Sugar substitutes have been a part of the American lifestyle since 1878 with the discovery of saccharin. Benefits of sugar substitutes range from losing weight, to being able to eat sweets if allergic to sugar, to avoiding cavitiesii; there must be a downside as well. Rumors of side effects and the stigma of being “full of chemicals” have plagued all sugar substitutes yet have not stopped the desire to have your cake and eat it toominus the calories. Most sugar substitutes are not derivatives of sucrose at all; however, Splenda is, hence the slogan “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” Splenda was incorrectly dubbed “sucralose” by its creators, Tate and Lyle, in order to “sleight-of-hand” consumers into thinking it is actually sucrose, and therefore the same as real sugar. Splenda was accidentally discovered in 1976 as a language barrier caused “test” to be mistaken for “taste” the compound. For the next two decades the safety of the compound was tested and the formula experimented with until Splenda went onto the US market in 1998.
Splenda is made by McNeil Nutritionals by selective chlorination of sucrose. Three chlorides replace three hydroxyl groups through halogen substitution. Fluoride, chloride, and bromide were all tried (iodide is endothermic and unfavorable). Fluoride is too exothermic, thus not as stable as chlorine, nor was its sweetness as potent. Chloride and bromide both produce the same hyper-sweet taste, but chloride is favored as it is more water soluble because of its smaller size. Chloride, which binds more tightly to carbon than heavier halogens, is the best halogen for its stability, sweetness, and water solubility. In result, Splenda is better in cooking than other sugar substitutes, for it is more stable over a wide range of temperatures and pHs and also has a longer shelf-life. Splenda is 600 times as sweet as sucrose so it can be used in smaller amounts. It is sweeter because when chloride substitutes hydroxide, three unshared electron pairs replace two unshared electron pairs. This adds a binding site for Splenda to bind to the sweet receptors in the mouth.
America, a country with 30.5% of its population labeled obese, is also the country where “anything is possible”even a calorie-free sugar. This is the ideal market for Splenda, as is obvious from the $212 million of product sold in 2006. Sugar substitutes are everywhere, from diners to kitchen pantries, and 80% of Americans consume them. The reason Splenda is calorie-free is that it is so tightly-bound it is inert, and thus it is not metabolized, unlike sucrose. Splenda does contain calories but enzymes cannot use it to create energy because they do not recognize the chloride bonds to carbon, thus the body does not digest Splenda as a carbohydrate. Consequently, Splenda does not affect insulin production or blood glucose levels, and diabetics can use it to replace sugar in cooking.
The same process that gives Splenda its advantages is also what causes controversy. The three chloride atoms per molecule cause some concern over the effect of the organochloride on the body. There are anecdotal claims of a laxative effect and headaches, and a few studies showing an enlargement of the liver, kidneys, and shrinking of the thalamus, but thus far there is no conclusive evidencexi. One should be cautious as no studies have been done to determine the long-term effects or a “safe” amount to consume.