If you’ve been dreaming of a world where eating sweets doesn’t wreak havoc on your body, you may get your wish. The health and nutrition fields have been abuzz about allulose, the latest low-calorie sugar substitute to hit the market. Also called by its chemical name psicose, allulose — produced by Tate & Lyle, the company that created Splenda — is labeled a rare sugar, since it is found naturally in small quantities and in a limited number of foods, including wheat, jackfruit, figs, and raisins, as well as caramel sauce, maple syrup, and brown sugar.
According to the nonprofit organization The Calorie Council, allulose looks, bakes, and tastes like real sugar without making blood sugar levels spike. And although it has 90 percent fewer calories than regular sugar, it doesn’t have an artificial aftertaste like other substitutes.
Allulose is a simple sugar (monosaccharide), unlike table sugar (otherwise known as sucrose), which is a disaccharide comprising two sugar molecules, glucose and fructose. While allulose has the same chemical formula as the traditional white stuff (except that its hydrogen and oxygen atoms are arranged differently), it is 70 percent as sweet as sucrose. And even though allulose is chemically made, it is a naturally occurring sugar, so it delivers a clean taste.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has designated allulose a food ingredient that is “generally recognized as safe," though it is currently not permitted for use in Europe.
Is allulose healthy?
It’s been well documented that low-calorie or no-calorie sweeteners (such as saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose) may not be the healthiest substitutes for sugar. In 2017, after reviewing 37 studies — seven of which were randomized controlled clinical trials lasting an average of six months, while the rest occurred over a 10-year period — researchers from Canada found that artificial sweeteners were linked to an increased risk of weight gain and obesity, along with cardiovascular conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
Also, in a 2014 article published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A: Current Issues, study authors discovered that sucralose, as well as the artificially produced food fillers maltodextrin and glucose, were shown to suppress the good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, which could lead to weight gain and obesity.
However, the initial research on allulose is encouraging.
“Although the sample sizes have been very small in studies conducted on humans allulose appears to lower blood glucose and insulin levels, which may be promising to those with diabetes,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet: Diet Just 2 Days a Week and Dodge Type 2 Diabetes. “Animal studies also suggest it may have a positive impact on body composition, helping to reduce visceral ‘belly fat.’ ”
In fact, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Study found that rats who drank water with a syrup containing allulose and other rare sugars for 10 weeks gained less weight, had less abdominal fat, and had lower blood glucose and insulin levels than rats who were given water mixed with high-fructose corn syrup.
Palinski-Wade explains that even though allulose is absorbed into the blood, the majority of it is excreted in the urine without being used as fuel, which is why it does not have seem to raise blood sugar or insulin levels. “It also resists fermentation in the gut, so it is unlikely to cause gas or bloating like some sugar alternatives,” she adds.
And so far, researchers have not recorded any negative side effects. “This compound appears to be safe and unlikely to cause harm in moderate consumption,” says Palinski-Wade. “However, there is always a risk for individual sensitivities when it comes to any food or additive.”
Allulose: The Bottom Line
The makers of allulose plan to swap this low-cal sweetener for sugar in a variety of foods, including beverages, desserts, candies, salad dressings, jams and jellies, and sweet sauces and syrups. According to a 2017 article published by Find Market Research, allulose is “expected to observe robust growth,” both domestically and internationally, through 2025.
While Palinski-Wade remains hopeful about this product, she adds that further medical research is necessary in order to determine if allulose is the answer to every sugar-craver’s prayers. “And although allulose appears safe and provides minimal calories while having a similar taste and texture to sugar, it’s important to keep in mind that no diet should contain large amounts of added sweetener — caloric or not,” she concludes.