Unfortunately, there are still some myths circulating on the subject of sweeteners - despite the current state of studies, these are very stubborn.
In the following, we will address four myths:
- Myth 1: Sweeteners trigger cravings and/ or make you fat.
- Myth 2: Sweeteners have negative effects on the gut microbiome
- Myth 3: Sweeteners cause insulin resistance
- Myth 4: Sucralose should not be heated
Myth 1: Sweeteners trigger cravings and/ or make you fat
Again and again one hears or reads that sweeteners trigger ravenous appetite, because the body releases insulin after consumption. Allegedly, the body would think it was getting sugar and would subsequently fall into hypoglycemia. The cravings triggered by sweeteners are then said to make people fat. If you look at the current scientific data on these myths, you quickly realize that this is not true in its entirety. Sweeteners neither promote ravenous appetite, nor do they make you fat.
Sweeteners in direct comparison with sugar, water, and nothing at all
A fairly recent systematic review including meta-analysis of 60 intervention studies compared:
- Sweetener vs. sugar
- Sweetener vs. water or nothing
- Sweetener capsules vs. placebo capsules.
This consistently found that the use of sweeteners instead of sugar resulted in a decrease in body weight due to a reduction in caloric intake. This was true for both sugar substitutes in beverages and foods. The higher the proportion of replaced sugar, the higher the calorie deficit and the weight reduction.
In comparison with water or nothing, no effect of sweeteners was found. No increased calorie intake, no side effects. In other words, sweeteners have no negative effects in direct comparison with water or nothing. This was also true when taking higher amounts of sweeteners via capsules. The included studies included those with adults and children as subjects and also those with normal weight, overweight and obese subjects.
The effect of stevia extract on appetite
In a high quality study stevia extract was investigated as a sweetener. The effect of stevia extract on the glucose response, satiety, and energy intake of the subjects was examined in a three-arm crossover trial.
Again, no differences in caloric intake were found compared to the administered placebo. Neither between the comparison groups nor after swapping the groups. Subjectively perceived hunger and cravings were even lower after consumption of stevia than when compared with water.
So in this study, stevia actually reduced appetite somewhat and did not increase food intake or glucose levels. The researchers conclude that stevia extract as a sweetener may be a viable strategy for the prevention and treatment of obesity and diabetes.
Based on countless studies over the past decades, there is no robust sustainable evidence that sweeteners trigger cravings, affect glucose response or insulin levels, and thus promote weight gain in people in everyday amounts. Studies providing evidence in this regard had shortcomings, which will be discussed in more detail in the following points.
In contrast, there is ample evidence that sweeteners can be used to effectively reduce sugar intake. This simply saves calories without sacrificing taste, which in turn can make it much easier to lose weight and prevent obesity and its associated secondary diseases.
Myth 2: Sweeteners have negative effects on the gut microbiome
The gut microbiome is an ever-growing area of research, and the question of how it is affected by zero-calorie sweeteners is no exception. There is a persistent belief that sweeteners disrupt a healthy microbiome and cause dysbiosis. If you look at the totality of the scientific data on this, you quickly find that this is not the case.
Scientific analysis of studies on effects of sweeteners on the gut
Zero-calorie sweeteners have very different structures and undergo different processes after consumption. Some are digested to metabolites that are absorbed before reaching the lower intestine (e.g., aspartame), others are absorbed unchanged in the upper intestine (e.g., acesulfame K and saccharin), and still others may reach the lower intestine unchanged (e.g., sucralose, steviol glycosides, and cyclamate).
In all cases, a systematic review published in 2019 concluded that there is insufficient evidence that zero-calorie sweeteners adversely affect the gut microbiome at established safe intake levels.
This conclusion was challenged by studies that showed a putative negative effect on the gut microbiome. However, it was noted that these animal studies used doses beyond realistic human intakes (e.g., 1.67 g sucralose per kg body weight per day, which is equivalent to a sweetening power of 60 kg sugar), the study designs were problematic, or data were misinterpreted.
Overall, no effect of sweeteners on the gut as a whole class was found - i.e., not even in combination of different sweeteners. From the totality of studies conducted to date over the past decades, there is no evidence of adverse health effects by influencing the gut microbiome.
