The Pros and Cons of Taking Splenda
The ubiquitous little yellow packets of Splenda have long been heralded the dieter’s best friend. When the warnings went out concerning the possible links between traditional aspartame-based sweeteners and cancer, Splenda was recommended as being “made from real sugar” and sales have since boomed worldwide.
Splenda includes sucralose which works as a sweetener with almost zero calories. This is because the human body cannot break it down and use it. It has become a popular ingredient in all types of diet aids, low calorie foods and diet sodas. However, far from being a “natural product” it is actually a chemically modified substance which alters the chemical structure of sugar, changing this natural product into a synthetic compound.
So what can possibly be said against this wonder ingredient? According to 17-year old Smitha Ramakrishna, one of the finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search, the main problem is that our modern wastewater treatment plants cannot break down the sucralose. As growing quantities are excreted into the water supply, it may become potentially damaging to fish and other living things.
Despite her tender years, Smitha Ramakrishna has been actively working with her own organization, AWAKE, dedicated to water conservation and education. She was motivated to research water issues after a trip to India when there was no access to clean water, yet it was taken for granted back in Chandler, Arizona where she had been born and raised.
Ramakrishna decided to study the effects of Splenda using the research facilities at Arizona State University, subjecting sucralose to various test treatments replicating those found in wastewater treatment plants. She found that sucralose was only broken down by biodegradable molecules over an extensive period of time and using a concentration of titanium oxide and ultraviolet light. As most water treatment plants do not use such methods, most sucralose consumed by humans ends up in the ecosystem in ever-increasing amounts. Ramakrishna plans to study the question further in college.
Other health problems associated with an excessively high consumption of Splenda include enlargement of the liver, kidneys and bowel, a reduction in intestinal good bacteria and an increase in the pH level in the intestines. Researchers have also found that diabetic patients using Splenda showed a significant increase in glycosylated hemoglobin which is the vital marker used to assess glycemic control in patients.
In the meantime, the safe, healthy answer to the artificial sweetener debate is to use “natural” sweeteners based on pure stevia, which has been used for over 400 years in some cultures without any adverse effects. This natural product is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar so only tiny amounts are needed to sweeten foods. It dissolves in drinks, can be used in baking and is consequently growing in popularity. Stevia is currently available from most major health food suppliers.