Splenda: Clearing Up A Misconception

On the Low Carb Cruise, I had a conversation with a gentleman who is very anti-sweetener of any kind, up to and including stevia. He's a smart guy, and he had some cogent arguments. However, he was dead wrong about one thing: He said that Splenda was no different from sugar, and that people were fooling themselves to think it was low carb.

He based this opinion on the indisputable fact that most of what is in a bag of granular Splenda (and the knockoffs) is maltodextrin. Maltodextrin is a sugar. So how is Splenda different from sugar?

As anyone who has picked up both a big bag of sugar and a big bag of Splenda can tell you, the Splenda is far, far lighter. The maltodextrin used to bulk the sucralose to a similar sweeteness to sugar is far fluffier than table sugar. Indeed, one of the concerns substituting granular Splenda for sugar in recipes is that it fizzles away to nearly nothing, resulting in a smaller volume.

Specifically, a big bag of Splenda weighs 9.7 ounces, but has the sweetening power of 5 pounds of sugar. Even if we assume that all of that 9.7 ounces is pure carb -- and it's close -- there are far fewer grams of carbohydrate per serving.

To be exact, 5 pounds of sugar contain 2267.961 g of carbohydrate, since all of it is carbohydrate. But assuming that nearly all of the substance of granular Splenda is maltodextrin, that 9.7 ounce bag will have only 274.990 g of carb. That means that measure for measure the granular Splenda will contain approximately 12% of the carbohydrate of sugar.

FYI, the Splenda in the little packets contains less maltodextrin than the granular in the bag, liquid Splenda contains none, making both of these lower carb choices than granular Splenda, though of course one loses the direct cup-for-cup equivalency in sweetness that is meant to simplify recipe conversion.

This does not eliminate my friend's other concerns, which include the newly-discovered fact that our intestines have taste buds, and the mere taste of sweetness contacting those intestinal taste buds may trigger insulin release. Nor does this speak to the concerns many have about sucralose being a man-made substance. But there is no question that teaspoon-for-teaspoon or cup-for-cup granular Splenda is far lower in carbohydrate than sugar.

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My allergy to Splenda- and apparently, I'm not the only one...

Ten years ago when I started lo-carbing, Splenda was new and quickly became my saving grace. I loved it and used it as my sugar crutch. Two years after using Splenda without any problem, I suddenly developed this horribly itchy rash all over my body. My dr. suspected contact dermatitis, so I eliminated all fragrance products in my home. That did nothing, so he turned to my diet. Since I lo-carb it, my diet consists of whole foods... except... yup, Splenda. I reluctantly gave it up and it took two weeks, two solid weeks, for the rash to completely clear. After a few months of being rash-free, I decided to re-try Splenda. The rash returned immediately. Funny thing is, I also developed the same reaction to sugar.

In the very least, it keeps me sugar-free: no sugar, no Splenda, no kidding.

I have googled "Splenda, rash" and found that there are many others who have experienced this same thing- even doctors- who are highly skeptical that a food allergy can cause external rashes. Many have the same story- they used Splenda for years without any issues, then suddenly, the rash appears.

I don't buy it...

I'm a type 1 diabetic and I've used plenty of Splenda since my diagnosis over 20 years ago. If it was raising my blood sugar I'd know it because I test my blood 12-15 times a day.

Now because I'm on an ultra low-carb food plan, I choose not to consume the carbs from maltodextrin since they add up. Instead, I use pure sucralose.

New Swine Research

Alot of current nutritional research for humans is at least initially conducted on swine. Swine are a close model to humans in respect to nutrition. There is alot less red tape to conducting research on animals versus humans and you can better control variables (such as diet composition etc). My husband is an animal nutritionist and recently attended the 2012 International Swine Symposium. One of the talks he attended was regarding the effects of anything with a "sweet taste" or MSG on insulin response. Research is showing that anything with a sweet taste (such as splenda) or msg is triggering an insulin response in the pigs. Consequently, the research suggests that the same may also be happening with humans.

Sweet and Sweeter

And that's why I never adopted the wholesale use of sugar substitutes (not even stevia) that promised all the taste w/o the carbs. You can't fool nature, and nature designed us to grab nutrition wherever we could. Sweet stuff was especially appealing and mostly nutritious. Poor pigs - they maybe could become diabetic on non-sugars!

splenda essentials

the first comment on this post is a question i am VERY interested in having answered as well. the "new" splenda essentials says on the nutrition label that it contains 1 carb per teaspoon which is FIBER/maltodextrin. that the maltodextrin comes from "soluble corn fiber" and therefore seems to indicate that it would NOT be counted as a "net carb". would REALLY appreciate some clarity on this. i have been all over the internet trying to find out!! thank you, dana. you are a "voice of sanity" in a sometimes crazy LOW CARB WORLD lol!!! (i LOVE low carb - don't get me wrong!!)

Splenda question

Do you have any idea how Splenda with Fiber packets can be counted as zero carbs when it still has maltodextrin in it?


This will make you cry

So glad to have you blogging again Dana!
A few months ago, we had some out of town friends and their two young children pay us a visit. Both of the parents are MD's and some of the smartest people we know. They came over to our place after dinner out and I served everyone a couple of desserts from your books. The kids, described as picky eaters by their parents, kept going back for more, and their mom liked the dishes so much (strawberry ice cream and non-bake cheesecake) that she asked for the recipes. She also asked if the recipes would turn out as well if she substituted real sugar for the Splenda(!), since she was wary of using artificial sweeteners. She also pointed out that her mom is very thin and eats tons of sugar . . . I said oh well, whatever her fears are about Splenda, at least her kids didn't have sky high blood glucose levels after dessert at our place:)


Yeah, that IS enough to make Atkins weep. Good for you, doing the right thing on that.

I've heard the whole argument

I've heard the whole argument that eating anything that tastes sweet will cause your blood sugar to increase just like regular sugar. All I can say is that it's not remotely true for me. I can drink diet soda without having any issue with blood sugar increase. And I would assume if it just released insulin without the blood sugar increase, I'd have hypoglycemia incidents, which I don't. So, I don't buy that argument at all.

I've eliminated most diet soda from my diet just because of the other chemical crap in it and mostly just drink seltzer water now, but I'm not afraid of Splenda. Though, I do use the liquid for most things.

I had heard that argument and

I had heard that argument and wasn't convinced it was true due to the reasons you stated. You use a lot less than you would sugar. On the way to the cruise I conducted a little n=1 experiment on myself. I tested my blood sugar and then drank a packet in a cup of water. I tested my blood sugar every 15 minutes for 2 hours. My results were the same for the entire test.

I still use it sparingly because I don't want to get used to eatin sweet things but if I have it as a treat once in awhile I know it isn't harmful.

The test

Now, in the interests of science, you have to try the same experiment with a similar amount from a bag of Splenda as it has more maltodextrin. Yuck!