Among the sweet nothings of the world that are marketed as artificial sweeteners, Splenda is really something. The artificial sweetener sucralose, which is marketed as Splenda throughout the English-speaking world, is an increasingly popular juice additive, sales skyrocketing since 2004. The grainy white crystals in the yellow packets (except in Canada and a few countries in Europe, where the Splenda logo is blue on white) are also used around the world for sweetening any kind of food that can be sweetened with sugar. In the European Union, sucralose used as a food or beverage additive is identified by the E number E955.
Like so many other sweeteners, the chemical that has come to be known as Splenda was discovered by accident. While doing research at what is now King's College London, Dr. Shashikant Phadnis was asked to test an unknown chemical compound. He misunderstood the instruction to be to taste the unknown chemical compound, and discovered that it was extraordinarily sweet.
Sucralose is extremely sweet. It is 600 times sweeter than table sugar. It is 3 times as sweet as aspartame (Nutrasweet). It is twice as sweet as saccharin. Fifteen years after the researcher's accidental discovery of the chemical compound, sucralose was approved as an artificial sweetener in Canada, and later in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Europe. Nearly 90 countries now approve the use of sucralose in beverages and foods ranging from lemonade to lavender cookies and thousands of products more.
The chemical process for making sucralose begins with table sugar. It is acetylated (given a functional chemical group similar to acetic acid, or vinegar) and chlorinated (chemically combined with chlorine) and finally deacetylated (the acetic acid-like chemical group removed). Because so little sucralose is needed for sweetening, the product is usually mixed with fillers in a ratio of 600 to 1. That is, that yellow packet of Splenda you put into your coffee or tea is actually nearly 99.9% fillers, which may be maltodextrin, a creamy white starch that has a glycemic index of almost 100 (that is, it raises blood sugar levels nearly as quickly as white sugar) or cellulose fiber from wood pulp (which feeds bacteria in the colon but is not digestible by humans). Splenda actually isn't zero-calorie, although it has only about 20% of the calories of sugar.
That's something that should get your attention right away. If you gulp down four or five glasses of Splenda-sweetened lemonade or limeade on the assumption it is zero-calorie but it actually has 20% of the calories of the traditional, sugar-sweetened version, you can wind up consuming nearly as many calories and running up your blood sugar levels nearly as much as you would if you drank just one glass of the "real thing."
And it's not just the hidden calories in Splenda that can cause weight gain. The fillers in Splenda are food for "unfriendly bacteria" rather than "friendly" bacteria. Regular use of granulated Splenda can reduce the number of Lactobacillus and Firmicutes bacteria in your lower digestive tract by about 80%. At the same time the number of disease-related Bacteroidites bacteria increases by up to 500%. The unfriendly bacteria release toxins that cause inflammation. These inflammatory compounds circulate throughout the body but they tend to get "trapped" in belly fat. Fat pads start to absorb water to deal with the inflammation and you can gain water weight in your fat itself, making pot bellies and thunder thighs and bulbous buttocks all the more prominent.
You can avoid this unfortunate effect on your weight by using liquid Splenda—but it's better to come by your sweetness naturally. Don't let the inflammation caused by Splenda undo all your hard-earned weight loss.