If you're the bearer of a sweet tooth, the prospect of cutting your sugar intake to achieve better health can be dreadful. Enter artificial sweeteners, which seem like a dream come true. You don't have to give up your cookies and candy; just replace the sugar with a calorie-free sweetener like Splenda and you can eat to your heart's content -- or maybe not. While Splenda is considered safe, some concerns have arisen surrounding the chlorine content of the product. The jury is still out, but you may still prefer to limit your consumption.
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Sucrose to Sucralose
Splenda begins as ordinary table sugar, chemically called sucrose. Sucrose itself is a combination of two simple sugars, glucose and fructose, and is comprised of 12 carbon atoms, 22 hydrogen atoms and 11 oxygen atoms. The problem is that regular sucrose is high-calorie and affects the blood sugar dramatically, so Splenda manufacturers add three chlorine atoms to change the structure of the sucrose molecule to make it react differently within the body. The new molecule has 12 carbon atoms, 19 hydrogen atoms, 3 chlorine atoms and 8 oxygen atoms, and is now called sucralose, or Splenda. In the process of replacing three H-O groups on the molecule, the chlorine changes the substance into one that is calorie-free and not recognized as a carbohydrate by the body.
Chlorine in the Diet
When most people think of chlorine, they think of bleach, or the stuff they pour in their pools. The truth is that chlorine is just another element on the periodic table, and it is naturally present in many foods that you eat. On a molecular level, salt is made of sodium and chlorine, with the chemical name sodium chloride. If you eat meat, vegetables, bread, pasta, ice cream or various snack foods, you already eat chlorine.
There is a segment of the population that believes the chlorine in Splenda can impair health. It's not the chlorine content that is the concern, because table salt is considered safe. It's the fact that in making sucralose, the chlorine bonds to carbon, producing a chemical known as a chlorocarbon. Chlorocarbons are often used as preservatives and insecticides because the molecular structure can deliver a toxic dose of chlorine directly into the cells of insects and microorganisms, and those who are concerned about Splenda feel it has the same effect on humans. According to physician and biochemist Dr. James Bowen, chlorocarbons are "never nutritionally compatible with our metabolic processes and are wholly incompatible with normal human metabolic functioning."
Despite the concerns of a vocal minority, Splenda appears to be safe for human consumption -- if it weren't, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would not have approved it for sale. A 2000 issue of the journal "Food and Chemical Toxicology" published the results of multiple studies on the toxicology of Splenda, and no evidence of toxicity was found, although one study found that a hydrolyzed chlorocarbon related to sucralose produced brain lesions in mice and monkeys, indicating a central nervous system problem. The results of this study have not been examined in regard to Splenda and human health as of time of publication.