The Latest Sugar Substitute Craze May Make You Feel a Little Crazy



Some time back, my husband picked up a box of hot chocolate packets at the store. Nothing unusual there — we almost always have hot chocolate in the house. This box, however, was a sugar-free, 25-calorie variety by Swiss Miss. What made it sugar-free? It was sweetened with sucralose instead of sugar.

I’d gotten in the habit in recent months of relaxing with an almost-daily cup of hot chocolate: it is — as the name implies — chocolatey…it’s creamy, and it’s soothing. But I began to realize that the extra daily dose of around 200 calories (I make it with milk) was probably not doing me a whole lot of good regarding my continued weight-loss/weight-maintenance goals, so I decided to try a 25-calorie packet just for the heck of it.

Well, it tasted like regular hot chocolate to me. I could taste a very slight difference, but it certainly didn’t have that tinny diet flavor. I quickly polished off the box, and my husband bought more. Of course, being made with nonfat milk makes it more like 115 calories instead of 25, but I figured that was still better than 200 or more.

But some things are too good to be true.

First, let me say that in our family we’ve had some heavy-duty situations and experiences that have been causing our stress level to soar, along with anxiety and depression that both my husband and I have been feeling. (Into each life, right?) But when I began feeling additional symptoms of depression over this last week or two that would just whomp me out of nowhere, I wondered if something else could be causing it.

Knowing that what we eat or drink can have a huge impact on how we feel, the first thing I looked at was my diet…and what came to my mind before anything else was the hot chocolate. Even more specifically…the sucralose.

At first, the hot chocolate hadn’t affected me at all because I’d been drinking it at night just before bed. But then I began having it in the afternoon, and that’s when I noticed the mood changes.

So, just what is sucralose, and what’s so bad about it? Maybe more succinctly, is there anything bad about it?

Sucralose (a common name brand you may recognize is Splenda), is a non-nutritive sweetener that is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Because of its extreme sweetness, much less is needed, resulting in a lower calorie count per use. That’s good, but what’s the bad?

Derived chemically from sucrose, a.k.a. table sugar, sucralose was found rather by accident, as the process used to discover it was originally intended to produce a new insecticide, not a new sweetener for your coffee.

An article about sucralose on MedicineNet.com paints the sweetener’s alarming family tree:

According to the book Sweet Deception, sucralose is made when sugar is treated with trityl chloride, acetic anhydride, hydrogen chlorine, thionyl chloride, and methanol in the presence of dimethylformamide, 4-methylmorpholine, toluene, methyl isobutyl ketone, acetic acid, benzyltriethlyammonium chloride, and sodium methoxide, making it unlike anything found in nature. The Splenda Web site even states that “although sucralose has a structure like sugar and a sugar-like taste, it is not natural.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m not so calorie-phobic that I’m going to eat something created with chemicals just to avoid gaining weight. And what about those side effects — like mood swings — that I’d mentioned earlier? Here’s a longer list:

  • diarrhea, intestinal cramping, and other gastrointestinal symptoms
  • skin irritations, including swelling, rashes, flushing, and hives
  • mood changes like depression and feelings of panic
  • muscle aches and headaches
  • heart palpitations
  • runny nose and cough

Additional reading:
Sugar Substitutes and the Potential Danger of Splenda
Sucralose: What is the Positive Side?/What is the Negative Side?
Sucralose Side Effects on Buzzle.com
Sucralose Side Effects on iloveindia.com

Stay tuned…I’ll be introducing you soon to a couple of natural sweeteners that will do the sweetening job just fine.

©2010 Sally Dinius
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Sally Dinius is writer-in-chief here at CrazyBusyMama.com,
a blog created to inspire and motivate busy mamas everywhere to feel healthy, fit, and in control of their lives. Follow her on Twitter at
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4 comments to The Latest Sugar Substitute Craze May Make You Feel a Little Crazy

  • Holly

    Great article, Sally! We have switched to agave syrup and stevia in our home.

  • I only use Stevia now too or sometimes honey.

    Things with Aspartame and Splenda are my no way/now how list. LOL

    Thanks for sharing that extra bit of info. What a mouthful.

    Mellisa McJunkin

  • Chris

    I was really upset this morning. We ran out of milk so I made the kids cocoa with some Swiss Miss I had recently bought. While I was waiting for the water to heat, I read the box and realized they had sneaked Sucralose into the mix. Lots of good vitamins and minerals and SUCRALOSE! Glad I didn’t buy a lot of boxes of that crap. Grr! It’s in those little HUG barrels now too. It should be clearly marked on the box, not in tiny letters at the bottom of the ingredients. I figured out that aspartame was bad early on when Slice first came out. I would have a can for morning break and by lunch I was ready for a nap. I was young, well rested, and had an interesting job with fun co-workers. Absolutely no reason to suddenly be sleepy in the middle of the day. It was the aspartame, the sleepiness went away as soon as I cut out the Slice. Now we only drink the Pepsi Throwbacks made with real sugar.

  • So glad to hear you cut out the sucralose, Chris (and the aspartame)! Sneaky food manufacturers, huh? It’s not even needed! I love to hear stories like yours. :-) I would encourage you, though, to cut out the Pepsi, too, unless it’s something you just drink on a very once-in-a-while basis. I used to drink cola quite a bit but gave it up, and now it’s just something I really don’t want (except very rarely). Keep making those good choices! Good for you! :-)

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