Heating food sweetened with sucralose may be harming your health

New research has revealed a concerning potential health risk associated with heating the sweetener sucralose. The heating process may cause this sweetener to form harmful compounds, according to a new advisory, an issue that is magnified if food containing sucralose is cooked at high temperatures. The formation may start at a relatively low cooking temperature of 248F and get worse as the temp goes up.

What is sucralose?

Sucralose is a popular artificial sweetener often used as a calorie-free sugar substitute by dieters and diabetics. The substance is one of multiple sugar substitutes, joining products like aspartame, stevia, and xylitol. Sucralose is sold under a variety of brand names, and is also sometimes used as a sweetener in pre-packaged and processed food products.

In addition, a number of low-calorie recipes targeted at dieters and diabetics include sucralose as a sugar substitute, some of them — such as baked goods and hot beverages — involving high temperatures. Sucralose has been deemed safe to eat in past research, but controversy remains.

Heat and health

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), part of Germany's Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, recently published an advisory warning that heated sucralose may produce compounds that could be harmful to human health if consumed. The compounds result from the heating process, which happens at temperatures low enough to cover both home and commercial cooking and baking processes.

According to the BfR, sucralose begins experiencing decomposition and dechlorination starting at 248F, with those effects being amplified as the temperature increases. This degradation could lead to the production of chlorinated organic compounds potentially hazardous to human health, including chloropropanols, PCDD, and PCDF.

What this means for you

The BfR cautions that it needs more data before it can form a final conclusion about the potential health ramifications of heating sucralose. Until it is able to issue a conclusive risk assessment, the agency recommends the public avoid heating foods that contain sucralose to the temperatures typically used for baking, frying, and roasting. Instead, BfR recommends that consumers and manufacturers add sucralose after the food has been cooked (and presumably, has cooled down).