By Gretchen Lidicker
We all know that sugar won’t be winning any health awards any time soon. In fact, it feels like the more we learn about sugar, the worse sugar seems to be. That’s why the idea of a healthy sugar alternative is such an attractive one — and why, every few years, a new sugar substitute takes the health and wellness world by storm. The alternative sweetener that’s trending right now? Allulose.
You can find it in soft drinks and salad dressings, ice cream, yogurt, and bakery products. It’s used as a thickening and stabilizing agent in products like bread and cakes. It’s popular with the keto crowd because it’s low-carb and has zero impact on blood sugar. And bakers love it because it’s easy to substitute (1:1) for regular sugar.
But what is allulose exactly? Are there any side effects? What are the benefits? Keep reading to find out.
What Is Allulose?
This monosaccharide, or simple sugar, is found naturally in very small amounts in foods like wheat, figs, corn, and raisins. It looks like sugar and tastes like sugar — really — but it doesn’t cause your blood sugar to spike and it contains just .4 calories per gram. That’s about 90 percent less than sugar, a stat that has contributed to its buzz.
You’ll find it, like sugar, in most grocery stores, health food stores, and online. It doesn’t come cheap, though: A 12-ounce bag will cost around $10 dollars.
Major brands include Dolcia Prima, ASTRAEA Allulose, and Color Me Keto Allulose. Most are made from corn, so if you’re making an effort to avoid GMO foods, look for a non-GMO label on brands like Dolcia Prima.
Is Allulose Safe?
If you’re thinking this sugar substitute sounds too good to be true, you’re not the only one. Officially, the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) classifies allulose as a “generally regarded as safe” food. On the other hand, it has yet to earn approval in the European Union. And, while there aren’t any known side effects, there also haven’t been any long-term studies on humans.
Here’s what we do know: Research has shown that about 70 percent of d-allulose is absorbed in the GI tract (the rest is eliminated without being digested). Unlike other artificial sugars, it is not fermented in the gut, which means that issues like gas and bloating are not as much as a concern with d-allulose.
Still, says Tiffany Jackson, a naturopathic doctor and founder of EcoHealth Wellness Center, you can still have GI symptoms if you consume too much. “What I tell my patients is that if you consume too much you can get nauseated and have diarrhea,” says Jackson. According to her, the upper limit is 0.4 grams per kg of body weight per day. “That’s about 28 grams or 2 tablespoons a day for a 150 pound person,” she continues.
And while that might seem like a lot, common allulose-contining foods — like KNOW Better Cookies — contain 28 grams of allulose, which means you hit your recommended daily limit with just one cookie.
What Are the Health Benefits of Allulose?
The obvious pros of allulose are that it’s basically calorie free and has no impact on blood sugar, making it a good choice for those with diabetes. But it may have additional benefits. “Allulose can actually improve your glucose sensitivity, help you burn fat, and there are studies showing that it may help protect the liver,” Jackson explains.
One study published in 2010 showed that consuming allulose with a meal led to lower blood sugar levels after the meal, reducing the negative effect on insulin sensitivity. Another study found that allulose supplementation in overweight participants decreased body fat (both overall mass and percentage).
The Bottom Line
Allulose has some major advantages over traditional sources of sugar and even other sugar substitutes. But, Jackson is still a fan of getting sugar from whole fruits and small amounts of honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar, especially for people with gut issues like bloating, IBS, or constipation. “We just just don’t know what effects it might have on the gut microbiome.”
As with most things, introduce allulose slowly and in small amounts. And, one final thing to look out is falling into the “healthy” junk food trap. “Oftentimes, people start adding these sweeteners to junk food that has no nutritional value,” says Dr. Jackson. In other words, the healthy benefits of allulose aren’t an excuse to start eating cookies all the time, while neglecting fresh fruits and vegetables, fiber, and healthy fats.