What is sucrose?

Sucrose or saccharose is a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose [1]. Sucrose is a chemical name for table sugar, which can appear as white (purified) or brown sugar.

Nutrition Facts:

  • Calories per gram = 3.9 (1 tsp, 4 g = 16 Cal)
  • Glycemic index (GI) = 58-84
  • Sweetness: more sweet than glucose but less than fructose
  • Net carbs = 100%

Sucrose structure, chemical formula image

Picture 1. Sucrose structure: glucose + fructose

Sucrose Function

Sucrose is a source of energy. It can provide 3.9 kilocalories per gram of energy [2,3]. Sucrose is not an essential nutrient, which means you do not need to consume it to be healthy [4].

Hypoglycemia. If glucose is not available, sucrose by mouth can be used to treat hypoglycemia. In one 2010 study in children with diabetes 1, oral sucrose was as effective as glucose in treatment of hypoglycemia [30].

Sucrose Sources

Foods high in sucrose include certain sweeteners (table sugar, raw sugar–turbinado, muscovado, demerara–, molasses, sorghum syrup, pancake syrup), sweets, desserts, fruits, jams, sweetened beverages, canned foods and chewing gum. Certain medicinal and multivitamin/mineral syrups contain sucrose.

Sucrose Production

Sucrose can be extracted from sugar cane, sugar beets, date palm, sweet sorghum or sugar maple tree [21].

Chart 1. List of Foods High in Sucrose

FOOD (serving) SUCROSE (grams)
Mango chutney (1 cup, 250 g) 76
Lingon berry juice (12 oz, 355 mL) 37
Tonic water (12 oz, 355 mL) 32
Pie, fruit, baked (1 piece, 4.8 oz, 135 g) 29
Fondant (1 oz, 28 g) 27
Ice tea (12 oz, 355 mL) 27
Nougat candies with almonds, hard candies (1 oz, 28 g) 19-23
Coffee liqueur (2.5 oz, 75 mL) 22
Root beer (12 oz, 355 mL) 20
Cake, chocolate (1 piece, 65 g) 20
Caramel (1 oz, 28 g) [7] 9-20
Ice cream, pudding chocolate, soft (1 cone, 3.5 oz, 100 g) 17
Pudding, chocolate (4 oz, 110 g) 17
Shake (1 cup, 240 mL) 17
Fudge, chocolate (1 oz, 28 g) 16
Pickled cucumbers (2 oz, 57 g) 16
Table sugar, white sugar (1 tbsp, 15 g) 15
Shortbread (2 oz, 57 g) 15
Coconut cream, sweetened (1 oz, 28 g) 14
Fresh fruits (1 cup): mandarins, mango, papaya; rowal (1/2 cup) 11-14
Syrups (1 tbsp, 20 g): liquid sucrose , maple 13
Cider, certain varieties (12 oz, 355 mL) 13
Yogurt, berry (5.3 oz, 150 g) 13
Dates, deglet noor (2 oz, 57 g) 13
Ready-to-eat cereals, dry (30 g) Up to 13
Milk chocolate (1 oz, 28 g) 12
Chocolate milk (1 cup, 240 mL) 12
Brown sugar (1 tsp, 4 g) 4
Sweets: carob, jelly candies, liquorice, marzipan paste, toffee, (1 oz, 28 g); meringue (17″ oz, 14 g) 8-12
Energy drink (4 fl. oz, 120 mL) 11
Strawberry jam (1 tbsp, 20 g) 10
Ice lolly (3.5 oz, 100 g) 10
Tiramisu (2 oz, 57 g) 10
Fresh fruits (1 medium or 1 cup-237 mL): apricot, banana, grapefruit, jackfruit, melon (cantaloupe), nectarines, peach, pineapple 7-10
Orange juice (1 cup, 240 mL) 10
Irish coffee (5 fl. oz, 150 mL) 8
Syrups (1 tbsp, 20 g): blackstrap molasses (black treacle), light molasses (golden syrup), sorghum 6-8
Ginger ale (12 oz, 355 mL) 7
Fresh fruits (1 medium or 1 cup-237 mL): apple, clementine, melon (honeydew), orange 4-6
Vegetables: sweet potatoes (1 cup, mashed, 200 g), beetroot (1/2 cup, slices, 85 g) 6
Baked beans (1/2 cup, 125 g) 6
Fondant (1 oz, 28 g) [6] 4-6
Mead (1 jigger, 1.5 oz, 45 mL) 5
Granola bar (1 oz, 28 g) 5
Nuts (1 oz, 28 g): almonds, cashews, macadamia, peanuts, pistachio 1-2
Apple juice (12 oz, 355 mL) 4.5
Green peas, beans, soybean, sweet corn, cooked (1/2 cup, 80-100 g) 2-4
Sweet vermouth (2.5 oz, 75 mL) 3
Plums, watermelon (1 cup, 160 g); persimmon (2″ dia, 170 g) 3
Salad dressing, French (2 oz, 57 g) 3
Applesauce (1 cup, 245 g) 3
Crackers (1 cup, crushed, 50 g) 3
Carrots, frozen, boiled (1/2 cup, 70 g) 2.5
Pancake syrup (1 tbsp, 20 g) 2.5
Chewing gum (1 stick, 3 g) 2
Infant formula (1 fl. oz, 30 mL) 1

