Sucralose is more than just what’s in those little yellow packets on every table at your favorite diner. It’s in all our favorite low-calorie foods. From ketchup to chewing gum, if it says it’s sugar-free, chances are sucralose might be listed as one of the ingredients. It is also part of one of the latest scientific discoveries, which has caused the medical community to raise a flag on the sugar substitute and, in turn, caused everyday consumers to be more aware of sucralose dangers.

Quick history of artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners were invented by accident in the late 1970s at Queen Elizabeth College by two scientists. It was initially undergoing tests for a possible new insecticide when a lab technician misunderstood the laboratory leader’s instruction to “taste” the compound rather than "test." The team got their patent in 1984, and sucralose quickly hit the market, being deceptively advertised as “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.”

After the Food and Drug Administration’s approval in 1998, artificial sweeteners took over the nation’s food supply and can now be found as an ingredient in most of today’s low-calorie and sugar-free food options.

Not so sweet after all

Sucralose can be up to 600 times sweeter than sugar and has no calories. If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. The original establishment of acceptable daily intake levels was based on several studies conducted in the 1980s and early 1990s that deemed sucralose safe for consumption and claimed what has now been contradicted by recent findings.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health tested the effects of prolonged sucralose consumption in rats and found that the low-calorie sweetener actually caused significant weight gain in the animals. This discovery sparked a chain reaction of further studies and investigations, which brings us to the journal’s latest study on sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate.

The new sucralose study tested the possible dangers stemming from sucralose and found significant concerns for the health of consumers. The overall purpose of the study was to identify the harm caused to people by the chemical and test its safety. Sucralose-6-acetate is the chemical created in our bodies when sucralose is metabolized.

Genotoxicity: Key among sucralose dangers

Sucralose was also found to be genotoxic and classified as clastogenic; both terms refer to the damage done to DNA and the destruction of DNA strands and DNA replication. The chemical can stay in the body for up to 11 days, and the effects are widespread: damage to the intestinal walls, enhanced or reduced expression of genes, inflammation, oxidative stress, damage to the liver, and possibly cancer, to name a few. However, there is no clear link between sucralose-6-acetate and cancer, yet.

These findings became common knowledge and spread quickly. Unfortunately, the topic was sensationalized by the media, which misconstrued the information, further spreading uncertainty and fear mongering for a higher readership. Terms like sucralose and sucalrose-6-acetate were mixed around, and genotoxicity and carcinogenicity were used interchangeably. These articles increased their readership by spreading fear and misinformation.

What is a safe intake?

The current approved daily intake of sucralose is 5 mg/kg a day in the U.S. There are 12 milligrams of sucralose per yellow packet. The average weight of a U.S. male is about 90.6 kg and 77 kg for women. The likelihood that the average man or woman will rip open six or more packets over the span of their day is minimal.

Healthy decisions start with knowledge

So, what does this mean moving forward? Many people were already making health-conscious decisions at grocery stores and restaurants before the discovery of the dangers of this artificial sweetener, however, we are going to have to start paying extra close attention to the nutrition facts. The truth lies in the quantity, just like it does with everything else that is good and feels good. And in the case of sucralose, the poison is in the dosage.