It's technically a "rare" sugar. But more importantly, is it healthy?
Allulose is a new lower-calorie sugar that came out in 2015, and just received FDA approval. It’s found naturally in small amounts of some foods (like wheat, and raisins), but is 70% as sweet as sugar and has about ten percent of the calories. It piqued our curiosity after we heard low-carb dieters and people with diabetes touting that allulose had “no effect on blood sugar,” is “100% natural,” and “performs the same way as sugar in recipes.”
Call us skeptical, but it sounds a little too good to be true—so what’s the deal with allulose? Is it an artificial sugar that should be avoided, or is allulose a healthy sugar sub we should all be buying? I turned to nutritionist and dietitian Lisa Valente, MS, RD, to find out.
Is Allulose an Artificial Sweetener?
No. allulose is classified as a “rare sugar,” because it’s naturally found in small amounts in a few foods—including figs, raisins, molasses, and maple syrup. Like glucose and fructose—the two components that make up sucrose, or table sugar,—it’s a "monosaccharide," or simple sugar.
Artificial sweeteners are different. For example sucralose, which is sold under the name Splenda, is made by chemically altering sucrose so that it doesn't break down when ingested—so it doesn't have any nutrition and doesn't contribute any calories. The process also makes it hundreds of times sweeter.
Aspartame (sold as Equal or NurtraSweet) and saccharine (sold as Sweet n’ Low) are similarly non-nutritive, meaning that they're not actually foods, as they provide no actual nutrition. But allulose, which is also known as psicose, is a different type of sugar, so it can actually be digested and does provide calories—just not many.
Interestingly enough, a common brand of allulose called Dolcia Prima is made by Tate & Lyle, the same manufacturers who developed Splenda.
According to the Tate & Lyle’s website, allulose “offers the uncompromised taste and mouthfeel of sugar, without all the calories or glycemic impact." Allulose is 70 percent as sweet as regular sugar, and reportedly non-glycemic (meaning it won’t affect your blood sugar in the same way.)
Is Allulose Healthy or Safe?
Though artificial sweeteners don’t have any calories, we don't recommend them. This is because, even though they're approved by the FDA, they have troubling links to poor gut health, chronic diseases, and even weight gain. And because artificial sweeteners are typically hundreds of times sweeter, they can dramatically alter your taste buds so that when you do consume real sugar, you need a lot more to actually taste it.
But allulose is both less sweet, and is an actual, digestible sugar. So it may not have those problems. But at the moment, unfortunately, we're not sure.
Because allulose is new to the sweetener scene, there’s very little long-term research that’s been done (and what has been done is mostly short term animal studies or studies on very small groups of people.) However, the research that’s been conducted seems promising—especially in regards to weight loss and blood sugar management.
One study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2017, found rats who drank allulose syrup for 10 weeks gained less weight, had less body fat, and had lower blood glucose and insulin levels than rats who were given the same amount of high-fructose corn syrup.
Another 20-person study also found that consuming allulose lowered subjects’ blood sugar and insulin levels, meaning that this could be a suitable sugar alternative for people with diabetes.
Lisa Valente, MS, RD, says, “For people with diabetes, this sounds like a promising alternative to sugar, especially compared to other options on the market. However, it's still a sweetener. That means you would likely be using it to bake cookies or cake or add a sweet taste to coffee or yogurt. I would still advise moderation and choosing whole foods—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins and fats—more often.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies allulose as “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, and recently ruled that allulose would be excluded from total and added sugar counts on nutrition labels.
The Bottom Line
We’re cautiously optimistic about allulose. Though we wouldn’t recommend using it as a weight loss or diabetes management tool since it’s still a sweetener, using it in moderation seems safe. Since it’s a little less sweet than granulated sugar, and has way fewer calories, you’d actually be making a healthier choice by using 1:1 it in recipes that call for sugar. As more research comes out, we’ll be sure to keep you posted with the latest information.