Splenda- a second look at the sweet stuff
Americans see the dangers of excess sugar in the diet and have taken big steps to cut down on carbs, sugar and fats. With that effort has emerged the "sugar free" culture: sugar fee sodas, sugar fee teas, low sugar candy, cakes and cookies. At present, about 180 milliion Americans participate in the "sugar free craze."
Splenda, with a sweetness intensity 320 to 1000 times as sweet as sugar but without the calories, has soared to new heights of popularity. The producers, McNeil Manufacturers, toute the product as being naturally made from sugar. But, what does the label "natural" mean, and how safe is this product? Both questions warrant a second look because most people know the FDA has approved many things in the past that, after being on the market for a few years, has had to be snatch right off the shelves. What is going on? Let's briefly digress by looking at the FDA definition of natural.
What does "natural" mean?
According to the FDA website, "From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for the use of the term 'natural' a or its derivatives. However the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances." ("What does natural mean?" FDA.gov)
So, the labeling of a food "natural" really has no meaning; the door is open to manufacturers to pretty much use it as they want. Sounds reassuring, doesn't it?
Now back to the issue.
What is Splenda/Sucralose?
Splenda, the brand name for the sweetener sucralose, is a synthetic compound that some British researchers quite surprisingly discovered as they were trying to find a new pesticide formula. Hmm. The product manufacturers, McNeils Manufacturers, claim that sucralose is a 'natural' substance made from sugars, therefore, it is a 'natural' product. Well, we've already looked at the FDA definition for natural and it wasn't too reassuring.
Sucralose is a disaccharide that is made from sucrose in a five-step process that selectively substitutes 3 atoms of chlorine for 3 hoydroxyl groups in the sugar molecule.(Federal Register, vol64, #155/Thursday, August 12, 1999/Rules and Regulations, pp. 43908, 43909 FDA.gov). So, in effect, Splenda is largely composed of chlorine.
There is some disagreement among experts as to whether the sucralose molecule is more similar to salt and sugar, rather than to a pesticide. Chlorocarbons hold the carbon and chlorine molecules together; chlorocarbons are frequently found in pesticides. Also, very reassuring sounding isn't it?
When sucralose is ingested by the body it is unrecognized as a food - which is why it has no calories. Most people don't absorb much of it. For those who do however, they are also absorbing some chlorinated sucrose. The question is how much is unsafe? Unfortunately, no long term studies have been presented to the FDA regarding human safety levels, so no one really knows. But, animal studies have shown that shrunken thymus glands, kidney damage and enlarged livers have occurred in rodents. So unfortuntely, consumers of the product are the test animals.(Pick, Marcelle, "Sugar substitutes and the potential dangers of Splenda" womentowomen.com)
Side effects - further cause for concern
As more human reports come in, Splenda has been associated with skin rashes, flushing, panic like agitation, diarrhea and intestinal cramping. And, in persons particularly susceptible to the sweetener, more serious reactions may occur.
As time goes on, it is quite possible that we will discover more side effects of Splenda. But, who wants to be participating in a human study? Further, the manufacturers of the product are benefiting three ways since the consumer is paying them for a product whose long term effects on humans are unknown. The human consumers are the unpaid study animals. And lastly, and equally bad is the fact that the FDA allows it to occur.
Federal Register, vol64, #155/Thursday, August 12, 1999/Rules and Regulations, pp. 43908, 43909 FDA.gov
Pick, Marcelle, "Sugar substitutes and the potential dangers of Splenda" womentowomen.com
"What does natural mean?" FDA.gov