Chart 1 source: [5]

Sucrose Digestion

In the stomach, gastric acid might partly break down sucrose to glucose and fructose [8-p.396]. On the surface of the small intestinal wall, the enzyme sucrase breaks down sucrose to glucose and fructose, which are absorbed [9].

Sucrose Tolerance (Laxation Threshold)

The laxation threshold for sucrose in a single meal in healthy  individuals is probably more than 1.2 g/kg of body weight or more than 85 grams by a 154 lbs (70 kg) person [10]. In one study, ingestion of 100 grams of glucose triggered no symptoms in any of 10 healthy adult participants [11].

Individuals with celiac disease can have decreased activity of the enzyme sucrase and thus a decreased ability to digest sucrose [13], which may contribute to abdominal bloating and diarrhea.

Drugs that May Reduce Sucrose Digestion

Drugs that may inhibit sucrose digestion but more studies are warranted:

  • L-arabinose. In one study, an ingestion of a sucrose drink (75 g in 300 mL) with added arabinose (1.5-4%) resulted in lower blood glucose levels than sucrose drink alone [14].
  • Acarbose [31,32] and guar gum. In one study, an ingestion of acarbose (100 mg) or guar gum (20 g) before ingestion of sucrose solution resulted in lower blood glucose spikes than ingestion of sucrose solution alone [15].

Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (CSID) or Congenital Sucrose Intolerance

Individuals with a congenital sucrase-isomaltase deficiency (CSID) or congenital sucrose intolerance cannot efficiently digest sucrose, maltose, isomaltose, isomalt, maltotriose, maltodextrins, dextrins and starch due to lack of the enzyme sucrase-isomaltase [16,17,19]. Undigested sucrose and starch pass to the large intestine, where they are fermented by normal colonic bacteria to gases [20].

The disorder is more common in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Canada; there are also some known cases in the Northern and Eastern Europe, Russia, Turkey, areas around the Black Sea, Australia and New Zealand [16,20]. Symptoms start to appear in small children after introducing starchy foods and may include abdominal cramps, bloating, flatulence and watery diarrhea after ingestion of certain carbohydrate foods [16]. Symptoms can be prevented by avoiding foods containing sucrose and certain starches [16]. Supplemental enzymes (sacrosidase) that help to digest sucrose are available [16]. Parents of the affected children may also have somewhat reduced digestion of sucrose and starch [16].

Theoretically, the digestion of sucrose and subsequent absorption of glucose and fructose could be also impaired in viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, tropical sprue, intestinal lymphoma, cystic fibrosis, after gastric surgery (dumping syndrome) or in severe diarrhea of any cause, but there is lack of studies to confirm this.

