Sorry, Stevia, but there's a new natural sweetener in town

By Karla Walsh
February 26, 2020
Larry Washburn/Getty

Few things rival the length of your to-do list except for the list of "better-for-you" sweeteners and low-calorie sugar alternatives that seem to keep growing...and growing...and growing.

The latest sweet stuff to score a spot on this lineup? Allulose, which—get this—is technically a sugar. Unlike the villainized white stuff, however, allulose is touted for its naturally lower calorie content and for having fewer associated health concerns than regular sugar. (BTW, this is how your body physically responds to sugar.)

But, is allulose really that sweet? And is it truly healthy? Here, dietitians share everything you need to know about allulose.

What is allulose, exactly?

Allulose is a naturally occurring sugar found in raisins, dried figs, molasses, and brown sugar. It appears in such small amounts that it's considered a "rare" sugar, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Also known as D-psiscoe, allulose is technically a monosaccharide (or simple sugar) and is made up of a single sugar molecule just like better-known glucose (aka blood sugar) and fructose (found in honey, fruit, etc.). Unlike these regular sugars, allulose has 90-percent fewer calories and clocks in at 0.4 calories per gram compared to sugar's four calories per gram, according to the FDA. It also "adds sweetness without spiking blood sugar," says Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., C.D.N., CEO of the private nutrition practice NY Nutrition Group in the New York City metro area. (More on all that, below.)

Since it's extracted and manufactured from a plant—usually fermented corn—and then often added as a substitute for sugar, allulose needs to be reviewed and regulated by the government, similar to other additives (such as chicory root). In 2012, the FDA added allulose to the list of foods "generally recognized as safe" (aka GRAS), meaning it could be sold in stores as a granulated sweetener and as an addition to other food products.

In April 2019, the FDA officially allowed allulose to be excluded from total and added sugar counts on processed food nutrition labels, since it's so low in calories (0.4 per gram). Why? Allulose isn't listed in 'total sugar' or 'added sugar' grams on food and beverage labels because it's essentially excreted intact (like insoluble fiber) and doesn't cause any significant change in blood sugar levels, says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., founder of Nutrition Starring You and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. Because allulose's "physiological impacts (on dental cavities, blood glucose and insulin levels, and caloric content to the diet)" are different from that of other types of sugar, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC). Translation: Allulose doesn't really act like sugar in your body, so it doesn't have to be counted as one.

If you're keto, head's up: Allulose is technically included in total carbohydrates, but since its effects on your body are basically negligible, it shouldn't really impact your net carbs or amount of carbs actually digested. If you're eating a food with allulose, and you want to be sure of your net carb count, use this calculator recommended by Harris-Pincus.

Allulose is similar to the sweetness of erythritol (a zero-calorie sugar alcohol) but with a flavor closer to regular sugar, explains Rachel Fine, R.D., registered dietitian and owner of the nutrition counseling firm To The Pointe Nutrition. It offers about 70 percent of the sweetness of regular sugar, according to a 2012 review, without an aftertaste commonly experienced from other low-calorie sweeteners like stevia. Because of this, many claim it's about as close as you can get to real sugar flavor. (Related: What You Need to Know About the Latest Alternative Sweeteners)

What are the benefits of allulose?

As mentioned earlier, allulose is much lower in calories than regular sugar and it doesn't add to net carbs, making it an A+ option for people on the keto diet (who need to stick to low-sugar fruits as well.)

But keto-ers aren't the only ones who might benefit from swapping regular sugar and sweeteners for allulose. People with diabetes are also turning to allulose because it doesn't increase blood glucose or trigger insulin release the way that sugar consumption does, says Fine.

In fact, a number of animal studies have found allulose to lower blood sugar, increase insulin sensitivity, and decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes. Plus, early human research also suggests that allulose may help with blood sugar regulation. "Allulose is low in calories because it's not metabolized. In studies where allulose was consumed alone, it did not raise blood glucose or blood insulin levels in healthy individuals or when consumed by people with type 2 diabetes," says Harris-Pincus.

In a small study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, allulose helped lower blood sugar levels in 20 healthy participants after eating. "Blood sugar control is vital for sustainable energy," meaning you can steer clear of the sugar highs and lows that can lead to feelings of fatigue, says Fine.