Recent study on the effect of sucralose on the gut microbiome
A recent clinical study published as recently as November 2020, which examined the effect of aspartame and sucralose on the gut microbiome of healthy adults, again shows that no adverse effects on the gut microbiome were detected. The consumption of sucralose and aspartame in usual consumption amounts over two weeks was investigated. After analysis of fecal samples, no differences were found after consumption of the sweeteners aspartame and sucralose.
Another study came to the same conclusion. High-dose sucralose also did not alter the gut microbiome or glycemic control of the subjects.
Again, when considering the entire body of data over the past decades, there are no robust studies in the aggregate that have demonstrated a negative effect of sweeteners on the gut for humans at normal levels. On the contrary, there are many reliable studies that have shown no negative effect on intestinal health. The totality of the current scientific data therefore shows that sweeteners in normal consumption quantities have no negative effects in humans.
Myth 3: Sweeteners cause insulin resistance
There are concerns that sweeteners impair blood sugar control and reduce insulin sensitivity. These concerns appear to stem primarily from studies on sucralose, which show that a realistic daily intake of 150-200mg reduces insulin sensitivity in healthy adults over several weeks. However, another study found no such effect at a much higher daily dose (1,000 mg) for 12 weeks, suggesting that any effect may be short-lived.
If we now look in detail at the studies that are supposed to indicate that sucralose affects various parameters related to blood glucose control, weaknesses emerge here at various levels with regard to their validity.
For example, some studies are not placebo controlled and/or unblinded. In other words, there is no comparison group and the participants as well as the scientists know who gets what. This reduces the significance considerably. Some studies openly question the real effects of their own results when discussing the results. The selection and number of subjects, the form of administration (solid, liquid, pure, etc.) and the lack of baseline data collection before the studies were conducted were discussed.
In further studies, it was also noticeable that participants who had not previously used sweeteners reacted differently from participants who habitually used sweeteners. It is concluded from this that the body may become accustomed to non-nutritive sweeteners after a short changeover phase. However, further research is needed to determine this.
Also striking was that the change in glycemic control and insulin release was found mainly in premenopausal women. It therefore seems likely that the changes were not influenced by the sweeteners at all, but by the altered glycemic control and insulin release during the phases of the menstrual cycle.
This is because a large number of studies with very good designs and also systematic reviews found precisely no changes in glycemic control and insulin release.
Glucose and insulin response to sweeteners
A recent systematic review with meta-analysis on glycemic and insulinemic effects by sweeteners found no differences between the sweetener groups and control groups of the studies evaluated. Regardless of whether sweeteners were consumed alone or in combination with food.
Another meta-analysis that looked specifically at beverages concluded that zero-calorie sweeteners have no different metabolic and endocrine effects than water.
Similarly, the critical review on the safety of sucralose summarized that a large number of studies found no acute effect with sucralose consumption on blood glucose and insulin release in healthy individuals. No matter whether it was consumed before or with carbohydrates.
The studies by Ahmad et al. (2020) and Thomson et al. (2019), already addressed in the context of effects on the gut microbiome, also examined glycemic response, inuslin release, and explicitly even insulin resistance. The results showed no effect of sweeteners on insulin resistance compared to the baseline values of the individual subjects and control groups.
Also in 2010, Renwick and Molinary already stated in a scientific review that the putative effects of sweeteners on glucose uptake and insulin release found in animal studies, in vitro or in situ studies have no relevance in amounts consumed by humans.
Taking into account the entire body of evidence, the current scientific data indicate that sweeteners do not negatively affect the glucose and insulin response.
On the contrary, professional societies and bodies repeatedly emphasize - most recently the American Diabetes Association in early 2021 - that the use of sweeteners to reduce sugar is nutritionally beneficial to positively influence insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels. Isolated studies that found a negative effect had significant flaws. The media portrayal of such flawed studies is criticized by the same professional societies and committees.
Myth 4: Sucralose must not be heated
The last myth is less common, but should still be addressed: Sucralose should not be heated because doing so turns sucralose into a harmful molecule. This notion is based on the simple fact that sucralose begins to decompose at 120°C under laboratory conditions.
