Glucose, fructose, sucrose… If you make a habit of reading the nutrition labels and ingredient lists on the packaged food products you buy, you’re likely familiar with these terms because they are some of the most commonly used forms of added sugar in foods. However, in the coming months, you can expect to hear a lot more about another sweet-sounding name that you might not have encountered before: allulose. Read on to learn more about this newer entry on the food sweetener scene, and find out why it will likely be coming soon to a food label near you.
What is allulose?
The rare sugar allulose is a monosaccharide, a type of simple sugar comprised of a single sugar molecule. Allulose occurs naturally (in small quantities) in dried fruits such as figs, jackfruit, and raisins. In comparison with sucrose, or refined table sugar, allulose has the same clean taste and the same chemical formula, but only about 70% of the sweetness and approximately 90% fewer calories per gram.
Why is allulose in the news these days?
As part of the recent upgrade to the Nutrition Facts label, which comes into effect in 2020, manufacturers are required to list the amount of added sugars that the product contains (before the upgrade, all that had to be listed was the amount of total sugar). This change was made to help consumers make healthier choices: specifically, to make it easier for consumers to comply with the latest, science-based recommendation that calories from added sugars should make up no more than 10% of your daily caloric intake.
In April 2019, however, the FDA issued new draft guidance stating that allulose does not have to be included in the total and added sugar declarations on the Nutrition Facts label. In other words, for food labeling purposes, allulose essentially does not count as a sugar, added or otherwise. This is the first time that the FDA has declared its intention to allow a sugar to be excluded from the total and added sugars declarations.
Why did the FDA make this decision?
The FDA’s decision is based on the unique properties that make allulose different from other sugars. According to the latest data, the human body does not metabolize allulose in the same way that it does table sugar. Instead, allulose is absorbed by the small intestine and excreted in the urine. As a result, allulose does not boost blood glucose or insulin levels like other sugars do. Rather, it results in only a negligible increase. Furthermore, allulose does not promote dental decay and, as mentioned earlier, it has far fewer calories per gram than other sugars.
What all this means is that, while allulose tastes like a sugar, it doesn’t act like one. Food manufacturers were therefore worried that having to include allulose in the total and added sugar declarations on the new Nutrition Facts label would cause confusion for consumers, particularly those looking to reduce their sugar and/or calorie intake. For example, someone with diabetes might not choose a product upon seeing that it has 10 grams of allulose added, even though that added allulose poses no risk to their blood glucose and insulin levels. Likewise, because of its low calorie content, 10 grams of allulose contributes very little to the daily caloric intake, but consumers wouldn’t necessarily know this just from looking at the quantity of added allulose.
In order to clear up customers’ confusion and reflect current data, the FDA made the decision to issue draft guidance that allulose doesn’t need to be treated like a sugar when it comes to food labeling. However, it’s important to note that allulose must still be declared in the ingredient list, just like any other ingredient, and it will still count toward the total caloric value of the food on the label (at a value of 0.4 calories per gram, as opposed to the 4 calories per gram measurement that is standard for other sugars). In addition, allulose is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA, meaning that even though it’s a newer ingredient, it’s safe to eat.
What are the implications of the FDA’s decision?
Perhaps not surprisingly, as a result of the FDA’s decision on allulose, we can expect to see many more products making use of this rare sugar in the future. From a manufacturer’s perspective, one of the biggest advantages of allulose is that is has the same functionality as regular sugar: it is highly soluble, lowers the freezing point in frozen products, and browns during baking. This means that allulose can directly replace sugar in a wide variety of products, from candies and baked goods to yogurt and ice cream.
At present, a number of companies, including Tate & Lyle and Ingredion, in partnership with Matsutani, are working on producing allulose in commercial quantities. Since it is naturally occurring in only very small quantities, commercial production methods typically rely on making allulose from corn using enzymes.