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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Splenda: friend or foe?

Several weeks ago I received an e-mail from a reader who appreciated my blog, but suggested I remove Splenda from my recipes, because it was unhealthy and against what I was about. I appreciated the letter, and wrote back explaining that I included Splenda in my recipes because, I myself use it sparingly. I told her my dilemma was that most of what Americans put into their bodies is not by definition real food.

My rationale was if I warned against Splenda, I’d have to warn against high fructose corn syrup, hygrogenated oils, sodium nitrite, monosodium glutamate and the list goes on and on and on. Not to mention the hormones in our meats and the pesticides used to grow our vegetables. Anything packaged – from Bisquick to crackers to jam has chemicals in it. In today’s world, it’s not realistic to avoid it all.

The main reason I include Splenda in my recipes is because it's easy. I realize most people on a weight loss journey are fighting everyday just to become a little bit healthier. Asking people to cut calories; unhealthy fats; most fast foods; packaged junk food; and real sugar is hard enough for people used to this type of diet. Suggesting that people then add in five hours per week at the gym is pushing it. Suggesting they spend an exorbitant amount of time and money on heath food store fare seems almost mean.

Splenda has been a tool I used to give people ideas for great tasting food with less calories, and more importantly, no insulin rush that triggers cravings, weight gain, and potential diabetes.

Sugar damage
And then there’s the fact that real sugar can be dangerous.

According to Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP, at minimal sugar causes headaches, tooth decay, indigestion and even hormonal imbalance in perimenopause. Pick says excess sugar intake upsets the balance of intestinal flora in the digestive tract, which can cause bloating, cramping and gas. Other symptoms of sugar sensitivity are insomnia, aggression, panic attacks, irritability, mood swings, depression, depleted levels of serotonin and the creation of metabolic debris that collects in our organ, joint, and skin tissues. And of course, there is type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and sugar addiction.

So while the urge for sugar (ie energy) is primal, it didn’t used to be readily available. In fact it was extremely sparse, and only found a few months out of the year. According to Pick, what started out as a survival mechanism has become an insidious addiction.

So what’s the deal with Splenda?
Sucralose (Splenda) comes from sugar — except for the fact that three of the hydroxyl groups in the molecule have been replaced by three chlorine atoms. According to Pick, some experts claim the Splenda molecule is similar to table salt, while other researchers say it has more in common with pesticides. Scary, right? But then again, Pick says that just because something contains cholrine doesn't atuomatically make it toxic. Confused yet?

What’s even scarier is that Pick says there is no research on the long-term effects of Splenda on human beings – the longest trial was six months. In addition, the largest study done included 128 people for a period of only three months. Pick reports that short-term studies done on rats using extreme doses of sucralose showed enlarged livers, shrunken thymus glands and kidney disorders. Self-reported (not clinical) adverse reactions to Splenda have included skin rashes/flushing, panic-like agitation, dizziness and numbness, diarrhea, swelling, muscle aches, headaches, intestinal cramping, bladder issues, and stomach pain.

To the question: Is Splenda safe? Pick answers “The truth is we just don’t know yet.”

And to me, not knowing is perhaps the scariest part of all. So, is my rationale for using Splenda just a cop out? I mean, I’ve been telling myself that I’ll buy all organic when we make a little more money. All along, I’ve planned on eating cleaner and finding healthier alternatives for sweeteners once I meet goal weight – because like most of you – I feel like I can only handle what I’m currently handling. But I also know that unless I make it a priority, and put it on my list, I might never get to it.

To become healthier, I have to open myself up to new ways of doing things. And each new habit is created by taking that first step. So have I ponied up more money, bypassed Wal-Mart, and headed to the health store to buy the herb stevia, which is actually natural?

Not yet. But it’s on my list.

To read more about Splenda, go to


  1. Great post! I have sworn off artificial sweeteners for years and go for the organic, non-bleached sugar from Costco. It's not the best and healthiest option, but it works best for me. In our household we do try to avoid high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils (which is getting easier and easier to do these days) but some days you just can't avoid everything. :)

  2. Laura, I agree! It's all about finding what works for you. And sugar, in moderation, can work. I have chosen artificial because while no one knows if Splenda is safe, we know that excess sugar is not.

    Sugar is the reason for the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents today. This is a disease that before, we only saw in adults. The sheer amount of hidden (and apparent) sugar in our diet today is slowly killing our children. It's in everything, from cereal to bread to peanut butter to dried fruit. It makes me crazy ;) Thanks so much for your comment!