The main problem with this assumption is that such direct heat exposure to sucralose does not occur in the real world. You can cook a dish at ambient temperatures above 120°C, but that doesn't mean the product being cooked will ever reach such temperatures. The next time you bake something, take a measurement of the internal temperature of the baked product and compare it to the baking temperature - the difference is enormous.
This is illustrated in the table below. When a pastry is baked in a 200°C oven, the temperature of the pastry will exceed 100°C, which is far below the temperatures at which sucralose begins to thermally decompose.
Even the German Federal Office for Risk Assessment (BfR) writes that a negative assessment for use in foods is not possible with the data currently available, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has not issued any restrictions on the use of sucralose after evaluating the available data.
Countless food safety authorities around the world have approved the unrestricted use of sucralose for many years.
- UK Food Standards Agency (independent food safety monitoring agency
in Great Britain)
- US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (US Food and Drug Administration)
Health Canada (Canadian health authority)
- Food Standards Australia/New Zealand (food standards system of Australia and
- Japanese Food Sanitation Council (Japan)
- Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organizatio
- And some more
Results of a critical review of the current scientific literature on the safety of sucralose
In a detailed review, nearly 200 studies were evaluated to reassess the safety of sucralose. One point was also the stability of sucralose under various conditions, including cooking and baking.
The scientists conclude that sucralose is very stable in the temperature and pH ranges present during food and beverage processing. It is further stated that to date, no study has shown the development of significant amounts of degradation or thermal byproducts comparable to food and beverage applications.
Exemplary experimental studies are listed in which cooking and baking with sucralose was carried out, and also those studies are critically evaluated which found substances that were allegedly harmful to health. For the studies that investigated the practical use of sucralose, it was found to be suitable, stable and safe for use as a general-purpose sweetener in heated beverages, in foods that are cooked and also in baked goods.
For studies that reported the formation of small amounts of various compounds when exposed to high heat, it is concluded that these have no relevance to the practical use of sucralose. Here, dry, pure sucralose; pure sucralose with glycerol or metal oxides; highly concentrated sucralose with oil and/or meat were heated. The scientists note that the conditions do not represent real-world use. Nor in cooking or baking at home.
Sucralose in the pan
The relevance of different conditions is shown by another experimental study in which sucralose was heated to high temperatures on different metals.
While nothing happened on clean aluminum and copper utensils in the temperature range of 200 to 400 °C, decomposition was observed from 350 °C when sucralose was heated on stainless steel or oxidized (rusted) metals. In the latter case, the harmful substances were primarily contained in the smoke - i.e. the sucralose actually burned off, which is not particularly practical. Fun Fact: At 250 °C at the latest, even special frying oils begin to smoke off, and in the case of meat, carcinogenic substances have been proven to form in the range of such temperatures.
If you use coated pans in which sucralose cannot react with the surface of the metal under heat, it is even less likely to decompose. However, when heating fruit sweetened with sweetener, for example, in a pan, such temperatures are far from being reached. Since here since fruit would burn naturally likewise.
There is no serious evidence that sucralose poses a risk to our health in practical use. Neither when used for baking, nor when used normally in pans for cooking. Normal use means not smoking your food, not adding sucralose straight to the pan, and heating a pan to normal temperatures. The proven health benefits of saving sugar are much more weighty here.
As long as the food still tastes sweet, nothing has decomposed. Because with the Sucralose it behaves exactly the same as with other food, which becomes too hot: It no longer tastes as it should. Sugar, for example, becomes bitter if it has been heated too much. Anyone who has ever tried to make their own caramel in a pan and was a little too generous with the heat or waited too long will be able to confirm this.
What is the percentage of sucralose in ESN products?
Our formulas are unique and therefore top secret, so unfortunately we can not tell you the exact amount of sucralose. However, there is no reason to worry, because a very large safety buffer was included in the development of our products, so that even a combination of many different products in our range will not lead to the ADI value of 15 mg/kg body weight being exceeded.
Even when consuming three servings of each of the products with the highest sucralose values, depending on body weight, just 3 - 4 % of the maximum amount is reached (ADI value), which can still be classified as safe.
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