Since the premier of our new PBS cooking series Low Carb CookwoRx, we’ve gotten a ton of mail about the use of Splenda in recipes. The queries range from the venomous (How can you recommend a deadly toxin in your cooking?) to the merely inquisitive (Is Splenda safe?) With so much interest in the use of Splenda, I thought I’d share a portion of a recent answer to one of our viewers who inquired about the safety issue.
The short answer is that as of this writing, Splenda (sucralose) seems to us to be safe to use in reasonable quantities. The long answer follows.
As early humans, sweetness in our food came from seasonally available fruits and occasionally available wild honey. We didn’t have access to large amounts of sweet foods in nature and our physiologic design simply doesn’t tolerate them well. Ideally, we would content ourselves with the natural sweetness in foods, but the sugar genie escaped from the bottle a long time ago and there seems to be no way to get him back in. From a metabolic standpoint, using an artificial sweetener that doesn’t raise blood sugar and insulin and doesn’t contribute a lot of extra calories seems a more sensible and healthier option than using one that does. In a perfect world, the best thing for our health would be to shake the sweet habit altogether–not simply by replacing a metabolically active sweetener with a more inert one, but by truly eliminating added sweeteners from our diets. A noble aspiration, to be sure, but until then, used in moderation (as all things should be), Splenda seems an acceptable compromise.
There are doubtlessly people who do not tolerate sucralose or who have experienced an adverse reaction to it; biological individuality makes it possible for a particular person to react adversely to or be intolerant of almost any substance, from sesame seeds to aspirin. But just as we wouldn’t expect to ban aspirin because some small percentage of people are seriously allergic to it, if in most people it provides a benefit, so we wouldn’t necessarily want to indict sucralose because some people don’t tolerate it. Unlike aspartame, which we do feel has a significant enough amount of serious scientific data to indict it as a health hazard to most all of us and which we specifically caution against, thusfar, we have not been impressed with the adverse health claims levelled against sucralose.
According to their official website, the FDA claims that it reviewed 110 studies on humans and animals searching for problems with sucralose, such as toxicities, carcinogenesis, etc. and that they found none. Despite anectdotal reports on such websites as Dr. Mercola’s, which to our perusal did not contain any links to the specific articles upon which the good doctor bases his assertions, we have not yet been able to uncover a scientifically valid reason to question its inherent safety after a pretty extensive review of the current serious medical and scientific literature. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its cadre of detractors, with the most vocal group being backed by the sugar lobby, who, it can be fairly said, have much to gain by undermining sales of Splenda. For instance, in countering the Splenda ad, which says Splenda tastes like sugar because it’s made from sugar, the detractors reply that feeding Splenda to your kids is like feeding them a daily dose of chlorine–or as Dr. Mercola puts it, DDT. That logic, while it makes an alarming sound bite, is quite a stretch. It’s true that Splenda (sucralose) is made from sugar–it’s a sugar molecule in which a couple of chemical groups have been replaced with chloride ions, making it sort of a chloride salt of sucrose. While that may sound ominous, remember that the very same chloride ion makes up one-half of every molecule of table salt, which to our knowledge has not been classified as toxic–in reasonable quantities. At least, we recall no negative ads claiming that feeding your children table salt is like feeding them a daily dose of chlorine.
We have chosen to use Splenda in many of our recipes, because it is widely available, easy to measure and use as a sugar substitute, heat-stable for baking, well-tolerated by most people, and has a pretty clean taste, without an unpleasant aftertaste. Obviously, those people who don’t tolerate it, who have allergic reactions to it, or who for whatever reason don’t want to use it should not do so. As far as non-nutritive sweeteners go, we also have used stevia, xylitol, erythritol, and others in our recipes, but Splenda is the easiest one for most people to find. There are several good books on Xylitol and stevia with methods for cooking with these sweeteners and we are happy to share them.
We have no affiliation with Splenda or its makers and no ax to grind in coming down for it or opposing it other than what we feel is valid based on the science currently available. We reserve the right to change our stance on the subject (as we did with aspartame some years ago) if and when the scientific evidence warrants it. If you know of any serious medical research that would cast doubt on its safety, we urge you to forward us that citation and we will investigate. I’m not talking here about anecdotal reports, although those are certainly valid for the individual in question, but hard clinical scientific studies. We will honestly look at them and comment upon them and if their weight demands it, change our position, and let everybody know.