Do you suffer from frequent bloating, gas, cramps, constipation, or diarrhea? The sweetener you stir into your coffee every morning could be to blame. That’s according to research that shows adding sucralose to coffee can reduce healthy gut bacteria, which in turn causes inflammation that can lead to “leaky gut syndrome” — the culprit behind a host of gastrointestinal woes.
Which artificial sweeteners contain sucralose?
In the United States, sucralose is marketed as Splenda — that’s the one in the yellow packet. While Equal (blue packet, made with aspartame) was first available on grocery shelves in 1982 and Sweet ‘N Low (pink packet, formulated with saccharin) made its debut back in 1963, Splenda is a relative newcomer to the artificial sweetener scene, having been approved by the FDA in 1998.
Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar, lacks the bitter aftertaste of other artificial sweeteners, is stable at high temperatures (hello, hot coffee), and has a long shelf life. For all those reasons, Splenda has become hugely popular among coffee-lovers — but questions about its safety linger.
Is sucralose safe to put in coffee?
For those concerned about gut health, it’s worth paying attention to studies that have found a link between inflammation, a reduction in healthy gut bacteria, and sucralose.
Dr. Daryl Gioffre, celebrity nutritionist and author of Get Off Your Sugar: Burn the Fat, Crush Your Cravings, and Go From Stress Eating to Strength Eating (Buy from Amazon, $16), says that’s because sucralose isn’t fully broken down during the digestion process. “It arrives in your large intestine fully intact; your gut bacteria feast on it and die. It also accumulates in your fat cells,” he writes in the book.
Gioffre says one study found that sucralose can reduce healthy gut bacteria by up to 50 percent — and that can lead to a nasty case of leaky gut syndrome. And while sugar itself hasn’t been found to have that specific effect, Dr. Gioffre doesn’t recommend replacing sucralose with sugar — even natural sugar — or any other artificial sweetener.
“Sugar and artificial sweeteners are the most toxic offenders of the gut because they destroy the terrain,” he told SheFinds. “Sugar breaks down to lactic acid, which is highly inflammatory and corrosive to your stomach and entire microbiome.”
What is leaky gut syndrome?
Leaky gut syndrome, also known as “intestinal hyperpermeability,” happens when there is damage to the intestinal lining. Harmful bacteria seeps (or “leaks”) through the intestine into the bloodstream, causing unpleasant symptoms like cramps, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating. It can also cause brain fog, fatigue, sugar cravings, and weight gain.
While the link between leaky gut syndrome and sucralose hasn’t been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, if that laundry list of symptoms seems like a lot of things you’d like to avoid, it might be worth rethinking what you put into your coffee every morning.
Alternatives to Sucralose
When it comes to coffee add-ins, Dr. Gioffre recommends avoiding artificial sweeteners completely and opting instead for natural options like coconut oil and MCT oil. (Try Bean Envy’s MCT Oil Powder, which comes in Vanilla, Cinnamon, and Chocolate — Buy from Amazon, $40). These plant-based supplements are not only tasty, but also provide additional energy, help you feel fuller, and even suppress hunger.
You might consider adding some non-traditional ingredients to your coffee as well. Minerals like magnesium, potassium, sodium bicarbonate, and Himalayan pink salt not only fight acid, they also reduce sugar cravings and prevent the irritation and reflux that coffee can cause, according to Dr. Gioffre. He also has his own line of sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan coffee add-ins that come in salted caramel, mocha, and vanilla. (Try it: Alkamind Acid-Kicking Coffee Alkalizer, starting at $39.99.)
Switching up your coffee routine is a small price to pay for the potential health benefits of better gut health; we’re just glad we can still have our morning cup of joe!