Meanwhile, in a 2018 study, overweight participants who were given allulose (vs. sucrose, regular white sugar) experienced a decrease in body fat percentage and body fat mass. Dentists are also fond of the fact that allulose doesn't generate growth of cavity-causing bacteria, says Harris-Pincus. (Discover five weird ways your teeth can impact your health.)

But just because allulose comes from plants and only has about 0.4 calories per gram doesn't mean you should start adding scoop after scoop to your morning coffee (which, btw, you shouldn't go overboard with either).

Are there any downsides to allulose?

If used in excess, sugar substitutes like allulose "might also make you constantly crave more sweet things—and lose touch with your tolerance for less sweet foods," says Fine. "The more you use these sweeteners, the more you tend to dislike less-sweet foods like fruits and veggies."

Similar to sugar alcohols, the human body is unable to digest allulose. So, it's possible that consuming allulose can lead to tummy troubles (think: gas, bloating, and diarrhea), especially in those with a sensitive gut. That said, "some people find that allulose causes less stomach discomfort when compared to sugar alcohols," says Fine. "But this may be dependent on the individual." (Related: Artificial Sweeteners vs. Sugar, Which is Healthier?)

Allulose appears to be kinder to your GI tract, although more research is needed—especially on humans. A 30-person study in the journal Nutrients found that a 150-pound woman would have to eat 27 grams (or about 7 teaspoons) at one time before it would likely make her insides unhappy. For perspective, one Quest protein bar has about 11g allulose per bar.

Where can you find allulose?

Sold in many larger health food markets and supermarkets, allulose can often be found in bags or boxes in the baking aisle. You can buy it as a granulated sweetener ($9 for 11 oz, amazon.com) and use it cup-for-cup like sugar—just expect the results to be slightly less sweet.

"You'll need more allulose to achieve the same level of sweetness compared to intense sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit," says Harris-Pincus.

Certain brands are using it as a lower-carb sweetener option in products such as yogurt, fruit spreads, syrups, gum, and cereal (like the high-protein, celeb-loved Magic Spoon). It can also be found in products like Good Dee's Chocolate Chips ($12 for 9 oz, amazon.com) and Quest HERO Protein Bars ($28 for 12, amazon.com).

A good bet: Aim for 6g or less of allulose for a stomach-safe dose, says Harris-Pincus.

So, is allulose healthy?

The average American eats a hefty amount of excess sugar—to the tune of six cups per week, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. Plus, too many white carbs (which usually contain higher amounts of sugars) can lead to everything from fatty liver disease to type 2 diabetes, according to experts at Harvard Medical School.

But still, should you be swapping sugar for allulose?

The jury is still out, say the experts. So far, no human studies have demonstrated any negative health impacts or risks of consuming allulose, says Moskovitz. But for many of these newer sweetener options, "there simply isn't enough evidence that it's better than regular sugar for health," adds Fine. (FYI: Most current studies on allulose are either small or performed on animals.)

While sweeteners like allulose may show promise for those who have a sweet tooth but are also carb-counting, watching their weight, or blood-sugar conscious, "the best approach is to try other ingredients that offer sweet qualities," says Moskovitz. "Cinnamon, vanilla extract, fresh fruit, and cocoa powder can go a long way to add flavor to your beverages, foods and baked goods without the possibility of the unknown. If you slowly wean yourself off super sweet-tasting foods, you may find that you don't need foods to taste very sugary to enjoy them." (Need some inspo? Here's are examples of how people manage their daily sugar intake.)

All added sweeteners (including monk fruit, stevia, and allulose) will throw off your natural sweet sensors. If you're vigilant about blood sugar for medical reasons, then allulose can be a beneficial alternative to sweeteners like table sugar, honey, or syrup. (Related: Why a Low-Sugar or Sugar-Free Diet Could Be a Really Bad Idea)

"However, in moderation, those regular sweeteners are perfectly safe for most healthy individuals," says Moskovitz. "No matter what, definitely consume allulose in moderation if you decide to do so."

And, as always, it's a good idea to consult an expert like a physician (especially if you're concerned with blood sugar levels because, of say, diabetes) and/or a nutritionist if you're unsure.

Advertisement

Comments

Be the first to comment!