers at Yale contend that sucralose and carbohydrates, when combined, affects the brain’s ability to effectively communicate with the body. This miscommunication results in the body’s inability to appropriately metabolize sugar, which might ultimately lead to a variety of health issues.