Sucrose Safety: Dangers and Side Effects

Sucrose as a food additive is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [22].

Possible Harmful Effects of Sucrose

Dental caries. From all sweeteners, sucrose seems to promote caries the most [18,23,55]. Check for the effect of other sweeteners on tooth decay.

Insufficient evidence about other harmful effects of sucrose. In various studies, high consumption of sucrose-sweetened soft drinks was associated, but not cause-effect related, with abdominal obesity, metabolic syndrome, high triglyceride and total cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disorders [25,51]. It is not high intake of sucrose or sugars alone but high calorie intake that can increase weight [6,41]. It also seems it is the consumption of total carbohydrates greater than 60% of daily calories and not consumption of sucrose by itself that increases blood triglyceride levels [18,29].

There is insufficient evidence about sucrose as a risk factor for heart disease [18].

Who needs to avoid sucrose?

Individuals with the following conditions:

  • Hereditary fructose intolerance (HFI) [26]
  • Sucrase-isomaltase deficiency (CSID) [16]
  • GLUT1 deficiency syndrome [35]
  • Glucose-galactose malabsorption [34]

Individuals with the following conditions may also benefit from avoiding sucrose: diabetes 1 and 2, hyperglycemia, reactive hypoglycemia, postprandial hypotension [33], epilepsy, fructose malabsorption, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The Effect of Sucrose on Blood Glucose and Triglyceride Levels and Diabetes

  • According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no plausible evidence that sucrose, except as it is a non-specific source of excessive calories, is related to diabetes mellitus [18]. In several studies in individuals with diabetes mellitus 1 or 2, adding sucrose to meals for several weeks did increase blood glucose or cholesterol levels [24,27].
  • Dietary sucrose has a medium to high glycemic index (GI = 58-84; average 68) [28,8-p.9].

Sucrose and Cooking

Sucrose is commercially available as sugar, table sugar, granulated sugar, confectioner’s sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar (demerara, muscovado, turbinado), rock candy, liquid sucrose (sucrose syrup).

Physical Properties

  • A white, crystalline substance with a pleasant syrupy flavor and sweet taste [36]; it is more sweet than glucose and less sweet than fructose [38].
  • Low hygroscopicity – at 60% relative humidity it absorbs only 0.04% water [36,39-p.86].
  • Solubility in water at 77 °F (25° C) = 205 g/100 mL and at at 100° C about 480 g/100 mL [40,42,43-p.107;8-p.327]; poorly soluble in ethanol [44].
  • Melting point is 320-378° F (160-192° C); melting point rises with the rate of heating [45,50].
  • The decomposition of sucrose to glucose and fructose can start at 302° F (150° C) [50]. Dry sucrose in a neutral environment (pH ~7) is pretty stable at temperatures below the melting point [46-p.56].
  • Sucrose is a non-reducing sugar [47], but it can take part in the Maillard browning reaction because it can partially break to glucose and fructose during cooking [48].
  • Caramelization of sucrose starts at 160° C (320° F) [49].

