Is Allulose Healthy? We Asked a Registered Dietitian
What Is Allulose? Here’s Everything You Need to Know About the Alternative Sugar Everyone Is Raving About
There’s been a surge of natural sweeteners that have hit the market in recent years—stevia, monk-fruit extract, erythritol, and more—thanks to an ever-growing number of concerns about our excessive sugar consumption and what it’s doing to our health. (The average American eats 152 pounds of sugar every year!) One of the buzziest new alternatives is allulose, which is a rare sugar that’s found in tiny amounts in plant foods like figs and raisins. That’s right, this alternative sugar is actually a real sugar—not a sugar alcohol—that doesn’t impact your blood sugar like the white stuff.
Sound too good to be true? We get it. We had questions, too. To help you better understand this newest sweetener on the block, here’s everything you need to know about allulose, what the experts say about its benefits and drawbacks, and how you can start incorporating it into your diet.
What is allulose and where does it come from?
Allulose is a low-calorie sugar alternative that’s about 70 percent as sweet as cane sugar, and there’s a good chance you’ve already tasted it, says dietitian Ashley Koff, RD. “It’s naturally occurring in small amounts in wheat, fruits like raisins and dried figs, and in other sweet foods such as molasses and maple syrup,” she says. It can also be manufactured from corn, using a similar process to the one used to make erythritol.
While allulose is found in some fruits, don’t be misled by manufacturers claiming their product is made from fruit, adds Koff: “There’s such a tiny amount of allulose in figs, raisins, and jackfruit that getting enough of it from these fruits isn’t possible for food manufacturers,” she says, “which is why the allulose you’re seeing in a growing number of sugar-free foods—everything from salad dressings and soft drinks to yogurt and chocolate—comes from corn.”
And here’s what is truly amazing about this natural sweetener: Even though allulose has a chemical structure that’s similar to other sugars, the human body doesn’t have the enzymes to break it down after eating it. So, instead of getting metabolized like most foods, we get all the benefits of how good it tastes and then simply eliminate it.
How is this possible? It all has to do with the way the body digests allulose, explains clinical nutritionist Jen Fugo, MS, CNS, LD.
Here’s what happens when you eat allulose
While simple sugars and even fructose (the sugar in fruit) are metabolized quickly and give us instant energy (read: calories!), allulose can’t be fully broken down by the body’s digestive enzymes, explains Fugo. In fact, it passes through your digestive tract largely intact.
When allulose makes its way through your digestive tract, approximately 70% of it is absorbed in your small intestine, passes into your bloodstream, and is then eliminated intact via your urine, according to the FDA. As for the other 30% that’s not absorbed in the small intestine, it’s transported to the large intestine where it is not fermented—and is also excreted intact. “This means that in addition to absorbing very few calories from allulose, it’s also less likely to interfere with your microbiome or make you gassy, and it doesn’t impact your blood sugar,” she says. In fact, a growing body of research shows allulose may be helpful for blood sugar regulation.
Even better, the fact that allulose isn’t as sweet as real sugar or other popular sugar alternatives means you’ll get your sweet fix without dialing up your sweet taste bud levels, adds Koff. “A lot of the other alternative sweeteners are so sweet, they exacerbate your desire for sugar,” she says. “I think of allulose like a taste bud intervention, because it can help you dial your sweet tooth threshold down!”
Finally, allulose has two unusual properties that no other sugar alternative possesses. According to a 2017 randomized controlled trial, allulose increased postprandial fat oxidation in healthy people. That’s research-speak for increasing fat-burning after a meal, which led the scientists to conclude that allulose “could be a novel sweetener to control and maintain healthy body weight, probably through enhanced energy metabolism.” And other animal and human trials suggest that eating allulose may support appetite reduction and healthy weight loss when included in your diet.
This isn’t to say that eating chocolate bars made with allulose is a substitute for a healthy weight loss regimen, but these early research findings are nonetheless remarkable in the larger context of nutrition science.
Why are we just hearing about this amazing ingredient now?
It’s important to note that despite its growing popularity, allulose isn’t actually new. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has labeled it Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) since 2012. However, what is new is that in 2019, the FDA said allulose could be excluded from total and added sugars counts on nutrition and supplements facts labels—around the same time the keto diet had become one of the hottest diet trends.
This is one of the reasons why we’re seeing it added to foods more than ever before, says Fugo. “People are more conscious of dialing back their sugar intake, and a lot of those people don’t like the taste or aftertaste of sugar alternatives like stevia and monk fruit,” she says. “The fact that allulose actually tastes like sugar, doesn’t leave an aftertaste, and even has a similar mouthfeel as real sugar is impressive.”
What are the health benefits—and downsides—of allulose?
There are a handful of obvious pros when it comes to this natural, very low-cal sweetener, says Fugo, starting with the fact that it’ll satisfy your sweet tooth minus the calories and carbohydrates. “Even better, because allulose doesn’t pack the same intensely sweet punch as sugar, you’ll likely be satisfied with much less than you would if you were eating something with sugar in it,” she says.
Then, there’s the research that suggests allulose has no impact on blood sugar, which makes it a great choice for the more than one in three Americans who have prediabetes (of whom a staggering 84% don’t even know they have it!). In fact, one study found that in those with prediabetes or diabetes, swapping allulose for sugar can help decrease blood sugar levels after eating by nearly 10 percent.
For those with frequent tummy troubles, allulose can be a great choice, says Koff. “Because allulose has low fermentability and is primarily eliminated in urine, it shouldn’t wreak havoc on a healthy gut and is likely better tolerated by those with digestive complaints,” she says. To wit: Research shows allulose has good digestive tolerance, and it’s also been shown to be low FODMAP, adds Koff.
Now, that’s not to say this is the right sweetener for everyone; some people have reported experiencing an upset stomach after eating allulose. If you’re sensitive to sugar alcohols, be on the lookout for gas, bloating, or other symptoms—especially if you eat a lot of allulose, says Fugo. “Everyone is different, and you have to find what works for you,” she adds. “That said, if you’re looking to be more conscious of your sugar intake but still want to indulge every once in a while, allulose is a great option.”
Here’s how to start using allulose as a healthy alternative to refined sugar
- You can easily substitute allulose for sugar in any recipe. Because granulated allulose has a similar taste, texture, and even cooking properties as sugar, you can go ahead and use it as an exact replacement for the white stuff. Just keep in mind allulose is about 70% as sweet as sugar, so you may need to add a little more to taste. (Some bakers recommend using 1 1/3 cups allulose to 1 cup of sugar.)
- Try chocolate sweetened with allulose. Whether you’re making your go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe or craving a square or two of good quality (and delicious!) chocolate, GoodSam’s no sugar added, non-GMO, certified vegan chocolate is an excellent choice. Sprinkle on top of ice cream, dip into almond butter, or add a handful of baking chips to your next banana bread. Just keep in mind that while the taste will wow you, the chocolate may not melt exactly like the stuff filled with sugar.
Expect to see a lot more allulose in the near future
Even if you’re not racing to your favorite shopping site to purchase granulated allulose as a sugar substitute for your favorite recipes, it’s very likely that you’ll start noticing a growing trend of manufacturers including allulose in their products as a healthy zero-carb alternative to sugar.
Up to this point, zero-sugar consumer packaged goods have mainly been niche products for people on the keto diet or people with diabetes. But refined cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are linked in research to a host of health problems, and consumer awareness of these issues is now at an all-time high. Now that the FDA has officially given the green light for allulose products to be labeled as zero-sugar, the conditions are perfect for this ingredient to go mainstream.