Is Splenda Really that Bad for You?

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Sweetener 1080X675 1 | Is Splenda Really That Bad For You?

We all know frequent consumption of added sugar does not do a body good—but what about artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Equal or Stevia?

They’re better right?

Not quite…

Sugar has been caught!

Thanks to documentaries like Fed Up, books like the 21-Day Sugar Detox and I Quit Sugar, and even the FDA’s recent push requiring nutrition labels to now list “Added Sugars,” we’ve been warned about the common side effects from frequent sugar consumption (including blood sugar imbalances, energy dips, metabolic dysfunction, Diabetes, emotional eating and sugar addiction).

And while a little dirt never hurt every once and awhile, most Americans consume three times the maximum amount of recommended added sugar intake every day (approximately 100 grams).

That’s about three pounds of sugar every week and 152 pounds of sugar every year—with the vast majority of that sugar found in foods that contain “hidden” sugar ingredients, like corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar syrup, cane crystals, cane sugar, dates, crystalline fructose, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup solids, and malt syrup.

Some examples of every day “healthy” foods with these ingredients, include:

  • Ketchup-7 grams (2 tbsp.)
  • Pasta Sauce-10 grams
  • Clif Bars-24 grams
  • Lara Bars-20-24 grams
  • Kashi Go Lean Crunch Cereal- 12 grams
  • Salad Dressing-4-8 grams
  • Lean Cuisine Frozen Dinners- 6-16 grams
  • BBQ Sauce-12 grams (2 tbsp).
  • Starbucks Chai Latte—42 grams
  • Yogurt- 25 grams
  • Trail Mix-11-15 grams
  • Kombucha- 12-24 grams per bottle (some brands)
  • Dried Apricots—69 grams (1 cup)

(For context, a Snickers Bar has 27 grams of sugar—ranking right alongside several of these every day snacks and condiments).

The answer to curbing your added-sugar intake?

Sugar-free Foods…obviously. (Duh).

Walk down any aisle in the grocery store, and you’re likely to see a sugar-free counterpart or alternative to most staple foods on the shelves.

Similar to the marketing schemes of the Gluten-Free food industry, these Sugar-Free foods tug at your heart strings and self-conscious with labels claiming:

No-Added Sugar

Only 3-Net Carbs

Contains NO Sugar

From Quest Bars to Diet Coke, sugar-free mints, Gatorade and Propel, Halo Top, sugar-free yogurt, KIND bars, Whole Grain breads, Diet Snapple, Crystal Light, ketchup, jelly, salad dressing, popsicles, and ice cream bars, you can practically find any old fave in sugar-free form.

And while most of these foods don’t contain sugar, they do contain artificial sweeteners, such as:

  • Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet, NatraTaste Blue)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Acesulfame K (ACE K, Sunette, Equal Spoonful, Sweet One, Sweet ‘n Safe)
  • Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low, Sweet Twin)
  • Xylitol, Sorbitol
  • And all-natural Stevia

The good news?

They don’t have “added” sugar!

The not-so-great news?

Your body sees artificial sweeteners the same way it does sugar—if not worse.



You heard me right—your body has an insulin response similar to sugar when you consume artificial sweeteners—like Splenda.

You may be “getting away” with “no-added sugar,” but the blood sugar spike, followed by blood sugar low, has been observed in several research studies to date.

Other research has shown that side effects  (1, 2) of artificial sweeteners include:

But the Mac-Daddy of them all?

Bacterial overgrowth!


Artificial Sweeteners disrupts the health of your gut flora.

And if the health of your gut is destroyed, it’s like a game of dominoes—one domino falls, and so do all the others (leading to all the side effects listed above).

While most blog articles and studies on the “dark side” of artificial sweeteners link many of these negative side effects (weight gain, metabolic disturbances, diarrhea, brain fog, and heart palpitations) with artificial sweetener consumption… very few talk about the real reason why all of these side effects occur in the first place:

Gut disturbances.

Artificial Sweeteners feed (bad) gut bacteria—

In other words: artificial sweeteners change the huge colony of bacteria in your intestines to favor the harmful bacteria.

Your body is home to TRILLIONS of gut bacteria.

And gut bacteria is essential to your overall gut health and you need lots of good bacteria to counter the not-so-good bacteria (i.e. the overgrowth of bacteria that rots in your gut, as opposed to the healthy bacteria that helps fight off toxic waste).

However, studies have shown though that even low doses of artificial sweeteners—like Aspartame (Splenda)—have the powerful ability to disrupt the balance of your “healthy bacteria” (1, 2, 3)

Another study, published in Nature (September 17, 2014), compared the side effects of the “big three” artificial sweeteners (saccharin, sucralose or aspartame) found that ALL three substances induced negatively altered gut flora.

Artificial sweeteners themselves are also not easily metabolized (broken down) by the body (1, 2, 3) —hinting at gut irritation, similar to the gut irritation associated with other “gut irritating foods” l gluten, conventional dairy and hydrogenated oils in processed and packaged foods.

Additionally, artificial sweeteners also inhibit the digestive tract’s ability to also metabolize (break down) other foods (particularly glucose) —hinting at the reason behind insulin sensitivities, blood sugar imbalances and hormone imbalances.

Even stevia, the touted “healthy alternative” has also been shown to disrupt your gut flora.

Why this matters?

In short: When your gut flora is thrown off—so are all those other dominoes (1, 2, 3)

Side effects of an unhealthy “gut micro biome” sound oddly familiar to the same side-effects other studies have connected to artificial sweeteners themselves, including:

  • Inflammation
  • GI “issues” (constipation, bloating, abdominal cramping, loose stools, intestinal inflammation, gas)
  • Migraines and Headaches
  • Brain fog
  • Mood imbalances
  • Metabolic and Hormone disturbances
  • Chronic disease (heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s, cancer)

—Just to name a few.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that your body doesn’t recognize artificial sweeteners as “real food”—and, similar to sugar, frequent consumption of artificial sweeteners doesn’t do a body good.

What does “frequent consumption mean?

Daily consumption.

Within an “80/20” balanced context—you CANNOT live in a bubble, and artificial sweeteners may happen. Sugar may happen. Vacations will happen. And non-perfection will happen.

That’s ok.

But the daily consumption of Quest Bars, Halo Top, sugar-free yogurt, sugar-free gums and mints, Diet Sodas and beyond are not watering your body with the nourishing life-giving nutrients it needs if you want to have a healthy gut flora, that in turn positively affects your other health factors (gut “issues” included).


Everything in moderation right?

Stevia IS a “natural” plant-based sweetener that has been marketed as the “healthier sweetener alternative.”

However, as mentioned above, even stevia can disrupt that gut of yours.

That said, a little bit still goes a long way AND it’s important to recognize that not all stevia’s are created equal.

Unfortunately, in many of our packaged products (bars, shakes, powders and packets), stevia is highly processed and not as natural as labels claim—comprised of just stevia extracts and/or Truvia (altered, high-GMO-containing stevia).

If you do consume stevia, it’s imperative you look for a True, Raw 100% Green Leaf stevia—the least processed of all types of stevia—reportedly connected to some positive benefits like healthier blood sugar levels, lowered inflammation and beneficial for helping people achieve weight loss by replacing sugar.

That said, the biggest marker of whether or not a food “fits for you” is the answer this question:

How do I feel?

Can’t wrap your head around why you still get bloated, constipated, stomach cramps, headaches, skin breakouts, gas, skin breakouts, fatigue, allergies or can’t concentrate well?

What is in your food?


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