Many people have a soft spot for sweet-tasting snacks, treats, and desserts. But eating too many of these sugary delights adds unwanted calories to a person’s body, which often results in unhealthy weight gain. So, more and more health-conscious individuals are opting for sugar substitutes that contain fewer calories (or even none at all) in their foods and beverages. One of the most popular sugar substitutes is sucralose, which is better known by its brand name Splenda.
Discovery of Sucralose
The events that led to the discovery of sucralose in 1976 are quite remarkable. Tate & Lyle, a British sugar company, was conducting experiments in conjunction with Queen Elizabeth College at the University of London. The company was searching for ways to use sucrose (better known as table sugar) to facilitate chemical conversion processes. Shashikant Phadnis, a university student from India, was taking part in the experiments. Phadnis was asked to “test” a certain chlorinated sugar; but because of the language barrier, he misunderstood the request to mean “taste” the sugar. Upon tasting the substance, he discovered that it tasted sweeter than sucrose. So what could have potentially been a disastrous chemical ingestion turned out to be the initial realization that chlorinated sugars are sweeter than table sugar.
As a result of this breakthrough, Tate & Lyle partnered with Johnson & Johnson, a leading health care company, to develop a sugar substitute from chlorinated sugar. This collaboration eventually led to the creation of sucralose.
Sucralose is actually a chemically-modified sugar that is produced in a laboratory. During a complex process, three chlorine molecules are combined with a single sugar molecule to form sucralose. Because sucralose is synthetic, the human body does not know how to break it down like it does sucrose. So the substance simply passes out of the body without getting digested or contributing any calories to bodily processes. That is why it is referred to as a zero-calorie sweetener.
Sucralose became popular as a sugar substitute in 2003, and its use in the United States has increased dramatically since then. In addition to being utilized as a complementary sweetener, sucralose is often substituted for sugar in desserts, candy, canned fruit, baked goods, chewing gum, dry mix products, fruit spreads, and frozen treats. It is also found in liquid form in salad dressings, sauces, juices, milk products, and carbonated and non-carbonated beverages. In addition, sucralose is an added ingredient in many vitamins, minerals, and nutritional supplements.
Scientific studies have determined that the consumption of sucralose in moderation is perfectly safe. An international Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have determined the acceptable daily intake of sucralose to be up to 15 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. And the use of sucralose was approved in the United States in 1998 after a great deal of safety testing.
There have been some rare reports of persons experiencing adverse reactions to sucralose. Some of the symptoms reported include skin irritation, diarrhea, bloating, nausea, tremors, mood swings, depression, lightheadedness, and panic attacks. Research conducted on lab animals has revealed that heavy doses of sucralose can potentially cause enlargement of the kidneys or liver, shrinking of the thymus gland, a decrease in growth rate, and a reduction in fetal weight. However, no long-term studies of the effects of sucralose have been conducted in humans, so it is not known whether prolonged and excessive consumption of the sugar substitute can be detrimental to a person’s health.
Consuming sucralose instead of regular sugar helps to reduce a person’s calorie intake. The substance can be partially or fully substituted for sugar in cooking and baking because it is heat stable. In addition, sucralose is 600 times sweeter than normal sugar, making it very palatable to the taste buds.
One major benefit of sucralose is the absence of tooth decay when consuming food and drinks made with the sweetener. It is also a suitable sugar substitute for diabetics because the body does not recognize sucralose as a sugar or carbohydrate, so therefore no insulin is produced in response to it. Sucralose is also used by people who are trying to lose weight because it does not add any calories to foods and beverages. However, pregnant or nursing women should consult their doctor before incorporating sucralose into their diet.
For the vast majority of people, sucralose is completely safe when consumed in moderation. Its sweet taste and its dietary benefits make it a popular choice for people around the world.