Splenda, or, How the Diet Industry is Killing Us

Splenda is one among an army of artificial sweeteners marketed to people primarily as a weight loss tool, though people with diabetes also rely on artificial sweeteners to bring sweetness into their diets without triggering diabetic reactions. These lab-designed products make big, big money for their manufacturers, with sucralose (Splenda) being a common sight in diners, restaurants, and other locales around the world. People concerned about weight loss are encouraged to reach for a packet of Splenda and back away from the naughty, bad, terrible, no good refined sugar.

And who isn’t worried about weight loss? In a culture where being thin is sold as the most important thing in the world, people of all age ranges, cultural backgrounds, and beliefs are concerned about ‘watching’ their weight, by which, of course, society means ‘staying thin.’ No matter what someone’s weight really is, especially if that person is a woman, that person is likely to talk about wanting to lose weight, or at the very least, wanting to keep pounds off, because this is the norm we live in.

That’s thanks to the dieting industry, which makes billions on selling the idea that we’re fat and disgusting and need to buy expensive and dubious diet products to get thin again. The diet industry includes costly customized meal programs. It includes revolting frozen food that you’re supposed to think is nutritionally adequate. It includes programmes like Weight Watchers (there it is again!). It’s part of the larger weight loss industry as a whole, the industry that wants to sell you dieting pills and gastric bands and expensive, irreversible, dangerous surgeries to get thin.

This is an industry that allegedly helps people get and stay healthy by losing weight, but in fact, the industry would collapse if it actually did what it claimed. The fact that most diets fail is advantageous to the weight loss industry, which can keep pushing people to more intense extremes to lose weight, and then blame them for feeling like failures when it doesn’t work, or when the weight comes creeping back. Fat people, thin people, and everyone in between are kept in a constant state of tension and misery over their weight.

Products like Splenda prey on that, using fears of specific foods as well as fears of fatness in general to push people in the direction of the artificial. Advertising boasts that sucralose contains zero calories, that the sweetener is a completely safe and adequate ‘replacement’ for natural sugars like fructose and sucrose, and it’s been marketed very heavily as such. It’s one of the most famous in a whole range of zero/low calorie sweeteners, many of which have an extremely concentrated nature which makes it possible to use far less, volumewise, than natural sugars.

Except there’s a problem with Splenda. There are a couple of problems, actually, and these problems are not the fretting and negative-Nellying of people opposed to eating food products developed in labs. (After all, if I opposed lab-developed things in my body, I’d be dead right now, as I rely heavily on several medications to stay alive and all of them were discovered, refined, tested, and created in lab environments.) Instead, they’re actual documented health risks of eating Splenda.

A study released late last year discovered that when you bake Splenda, it releases dioxins, harmful chemicals linked with the development of cancer. Another study illustrated that Splenda reduces numbers of beneficial bacteria in the gut. It’s also been linked with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These are just a few among many studies suggesting that Splenda may be dangerous (it’s important to note that studies on Splenda, as on other things, are of varying validity and usefulness — it’s important to determine if a study was peer-reviewed and accepted for publication, and to look up the history of the lab involved, before deciding how much weight to give it). At the very least, it may not be a great thing to be eating a great deal of, and some organizations that look over food safety and other science concerns, like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have downgraded their safety ratings for Splenda.

Despite repeated media coverage on potential dangers, Splenda continues to be a big seller — at least no one can accuse these scientists of hurting the company’s bottom line. Why? Because it promises a magic bullet to people who are desperate not to be fat, who long to lose just those last few pounds, who are fighting to cling to a weight far below their body’s set point. It offers the promise of a sweetener that doesn’t contain calories, and since dieting is often simplistically boiled down to caloric intake in the belief that this is all that matters (more calories make you fat, fewer calories make you thin, you see), people are constantly hunting for ways to limit calories without making radical changes to their lifestyles.

Troublingly, ingredients like Splenda can be used in the production of some foods without formal labeling, which means that it’s important to search food labels carefully to see what they contain, or might contain. Sucralose and other artificial sweeteners are cornerstones of diet soda, along with other diet sweet products — we’re told these products are ‘healthier’ than their non-diet counterparts, but are they? Which is better? Fat, or cancer?

The diet industry has many people thinking that cancer is just an acceptable side effect, as long as you’re thin. I know a large number of cancer patients and survivors who would say otherwise.