- Allulose is a rare, naturally-occurring sugar. Small amounts are found in wheat and some fruits. It is also commercially produced.
- Allulose is naturally low in calories. It contains 10 percent of the calories of table sugar (0.4 calories per gram compared to four calories per gram) and is about 70 percent as sweet.
- Allulose does not increase blood glucose or insulin secretion and does not promote the growth of bacteria in the mouth that causes cavities.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes allulose as safe.
- The FDA does not require that allulose be counted as grams of “Total Sugars” or “Added Sugars” on the Nutrition Facts label. Instead, it can be counted under the grams of “Total Carbohydrate.”
News about sugar always makes headlines. In May 2016, big news came from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when it declared that “added sugars” would become a new line on the updated Nutrition Facts label. Recently, the FDA made news with another announcement on sugar labeling, only it wasn’t about the type of sugar that you might be thinking of. In April 2019, the FDA turned its attention to a different type of sugar: allulose.
Allulose has unique properties, which is why the FDA is allowing allulose to be listed differently from other sugars on the Nutrition Facts label.
What is allulose?
Allulose, also known as D-psicose, is considered a rare sugar because it’s not as abundant in nature as other sugars. Allulose is a monosaccharide (a simple sugar) that was originally detected in small amounts in wheat. It’s also found in whole fruits like raisins and dried figs. Other foods that contain allulose include molasses, maple syrup and brown sugar. Allulose is also produced commercially from fructose or corn.
How is allulose different from other sugars?
Although allulose’s chemical structure is like other types of sugars, its physiological impact is different. For example, allulose is rapidly absorbed by the body but is not metabolized. Most of the allulose we consume leaves the body in urine, some is absorbed in the small intestine and very little of the allulose that makes it to the large intestine is fermented. This means that allulose is extremely low in calories. Gram for gram, allulose has approximately 90 percent fewer calories than table sugar. As a result, it does not increase blood sugar levels. In fact, allulose has been shown to reduce the glycemic response to beverages containing maltodextrin, a non-sweet type of carbohydrate derived from starch that is used in a variety of foods and beverages, including commercial baked goods and sports drinks.
The amount and frequency of consuming fermentable carbohydrates, including added sugars, can increase our risk for developing dental cavities. Allulose is unique in this regard. Because it is not fermented in the mouth, it does not contribute to enamel erosion nor does it promote the growth of oral bacteria that is associated with cavity formation.
Is allulose safe to consume?
Yes, allulose is safe to eat and drink. The FDA had no questions or objections on three separate Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) notifications filed for allulose in 2012, 2014 and 2017. As a result, allulose is permitted for use in a variety of ways: as a packaged sugar substitute, in non-alcoholic beverages, and in medical foods and other low-calorie and sugar-free foods, such as low-sugar baked goods, candies, frozen dairy desserts, yogurt, ready-to-eat cereals and chewing gum.
Why is the FDA allowing allulose to be listed differently than other sugars?
In its May 2016 Nutrition and Supplement Facts Label Final Rule, the FDA stated that (pending future rulemaking) allulose must be declared on the “Total Carbohydrate,” “Total Sugars” and/or “Added Sugars” line of the Nutrition Facts label. The FDA did not determine a caloric value for allulose but did apply the carbohydrate standard of four calories per gram for caloric calculations of allulose.
Since the publishing of their 2016 final rule, the FDA conducted a scientific review of allulose’s health impacts. Reflecting that allulose has physiological impacts (on dental cavities, blood glucose and insulin levels and caloric contribution to the diet) that are different from other types of sugars, the FDA issued draft guidance for the industry in April 2019 that stated that:
- Allulose does not have to be accounted for in the grams of “Total Sugars” and “Added Sugars” that are declared on the Nutrition Facts label. Instead, allulose can be documented as part of the grams of “Total Carbohydrate.”
- When calculating “Calories” on a Nutrition and Supplement Facts label, food manufacturers can use a value of 0.4 calories per gram of allulose.
What are the pros and cons to this decision?
Parts of this decision on allulose labeling are easier to understand than others. The most straightforward pieces are that products containing allulose will have more accurate calorie counts, and if allulose use in foods and beverages increases because of this decision, we may continue to see decreases in our consumption of added sugars. Most people would argue that both developments would be good things.
One challenge as a result of this decision may be with carbohydrate counting—a meal planning technique used by people with diabetes that is informed by the grams of “Total Carbohydrate” listed on the Nutrition Facts label to keep the body’s blood glucose levels under control and guide potential insulin doses. With this labeling change, though the calorie counts of allulose-containing products will become more accurate, the grams of “Total Carbohydrate” will not. A gram of carbohydrate that contains four calories per gram does not have the same impact on blood sugar as a gram of allulose, yet the new label will present them as equals in their contributions to “Total Carbohydrate.” People with diabetes who use insulin may have to take extra care, because insulin dosing based on grams of “Total Carbohydrate” found in allulose-containing products could result in using too much insulin and lead to low blood sugar.
Perhaps the most technical piece of this guidance is that the FDA, starting with this review of allulose labeling, is now considering physiological impacts alongside chemical structures to determine whether a carbohydrate is listed as “Total Sugars.” Historically, chemical structure has been the traditional method used by the FDA for such determinations. Allulose is a unique case because its chemical structure is that of a sugar, but its physiological impact is not like other sugars. Due to advances in technology that allow for the development of lower-calorie sugars like allulose, the FDA is rethinking the best approaches to regulating how this information is displayed on the Nutrition Facts label.
The impact of the FDA decision on allulose labeling is hard to forecast. How will it affect future food labeling decisions? Will food manufacturers start using more allulose? Will consumers purchase the products that use it? And ultimately, will it help drive our added sugar consumption low enough to meet what experts recommend? Stay tuned …