What happens in your body when you eat sucralose? The short answer? A whole lot of nothing.
And when we’re talking about sweeteners, a whole lot of nothing can do a whole lot of good.
Can we all agree that refined sugars aren’t the best thing for your metabolism? OK, great. On to the next hang-up: The word “natural” gets tossed around a lot with sweet, low-carb or low-calorie foods. We’re talking cereal bars, fruit and nut bars, protein powders and other “health” supplements. Usually, that’s a big negative people use against sucralose: “It’s not natural.”
Sadly, neither are most of the things that claim to be.
A lot of the bars, sweets and “health food” companies touting “natural” ingredients are actually full of refined or processed sugars, which we’ve already established aren’t so great.
Plus, refined sugar really isn’t natural. Unless you’re chewing on sugar cane itself, that sugar was made by a machine. Sorry.
How about agave syrup, another oft-lauded “natural” ingredient? Sad story — it has more fructose in it than high-fructose corn syrup.
And then there’s stevia. Usually, it’s an extract or an extract applied to a powder substrate. It has zero calories, and it’s extracted directly from a plant. So, OK, yeah, stevia’s actually a pretty good option. The problem? The sweetness profile of stevia doesn’t work in every food. Different flavors pair well with different types of sweetness, and stevia has a very specific taste.
This is why a lot of people go to sucralose. It has a sweetness profile similar to table sugar (most people’s standard for the ideal sweetness taste), and it turns out that sucralose doesn’t seem to have any ill effects on your metabolism.
Let’s start at the top: What happens when you eat sucralose?
From Your Food to Your Mouth
First, there’s a lot less sucralose in whatever you’re eating than the necessary amount of table sugar to achieve the same amount of sweetness. And I mean a LOT less. There are 40 grams of sugar (8 teaspoons) in a soda and only 40 milligrams of sucralose in a diet soda. That’s 1,000 times less sweetener!
Here’s another thing — say your food is hot, some nice warm sugar-free cupcakes, for example. Sucralose is an incredibly stable molecule that holds up well to heat. That’s one of the reasons it’s used in so many foods — you don’t have to worry about the bonds breaking down in baking. So it’s stable, and you don’t have to eat a lot of it to satisfy that sweet craving.
OK, but what does it do to your metabolism once you ingest it? Let’s follow sucralose down the rabbit hole, so to speak.
Once It’s in Your Mouth
Sucralose is a small molecule and very water-soluble, so it’s almost instantly absorbed by the saliva in your mouth (unless you don’t chew your food very well, in which case you’ve got other problems). And as you keep chewing away, hey, guess what — no bitter aftertaste! That’s one of the big things it has going for it compared to old-school sweeteners like aspartame. Plus, without all that refined sugar coating your teeth (I’m looking at you, “natural” fruit and nut bars), your risk of tooth decay plummets.
In the Digestive Tract
As sucralose moves into your stomach and your digestive tract, 85 percent of it won’t be absorbed by the body. So … it ends up in the toilet in some form or another.
The Stuff That Does Get Absorbed
Sucralose in the Bloodstream
Of all the sucralose you take in, only 2 to 3 percent ends up in your bloodstream, and that quickly gets filtered and excreted through the kidneys. NONE of the sucralose in your blood is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, so claims of psychic stress or sleep interference are bogus pseudoscience. Studies have shown that increased amounts of sucralose in the diet over time don’t increase levels of sucralose in the blood, so it seems that the body has a cap, a limited ability to absorb sucralose.
And the Stuff That Isn’t Absorbed in the Blood?
Well, the body isn’t able to break it down, so the molecules don’t interact with the body at all. We already know that it won’t bioaccumulate, either, so all that sucralose eventually ends up getting excreted, too.
Sucralose is one of the most studied artificial sweeteners of all time. There have been more than 100 studies and thousands of papers written on sucralose, and none of the peer-reviewed articles have been able to pinpoint any significant metabolic detriment. It’s present in more than 5,000 food items in the U.S. alone and has been independently approved for safe consumption by regulatory agencies across the globe. So even if you don’t agree with the Food and Drug Administration’s ruling that sucralose is safe for “a lifetime of use,” you’d have to disagree with literally hundreds of other countries’ identical rulings, too.
It tastes good. It prevents a lot of the damage of sugar. And it doesn’t hurt ya. So, yeah, stop knocking sucralose, guys. It might be saving your life.