Medically reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola, MD, PhD
Sucrose intolerance refers to an inability to digest sucrose or table sugar. Sucrose is present in most substances we consume daily, like cane sugar, maple syrup, fruits, and vegetables.
Sucrose is broken down in our body by an enzyme named sucrase-isomaltase. This enzyme is present on the surface of small intestine cells. It breaks down sucrose molecules so they can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
As per the study, “Theories behind the effect of starch and sucrose-reduced diets on gastrointestinal symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome,” published in Mold Med Rep, the sucrase-isomaltase enzyme is responsible for the sucrose-related issues. Since in the deficiency or absence of this enzyme, sucrose is not broken down into simple forms leading to symptoms like gas, bloating, and discomfort.
Sucrose intolerance was believed to be a rare condition. However, sucrose intolerance has established that a significant population is affected. Also, sucrose intolerance may be detected late, even during adulthood. As per the study, “A Dietary Intervention with Reduction of Starch and Sucrose Leads to Reduced Gastrointestinal and Extra-Intestinal Symptoms in IBS Patients,” published in the Nutrients journal, sucrose intolerance accounts for the chronic digestive problems attributed to idiopathic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.
The inability to digest sucrose can be attributed to genetics. However, infection and inflammation can also give rise to sucrose intolerance. In such situations, treating the disease or inflammation can help replenish the enzyme levels in the body.
How is Sucrose Intolerance Diagnosed?
Sucrose intolerance can be suspected from the symptoms that people experience. Moreover, a 13-carbon breath test is ordered to confirm the diagnosis. During this test, a solution containing a modified form of sucrose is consumed and breathed out at 30 minutes, 60 minutes, and 90 minutes. The composition of the exhaled air is analyzed. This non-invasive test helps quantify the number of enzymes in the body.
The presence of the enzyme can be confirmed by taking a small intestine biopsy during an endoscopy. Endoscopy helps measure the enzyme activity for sucrase-isomaltase and other digestive enzymes. The use of endoscopy as a diagnostic approach should be used if more than one good intolerance is suspected.
Sucrose Intolerance Natural Remedies
Avoid food items that are rich in sucrose
The most common source of sucrose is the table sugar that is added to the food while cooking or baking. In addition, processed food items like sweetened drinks, canned fruits, and pasta sauces are rich in sucrose. Sucrose is also present in fruits and vegetables.
Include food items that are low in sucrose in your diet
Certain food items that have low quantities of sucrose are:
- Certain fruits like kiwi, cherries, watermelon, grapes, avocado, and raspberries.
- Vegetables are usually low in sucrose. However, legumes like lentils, green peas, and soybeans contain a higher quantity of sucrose.
- Milk with no added sugar and plain yogurt are low in sucrose.
- Food items rich in protein like eggs, meat, fish, and poultry contain little to no sucrose.
Try to use alternative sweeteners other than sugar.
Alternative forms of sugar are recommended to sweeten your food without aggravating your symptoms. A few examples of such artificial sweeteners are stevia, xylitol, erythritol, and saccharin.
In case you are not very sensitive to sucrose, you can use natural products like honey, maple syrup, molasses, coconut sugar, brown rice sugar, banana puree, or dates. In case you can not tolerate any added sugar, cinnamon can help add flavor to your food.
Try to add some food items containing sucrose
Try to add food items that contain a small amount of sucrose. Your symptoms should improve significantly over time, especially after having a low-sugar diet. If you can tolerate small quantities of sucrose, you may consider adding more sugar to your diet. Food items should be reintroduced under the guidance of your doctor. If they advise against it, then you should not increase your sugar intake.
How Can Sucrose Intolerance be Differentiated from Other Gastrointestinal Disorders?
Many individuals lack the enzyme sucrase, which is responsible for the digestion of sucrose. As a result, an individual with sucrose intolerance develops gastrointestinal symptoms after eating sucrose. However, these symptoms are usually mild. In case of the absence of the enzyme, the undigested food items pass through the small intestine and colon – the bacteria residing in the colon ferment the sugars leading to the onset of abdominal discomfort. In addition, the undigested food items withdraw water from the colon wall leading to watery diarrhea.
Symptoms of sucrose intolerance do not occur in infants until they start ingesting sucrose. Likewise, breastfeeding infants may not show signs till a milk-based formula is introduced into their diet. Chronic abdominal pain, watery diarrhea, and failure to thrive are some common symptoms of sucrose intolerance. Additionally, symptoms like abdominal distension, irritability, excoriated marks in the buttocks, vomiting, and diaper rash are common in the pediatric population. Hospitalization may be required in infants who develop dehydration, malnutrition, muscle wasting, and weakness symptoms.
What Precautions Should be Taken by People Who Suffer from Sucrose Intolerance?
There is no one-size-fits-all diet for people who suffer from sucrose intolerance. One must keep food diaries or food logs to plan the day’s diet. Not only that, all the beverages and food items consumed should be recorded. Individuals who have severe symptoms may require dietary intervention. Sucrose and starch may need to be completely eliminated from the diet in some cases. Working with an experienced dietician can help you plan your diet.
Is Eating Low Sucrose or Sucrose-Free Diet Healthy?
Although eating low sucrose or sucrose-free diet is known to be healthy, sucrose is found in most of the food items we consume daily. However, having a healthy lifestyle refers to managing stress levels, taking adequate rest, and leading an active lifestyle. Therefore, it is not mandatory to embark on sucrose restriction unnecessarily without consulting a doctor.
Sucrose intolerance associated with irritable bowel syndrome usually refers to unwanted fermentation in the large intestine. Fermentation primarily occurs due to sucrose not being broken down properly in the small intestine. Improperly broken down sucrose usually leads to uncomfortable symptoms like gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort. However, it is better to consult a doctor before taking any precautions.
ID Digital. (2020a, May 8). Gas & bloat. Retrieved June 16, 2022, from https://gastroenterologistnewyork.com/conditions/gas-bloat/
ID Digital. (2020b, July 8). Irritable bowel syndrome. Retrieved June 16, 2022, from https://gastroenterologistnewyork.com/conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/
Ohlsson, B. (2021). Theories behind the effect of starch‑ and sucrose‑reduced diets on gastrointestinal symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome (Review). Molecular Medicine Reports, 24(4). https://doi.org/10.3892/mmr.2021.12372
Nilholm, C., Roth, B., & Ohlsson, B. (2019). Dietary intervention with a reduction of starch and sucrose leads to reduced gastrointestinal and extra-intestinal symptoms in IBS patients. Nutrients, 11(7), 1662. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11071662