FDA Gives Pass to Rare Sweetener: Too Good to Be True?

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FDA Gives Pass to Rare Sweetener

A new low-calorie sweetener promises all the flavor and comfort of real sugar without the drawbacks, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking notice.

Allulose (D-psicose) looks like sugar, tastes like sugar, and even feels like sugar — but with a couple of major differences.

It only contains 0.4 calories per gram — about one-tenth the calories of table sugar — and it isn’t associated with dental decay.

That’s right, it doesn’t cause cavities.

Unlike artificial sweeteners, allulose has many of the same characteristics of sugar because technically it is sugar.

Where allulose comes from:

Allulose is classified as a “rare sugar” because it naturally occurs in only a handful of foods including jackfruit, figs, wheat, and raisins. Chemically it’s nearly identical to fructose, one of the two sugar components (the other is glucose) that makes up table sugar.

Allulose is about 70 percent as sweet as table sugar and described as having a remarkably similar flavor.

This week the FDA issued draft guidance for allulose products. Products using allulose can exclude its sugar content from the total and added sugars declaration on nutrition information packaging.

That’s a big deal.

In fact, it’s the first time the FDA has ever allowed a sugar to be excluded from such labeling. Allulose will still have to be included in the ingredient list, the total carbohydrates declaration, and the total calories of the food.

The agency called their decision “a reflection of our flexible and science-based approach to food product labeling.”

But with many jumping on low-sugar and low-carbohydrate diet bandwagons in the United States (a ketogenic diet and paleo diet, for example), the FDA’s decision is likely to spur further interest in the prospects of allulose for consumers.

“The addition of a new sweetener that may be able to help people with diabetes enjoy their food without causing an impact on blood sugar with hopefully no negative effects is exciting, and it’s exciting for anyone wanting to reduce regular sugar in their diet,” said Stephanie Schiff, RDN, CDN, CDE, at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital, in Huntington, New York.

Low-calorie sweeteners have the potential to play a large role in the prevention of a host of major public health problems including diabetes and obesity. However, artificial sweeteners have received a tepid response from public health officials.

Stevia, a natural low-calorie sweetener derived from Stevia rebaudiana has had its own problems. Although it’s regarded as safe, many complain about its bitter aftertaste.

Some have also said that there simply isn’t enough known about the long-term use of stevia.

“Allulose may be a positive addition to our nutrition programs, but more research needs to be done on long-term effects. In addition, some of the studies were done on animal models — not humans — which can also be something that does not always translate accordingly in the scientific community,” said Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, RDN, CSSD, LDN, an outpatient clinical dietitian at University Hospitals Medical Center.

Small human trials have been conducted with allulose that indicate that it has the potential to help control blood sugar. But the majority of studies involving allulose have only been conducted on rats.

Both experts contacted by Healthline agreed that allulose has the potential to be an innovative tool for dietitians and consumers as part of an overall health and wellness plan.

“People want to reduce their intake of refined and processed food items. And for people with diabetes, or even prediabetes, finding something natural and low-calorie to sweeten their coffee, drinks, or other food items can be a big deal,” Schiff said.

But just like other sugar substitutes, moderation is key.

“Sugar intake has been, and continues to be, a huge issue for Americans,” said Jamieson-Petonic. “I become concerned when we offer any one food or substance as ‘guilt-free,’ as this leads some people to overindulge.”

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