Splenda from the Seasalt Restaurant

Artificial Sweeteners: Too Much Sweetness and Light?

Is there such a thing as too much sweetness and light? This is a question that bugs people who just don’t trust artificial sweeteners. Thus, a new study in Nutrients will add fuel to their fires of suspicion. Researchers led by Alexander Nichol conducted a small, randomized crossover study of sucralose (Splenda®) and its effect on glucose metabolism. Bottom line, they found that sucralose indeed has modest metabolic effects. In fact, they found that the taste of sweetness – even when subjects don’t consume it – has an effect on glucose response to a meal.

So yes, it may be possible to get too much of sweetness and light.

A Small and Carefully Controlled Study

This study was small and well-controlled. It was all about a single exposure to this sweeter, so it says nothing about long-term outcomes. The research team recruited 16 subjects in a healthy weight range and 22 with obesity. It was a crossover design, so each subject served as their own control.

They completed three test conditions. In one test, they drank 48 mg of sucralose. In another, they swished it in their mouths and spit it out. And then finally, for the control condition, they drank an equivalent amount of pure distilled water.  These subjects fasted overnight before the test and then received glucose in the lab, with careful monitoring of glucose, insulin, and related metabolic response.

Sucralose Has Effects on Glucose Metabolism

The researchers found that consuming sucralose had a small effect on blood glucose in both weight groups. But it had a different effect on insulin responses in patients with normal weights compared to those with obesity. In the subjects with obesity, the insulin response was greater.

Even more interesting, though, was the effect of merely tasting the sweetness of sucralose. In both weight groups, the insulin response to glucose decreased.


To put all of this into perspective, we should remember that these are modest, one-time effects. It’s not clear whether such effects might accumulate over time or, instead, diminish. Plenty of research tells us that sucralose, like other low-calorie sweeteners, is perfectly safe in moderation. It can even be helpful for people who want to cut back on the sugar they consume.

However, it also tells us that regardless of calories, sweeteners can have metabolic effects. And thus it might be possible to have too much of sweetness and light.

Click here for the study and here for more on the relationship between sweetness and metabolic signaling.

Splenda from the Seasalt Restaurant, photograph © Sonny Abesamis / flickr

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January 13, 2020

2 Responses to “Artificial Sweeteners: Too Much Sweetness and Light?”

  1. January 13, 2020 at 8:23 am, Al Lewis said:

    There is so much complexity involved in weight and nutrition and glucose that one wonders why idiots in HR at some companies still think “biggest loser” contests are a solution. Do they lack access to the internet?

    • January 13, 2020 at 8:33 am, Ted said:

      In my experience, the issue is more often one of hucksters selling snake oil wellness. As you have often pointed out, Al.