Well, there’s a new kid on the block of alternative sweeteners that may just offer the best of both worlds…and it’s called allulose. In fact, if you’re tapped into the health food scene, you may have noticed that this additive is starting to pop up in more and more better-for-you products. But what is allulose and what does the research tell us about its health benefits (or concerns)?
What is allulose?
Allulose, pronounced a·lyoo·lows, also referred to as D-psicose, is a naturally occurring sugar. It is a monosaccharide, or the simplest form of sugar. This is one of its first differences from the cane sugar (or sucrose) that we all know and love, as table sugar is a disaccharide, or molecule of two monosaccharides, of glucose and fructose linked together. Interestingly, allulose has the same chemical makeup as fructose but in a different arrangement. This difference alters how the body metabolizes allulose compared to how it normally would fructose.
Allulose is often categorized as a “rare” sugar as it is only found naturally in a couple of foods including figs, molasses, raisins, wheat, and maple sugar. “It’s about 70 percent as sweet as sugar and has a similar taste profile to sugar without the bitter aftertaste associated with some other alternative sweeteners,” explains Amy Davis, RD, LDN, registered dietitian at FRESH Communications. It offers approximately one tenth of the calories of cane sugar, so around 0.4 calories per gram compared to the 4 calories per gram table sugar provides.
“Allulose was first discovered in the 1940s but has only been commercially available in granulated and liquid form since 2015,” Davis says. And while allulose can be derived from naturally occurring sources, food manufacturers have recently discovered how to create this substitute by enzymatically converting fructose to allulose from sources like corn.
Is allulose better than other sweeteners?
But what does the research have to say about the benefits (or downsides) of this emerging alternative?
First off, how allulose is metabolized has major impacts on its blood sugar response. Davis explains that it “has no effect on blood sugar or insulin levels.” This is because most of it is absorbed by the small intestine to then be excreted from the body by the kidneys “without being used for energy,” says Davis. The remainder leaves the body by way of the large intestine with the same result.
Research backs up this benefit. One small human study actually linked allulose intake to reduced blood sugar levels, especially after eating, as well as reduced insulin needs. Several animal studies have also found this benefit, including this 2021 research article and this 2017 study.
Another benefit of this sugar swap is that it effectively contributes no meaningful calories, despite the fact that it does technically contain calories, unlike many other artificial sweeteners. Interestingly, evidence points to this sweetener being linked to decreases in body fat and body mass index in both humans and animals. While this could be due to calories alone, one study found that allulose may actually enhance energy and fat metabolism in the body. Plus, some studies, like this one from 2020, have even alluded to it being protective of the liver.
Also, because allulose isn’t metabolized like normal carbohydrate-containing foods, it doesn’t contribute to bacteria growth in the mouth that’s associated with cavity formation. And yet another added bonus of this sweetener is that consumers generally love the taste as it’s most similar to that of sugar compared to all other alternative options.
But is allulose safe?
In terms of research that raises red flags, there really isn’t much—especially compared to other sugar swap-outs. One 2022 review published in the British Journal of Nutrition did find that while the body doesn’t really absorb the energy provided by allulose, certain harmful bacteria in the body, including Klebsiella pneumonia, may be able to utilize it for food. This means that if one were to eat excessive amounts of this sweetener, it could lead to an overgrowth of these opportunistic bacteria that may result in an infection.
Otherwise, “an upper daily limit has not yet been established, and some individuals have reported gastrointestinal upset, including nausea, gas, and bloating, when consumed in larger amounts,” says Davis.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed allulose to be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) to consume and is even working on labeling regulations for it. Use of allulose is also “approved in Singapore and several other countries,” Davis says. “However, it is not yet approved in Canada and Europe since they consider it a novel food, meaning it hasn’t been available long enough for them to make a decision.”
Overall, “no adverse effects are currently associated with allulose, unlike some other sweetener substitutes. However, allulose is still a new sweetener and requires more research,” Davis says.
Should you use allulose at home?
Overall, Davis says, “Allulose can be a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth without all the calories, sugar, and negative side effects of too much sugar consumption.” Given that allulose is the least controversial of its peers, this alternative may be the next big wellness trend in coming years—we’ll just have to wait and see.
If you want to give it a try, you can find allulose at some, but not all, grocery stores and online in either powder or liquid form. Because it’s not found in huge amounts naturally, most options for purchase will be artificially created—though that doesn’t change how it tastes or is absorbed by the body. However, allulose will be a bit more pricey than table sugar and even many other sugar substitutes on the market because of this process.
Once you have your hands on this buzzy sweetener, it can be added to baked goods, beverages, sprinkled over grapefruit, or however else you use added sugar in your daily life. Lots of products sweetened with allulose are also hitting the market, from Magic Spoon cereal and Catalina Crunch snacks to Chobani yogurts and SmartSweets candies.
Do keep in mind, however, that the more sweet foods you eat (regardless of how they’re sweetened) the more you’ll crave them, even if their sweetened with allulose. “As with any sweetener, moderation is key,” Davis says. “While it does seem like a promising new sweetener, it’s always best to satisfy a sweet tooth with naturally occurring sugar from nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables,” Davis says.