The Difference Between Sucrose and Sucralose

Are sucrose and sucralose the same?

This is the structure of sucralose or Splenda, an artificial sweetener.
The chemical structure of sucralose.

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Sucrose and sucralose are both sweeteners, but they aren't the same. Here's a look at how sucrose and sucralose are different.

Sucrose Versus Sucralose

Sucrose is a naturally occurring sugar, commonly known as table sugar. Sucralose, on the other hand, is an artificial sweetener, produced in a lab. Sucralose, like Splenda, is trichlorosucrose, so the chemical structures of the two sweeteners are related, but not identical.

The molecular formula of sucralose is C12H19Cl3O8, while the formula for sucrose is C12H22O11. Superficially, the sucralose molecule looks like the sugar molecule. The difference is that three of the oxygen-hydrogen groups attached to the sucrose molecule are replaced by chlorine atoms to form sucralose.

Unlike sucrose, sucralose is not metabolized by the body. Sucralose contributes zero calories to the diet, compared with sucrose, which contributes 16 calories per teaspoon (4.2 grams). Sucralose is about 600 times sweeter than sucrose. But unlike most artificial sweeteners, it doesn't have a bitter aftertaste.

About Sucralose

Sucralose was discovered by scientists at Tate & Lyle in 1976 during the taste-testing of a chlorinated sugar compound. One report is that researcher Shashikant Phadnis thought his coworker Leslie Hough asked him to taste the compound (not a usual procedure), so he did and found the compound to be extraordinarily sweet compared with sugar. The compound was patented and tested, first approved for use as a non-nutritive sweetener in Canada in 1991.

Sucralose is stable under a wide pH and temperature ranges, so it can be used for baking. It is known as E number (additive code) E955 and under trade names including Splenda, Nevella, Sukrana, Candys, SucraPlus, and Cukren.

Health Effects

Hundreds of studies have been performed on sucralose to determine its effects on human health. Because it's not broken down in the body, it passes through the system unchanged. No link has been found between sucralose and cancer or developmental defects. It's considered safe for children, pregnant women, and nursing women. It's also safe for use by people with diabetes; however, it does raise blood sugar levels in certain individuals.

Since it's not broken down by the enzyme amylase in saliva, it can't be used as an energy source by mouth bacteria. In other words, sucralose does not contribute to the incidence of dental caries or cavities.

However, there are some negative aspects to using sucralose. The molecule eventually breaks down if cooked long enough or at a high enough temperature, releasing potentially harmful compounds called chlorophenols. Ingesting these alters the nature of our gut bacteria, potentially changing the way the body handles actual sugar and other carbohydrates, and possibly leading to cancer and male infertility.

Also, sucralose may increase insulin and blood glucose levels and decrease insulin sensitivity, all effects that people with diabetes are trying to avoid. At the same time, since the molecule isn't digested, it's released into the environment contributing to further pollution and public health problems.

Learn More About Sucralose

While sucralose is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, it's not even close to the sweetness of other sweeteners, which may be hundreds of thousands of times more potent than sugar. Carbohydrates are the most common sweeteners, but certain metals also taste sweet, including beryllium and lead. Highly toxic lead acetate or "sugar of lead" was used to sweeten drinks in Roman times and was added to lipsticks to improve their flavor.