A walk down the baking aisle can be a bit daunting. The colors, packaging, names of ingredients and brands can be very confusing. Consumer interest in natural sugar substitutes that offer the same taste and appeal without the effects on weight or blood sugars in ready-to-eat foods or home baked goods is driving the desire to expand the sugar substitute market. While stevia and erythritol are two of the most commonly known natural sugar subs, alternatives like monkfruit and allulose are gaining in popularity, and here’s why:
D-Allulose, D-Piscose or allulose, as it is most commonly known, is a type of sugar found naturally occurring in figs, raisins, maple syrup and molasses. As a chemical structure, it closely resembles fructose (which is a type of sugar found in fruits). Like other natural sugar substitutes, allulose has no effect on blood sugar, so it can be a very useful ingredient in baking and cooking to lower calories and total sugars. Allulose is not digested like other carbohydrates; it is absorbed into the digestive tract but is excreted in urine within 24 hours of consumption, and since it does not have the same effect as table sugars, it may have the potential to shift the body into using fat as energy. While over consumption of any food can cause issues, moderate levels of allulose intake have not been shown to cause stomach discomfort. The flavor of allulose is said to have a “cooling” effect, without any bitterness. It is about 70% as sweet as sugar, so more allulose is needed to produce a similar taste to sugar. While allulose is available as a liquid and powdered sweetener, it is also becoming a popular ingredient in foods like yogurts, ice creams, desserts, jams, jellies and puddings to lower sugar content without compromising flavor. Allulose is not listed as an added sugar on the nutrition facts panel, but it is listed as an ingredient. One big drawback to this sugar sub is its cost: it is very expensive when compared to other alternatives on the market.
Monkfruit, or siraitia grosvenorii, is a small gourd resembling a melon that is native to Southeast Asia. This sweetener is extracted from the dried version of the fruit after it has been peeled and seeded. Like many other sugar substitutes, monkfruit is available in liquid, powdered and granulated forms. Two currently available brands include Lakanto and Monkfruit in the Raw. Monkfruit is regulated as a food additive by the FDA, is recognized as safe for consumption and has no effect on blood sugar. Monkfruit is 150-200 times sweeter than table sugar, so it may have other sugars added to balance its flavor. While it has been used in Eastern medicine and is considered a “healing herb” in other countries, here in the U.S. it is still a fairly new and expensive sugar substitute. Look for it in stores near other sugar substitutes and as an ingredient in prepackaged foods.
Whether it’s used as an ingredient in a packaged food or purchased for home use, natural sugar substitutes offer similar low-calorie and low-carbohydrate alternatives to table sugar. The difference is in the taste, price and availability. It is advised that consumers should continue to read food labels to help to determine which sugar substitutes they prefer and which help achieve health goals without compromising food selection.