Related Nutrients

  1. What is sucrose? Function, structure and chemical equation
  2. Calculation of the energy content of foods ─ energy conversion factors  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  3. Elia M et al, 2007, Energy values of macronutrients and specific carbohydrates in foods  European Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  4. Westman EC, 2002, Is dietary carbohydrate essential for human nutrition?  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  5. List of foods high in sucrose  US Department of Agriculture
  6. In adults, what is the association between intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and body weight?  USDA Nutrition Evidence Library
  7. Caramel  HYFOMA
  8. Mitchell, H., 2006, Sweeteners and Sugar Alternatives in Food Technology
  9. Sucrase Encyclopaedia Britannica
  10. Laxative threshold of sugar alcohol erythritol in human subjects  ScienceDirect
  11. Rumessen JJ et al, 1986, Absorption capacity of fructose in healthy adults. Comparison with sucrose and its constituent monosaccharides  Gut
  12. Smecuol E et al, 1997, Gastrointestinal permeability in celiac disease  PubMed
  13. Disaccharidase deficiency in pediatric patients with celiac disease and intact villi  PubMed
  14. Krogg-Mikkelsen et al, 2011, The effects of L-arabinose on intestinal sucrase activity: dose-response studies in vitro and in humans  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  15. Shak PK et al, 1993, Modification in sucrose tolerance test with acarbose, guargum and their combination in patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes  PubMed
  16. Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (CSID) Parent Support Group
  17. Nichols BL et al, 2002, The maltase-glucoamylase gene: Common ancestry to sucrase-isomaltase with complementary starch digestion activities  PNAS
  18. Select Committee on GRAS Substances (SCOGS) Opinion: Sucrose  US Food and Drug Administration
  19. Belmont JW et al, 2002, Congenital sucrase-isomaltase deficiency presenting with failure to thrive, hypercalcemia, and nephrocalcinosis  PubMed Central
  20. 2008, Congenital sucrase-isomaltase deficiency  Genetic Home Reference
  21. Sugars, Starches & Cellulose Products  University of California, Riverside
  22. SCOGS (Select Committee on GRAS Substances)  US Food and Drug Administration
  23. Utreja D et al, 2010, A study of influence of sugars on the modulations of dental plaque pH in children with rampant caries, moderate caries and no caries  Journal of Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry
  24. Peterson DB et al, 1986, Sucrose in the diet of diabetic patients–just another carbohydrate  PubMed
  25. Maersk M et al, 2012, Sucrose-sweetened beverages increase fat storage in the liver, muscle, and visceral fat depot: a 6-mo randomized intervention study  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  26. Sugars and Sweeteners  Boston University
  27. Malerbi DA et al, 1996, Metabolic effects of dietary sucrose and fructose in type II diabetic subjects  PubMed
  28. International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  29. Your guide to lowering your cholesterol with TLC  National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
  30. Husband AC et al, 2010, The effectiveness of glucose, sucrose, and fructose in treating hypoglycemia in children with type 1 diabetes  PubMed
  31. Acarbose
  32. Richard JL et al, 1988, Effect of acarbose on glucose and insulin response to sucrose load in reactive hypoglycemia  PubMed
  33. Visvanathan R et al, 2005, The effects of drinks made from simple sugars on blood pressure in healthy older people  PubMed
  34. 2007, Glucose-galactose malabsorption  Genetics Home Reference
  35. Wang D et al, 2002, Glucose Transporter Type 1 Deficiency Syndrome  National Center for Biotechnology Information
  36. White sugar  Transport-Informations Service (TIS)
  37. Paes Leme AF et al, 2006, The Role of Sucrose in Cariogenic Dental Biofilm Formation—New Insight  PubMed Central
  38. White JS, 2008, Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain’t  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  39. Wrolstad RE, 2011, Food Carbohydrate Chemistry
  40. Martinez I, Properties of some particular solutions  Universidad Politetnica de Madrid
  41. Te Morenga L eta al, 2013, Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies  BMJ
  42. Sucrose  Inchem
  43. Mathlouthi M, Reiser P, 1995,  Sucrose, Properties and Applications
  44. Sucrose  PubChem
  45. Hurtta M et al, 2004. Melting behaviour of D-sucrose, D-glucose and D-fructose  Aalto-yliopisto Kirjasto
  46. Penington NL, Baker CW, 1990 Sugar: User’s Guide To Sucrose
  47. Reducing and nonreducing sugars  AUS-e-tute
  48. The Maillard Reaction Application to Confectionery Products  Cite Seer X
  49. Caramelization  Minnesota State University, Moorhead
  50. Crystals in hard candies  Agricultural Journal
  51. Malik VS et al, 2012, Sweeteners and Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes: The Role of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages  PubMed

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