Sucralose and carbohydrate – a scientific analysis
Research published earlier this year uncovered the health implications of consuming sucralose alongside carbohydrate. The findings were pretty shocking but the study wasn’t much talked about in sports or nutrition media. You'll find out why - this scientific analysis will show why you need to check the labels on your sports nutrition
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Perhaps we’re being cynical – after all, this study is bad for business given most other carb drinks, gels and many bars include sucralose - but this report wasn’t much talked about by the sports nutrition industry. But to make sound nutritional choices for health and performance, we need to be informed and know what we're putting in our body.
Sucralose and carbohydrate - the study
‘Short-term consumption of sucralose with, but not without, carbohydrate impairs neural and metabolic sensitivity to sugar in humans’ was the snappy title of this fascinating paper published in the Cell Metabolism Journal in March 2020.
The original aim of the study actually had more to do with sucralose’s impact on taste sensors says lead author Professor Dana Small. They aimed to determine “whether or not repeated consumption of an artificial sweetener would lead to a degrading of the predictive ability of sweet taste”.
What's in your bottle?
The study saw 45 healthy participants aged 20-45 consume seven sucralose-sweetened drinks with carbohydrate. In this study, the carb source was maltodextrin, which we know all about. No other dietary changes were made.
The scientists tested brain activity to track responses to different tastes but also insulin sensitivity and they uncovered much more than they originally intended.
Sucralose and carbohydrate - the problem
The taste-response findings were clear: consuming a beverage with both sucralose and carbohydrate results in “long-term decreases in brain sensitivity to sweet taste” – essentially, a decreased sweet-taste sensitivity (which brings its own problems).
When the scientists examined the insulin marker data, key findings were also made.
The results showed that consuming sucralose alongside carbohydrates “rapidly impairs glucose metabolism” and “decreases insulin sensitivity”.
Sucralose and carbohydrate - a bad combination
In addition to this, “consumption of sucralose in the presence of a carbohydrate also results in longer-term decreases in brain sensitivity to taste…suggesting dysregulation of gut-brain control of glucose metabolism”
The massive red flag here is this: “decreases insulin sensitivity”.
But why? What’s so bad about insulin sensitivity?
Sucralose + carbohydrate = decreased insulin sensitivity
Insulin sensitivity is a massive topic and the subject for another blog. For now, here’s the essentials.
Insulin is an important hormone with many roles, one of which is to regulate blood sugar levels. When you consume sugar (which comes in many forms), blood sugar levels rise. The cells in your pancreas detect this sugar and release insulin into your blood, communicating to cells to collect and use this sugar. This results in a lowering of blood sugar levels.
This is about so much more than merely sports performance
This job of releasing insulin is important because consistently high blood sugar levels has a toxic effect which often lead to chronic diseases and sometimes death.
But here’s the problem: a reduction in insulin sensitivity – like that which comes about as a result of consuming sucralose in combination with carbohydrates – communicates to the pancreas that even more insulin is needed. This leads to excessive levels of insulin within the blood.
As a result, cells become insulin resistant, which causes both higher blood sugar and insulin levels within the body. Eventually, your pancreas packs up which leads to decreased insulin production.
Once blood sugar levels exceed a certain threshold, the chances of developing type 2 diabetes increase significantly.
The number of serious health issues caused by insulin sensitivity include:
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Alzheimer’s disease
- A huge range of cancers
Diabetes is just one of the terrible health issues causes by insulin sensitivity
Fortunately this is in your control. Clearly, avoiding sucralose/carb products is a great first place to start, but you can also improve your insulin sensitivity by:
- Reducing sugar consumption
- Losing excess fat
- Exercising more
- Stressing less
- Eating more fruit and veggies
- Decreasing high-GI carb foods
- Avoiding trans-fats
- Sleeping more
Sucralose and carbohydrate – very common in sports nutrition
Maltodextrin and sucralose are very widely used in combination in other sports nutrition products. I’ve already found a dozen big brand sports nutrition products which contain both, all in one ten minute search online. This is just the tip of the iceberg. How can these products be marketed as beneficial to performance when clearly they’re so detrimental to health?
Health underpins everything – including athletic performance
All I can say is this: please check the labels of your sports nutrition. Know that with our range of natural sports nutrition you'll never find sucralose or any other dodgy ingredients, but even if you don’t buy 33Fuel be sure to avoid any products contain both carbohydrates and sucralose – it’s just not worth it.
Sucralose and carbohydrate - conclusion
Postulating why a sucralose and carbohydrate drink impacted insulin sensitivity so markedly, Dr Small concluded: “the effect resulted from the gut generating inaccurate messages to send to the brain about the number of calories present…the gut would be sensitive to the sucralose and the maltodextrin and signal that twice as many calories are available than are actually present”.
Dr Sarah Berry from King’s College London, who wasn’t involved in the study says that “From a public health perspective, this research is relevant in the context that we typically consume sweeteners alongside carbohydrate-containing foods” and goes on to say “sweeteners are found in many refined low calorie and low sugar foods in conjunction with other carbohydrates”
Besides gels and drinks, also check your protein powder for they often contain sucralose and some carbohydrates. But not Premium Protein – in here, you'll only find 6 natural ingredients and a 20g protein hit