A few months back, I put Swerve under the proverbial microscope. This time I’m looking at a relative newcomer in the alternative sweetener field. Allulose is quickly growing in popularity, since it’s both naturally occurring and virtually identical to table sugar in taste and texture. Then there’s the claim of sidestepping many of the ill-health effects associated with many other sweeteners.
I know many of you are with me when I bring a sizable dose of skepticism to these kinds of bold proclamations. So, I did my own research, asking whether it’s truly the full-flavor, guilt-free choice many suggest it is. And, if it is (or if it comes close), I wondered, what are its best uses in the kitchen?
When it comes down to it, allulose isn’t all that unlike glucose or fructose. The three are all monosaccharides, the simplest form of carbohydrate. Like glucose and fructose, allulose is also naturally occurring—unlike the vast array of artificial sweeteners on the market today. Still, as we know, “natural” doesn’t always mean “healthy.”
Fructose, for example, is synonymous with fruit. Conventional wisdom teaches us that fruit is healthy, but Primal folks are well aware that increasing consumption of fructose is associated with a plethora of health risks from diabetes to cardiovascular disease. And considering allulose has virtually the same chemical makeup as fructose, that might raise some eyebrows.
But chemical legacies aside, there appear to be some key differences between allulose and its monosaccharide cousins. Unlike fructose and glucose, which are found in abundance in the foods we eat, allulose is a very rare sugar that’s hard to find in nature—popping up in only a few foods like wheat, figs, raisins and jackfruit.
Next, allulose (aka psicose) is an epimer of fructose. In essence, this means that while allulose has the same atomic makeup as fructose, it has a minor structural variation. This miniscule difference supposedly has far-reaching effects, however, with preliminary trials showing that around 70% of allulose is excreted in urine and that it has very low fermentability in the gut—meaning you’re less likely to experience gas, bloating, and digestive upset after eating it. (Those who react to other natural alternative sweeteners probably know what I’m talking about here.)
Because so little allulose is utilized by our bodies for energy, the caloric implications from consuming it are supposedly quite minor. While it has 70% the relative sweetness of sucrose (table sugar), it has only 0.3% of the energy. Marketers are calling allulose a “zero calorie” sweetener, and in this case they’re not stretching the truth too much in saying so.
In terms of manufacturing, however, allulose does share another similarity to fructose: it’s primarily produced from corn, along with several other plants. These days, much of the science surrounding allulose is focused on the most efficient enzymatic catalyst for converting fructose into psicose, in order to maximize extraction (and therefore profits).
The notion that a sweetener might have benefits beyond, well, sweetness is nothing new. Xylitol, for example, is a prebiotic that has been shown to balance blood sugar and lower cholesterol, while erythritol (the main sweetener in blends like Swerve) promotes healthy vascular function and good oral health.
Several studies show that allulose is beneficial for those suffering from type 2 diabetes. In a 2015 study, researchers fed diabetic rats with either water containing 5% allulose, or straight water as a control. Sixty weeks into the study, the diabetic rats fed allulose demonstrated “maintenance of blood glucose levels, decrease in body weight gain, and the control of postprandial hyperglycemia” compared to the control group. Significantly, insulin levels were also maintained in the allulose group, while pancreatic cells were preserved.
Other animal studies have produced similarly promising results, with trials showing that allulose administration helps to lower blood sugar levels and minimize insulin secretion following a sugary meal. It also appears to inhibit the tendency to overfeed on sugary foods and to improve insulin resistance over time.
Research in humans is a little thinner on the ground, but those conducted indicate that moderate doses (5 g or more) of allulose have the potential to prevent blood glucose and insulin spikes after eating other sugars. Interestingly, allulose taken by itself, without any other sugars or foods, doesn’t appear to have any effect at all on blood glucose or insulin concentrations.
Interestingly, beyond the hypoglycemic abilities of allulose, there are also reports that it can directly aid in fat loss. In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Food Science, obese mice fed allulose for 15 weeks experienced a reduction in body and liver weights, total fat mass and abdominal visceral fat without any reduction in muscle mass. Another study published in 2016 found that mice on a high fat diet who were fed allulose for 16 weeks experienced significant reductions in body weight and body fat, to the point where there was virtually no difference to the “healthy” control group.
And this year, a study was published showing that high doses of allulose (7g twice daily) resulted in significant reductions in BMI, abdominal fat and subcutaneous fat in overweight humans. This study aside, the jury’s still out on body composition benefits in humans. We’ll see if further studies demonstrate these kinds of results.
Other potential health benefits of allulose include oxidative stress protection, enhanced energy expenditure, and reduced inflammation. While the overall picture looks pretty good, I’ll be watching the continuing research. As always, manufacturers have an interest in encouraging studies that report favorable health benefits. I’m optimistic, but I’m not sold…just yet.
For the most part, there’s nothing to indicate that allulose is anything less than safe for humans. For what it’s worth, the FDA considers allulose to be Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), and most studies have noted no significant adverse side effects beyond the usual responses to excessive doses.
A 2015 study that looked at the safety of long-term allulose consumption in rats concluded that it exhibited no dietary toxicity, while a strangely large number of studies in dogs showed that both single dose and long term consumption of allulose caused no harmful effects. At extremely high doses (4g/kg), dogs did exhibit vomiting and diarrhea, but it’d be difficult to consume that level of sweetness for any period of time.
In humans, toxicity tests are once again few and far between, but the general consensus is that allulose is perfectly safe. Longer term study (and longer term consumption of allulose by consumers) will show whether it’s truly side effect free.
As an epimer of fructose, allulose tastes virtually the same as the sugars you’ll find in an apple or banana. With the exception of sugar syrups, most allulose is sold in granulated form, meaning you can use it much the same as you would granulated sugar.
Keep in mind, however, that it’s around 70% as sweet than sucrose (table sugar), so you’ll likely need a little more to achieve the same level of sweetness. But, then again, if you’re Primal, you probably don’t crave as much sweetness anyway…so why not start with the same dosage as regular sugar and see how it works for you?
Thanks for reading, everyone. Have you used allulose? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.