Many people have a sweet tooth. For some, it can become an addiction, fueled by a food industry that continually creates an abundance of highly palatable, inexpensive, ultra-processed foods. As some companies cash in on a market for lab-created, low-calorie sweeteners, one natural sweetener may help curb your sweet tooth without raising your blood sugar.
In fact, it may have the opposite effect.
While manufacturers seek out “perfectly engineered food,” the incidence of obesity and obesity-related health conditions has skyrocketed. Type 2 diabetes is one of the obesity-related conditions that have a significant impact on many of your bodily systems.
People with diabetes have a higher risk of also having heart disease, stroke, glaucoma, kidney disease, and high blood pressure. It follows that if you could lower diabetes and obesity rates, you could reduce rates of these other conditions. That could save many people’s lives, given that heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease are all in the top eight causes of death in the United States.
The obesity epidemic is one of the most important global public health challenges. Obesity was linked to 4.7 million premature deaths worldwide in 2017, and according to the National Diabetes Statistics Report, 34.2 million people, or 10.5 percent of the U.S. population, have diabetes. By using this sweetener, you may reduce your risk of insulin resistance, a primary symptom of diabetes.
Not All Sugar Is Created Equally
Sugar is a carbohydrate found in fruits and vegetables and added to food products. Added sugars are usually sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup. Evidence shows that no matter what type of sugar you’re consuming, it has a significant effect on your metabolism, even in the healthiest people. But while the sugars occurring in fruit come with nutrients we need and fiber that dulls blood sugar spikes, added sugars in processed foods pose several health risks.
Sugar hides under as many as 61 different names in 74 percent of processed food products, and while there are countless studies demonstrating the psychological and physiological consequences of sugar, this dangerous additive remains ubiquitous.
In one 12-week study, researchers found that men who ate 650 calories a day in sugar had higher levels of fat in their blood and liver. Lead researcher Bruce Griffin, Ph.D., from the University of Surrey, commented on the results saying, “Our findings provide new evidence that consuming high amounts of sugar can alter your fat metabolism in ways that could increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Sugar stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with focus and motivation. Dopamine plays a role in many important metabolic pathways, many of which affect your mood. That’s why sugar feels so good and why manufacturers use it to drive your behavior. But, like other addictive drugs, sugar is unhealthy.
Allulose Natural Sweetener Has Unique Action on Blood Sugar
One natural sweetener option is Astrea Allulose. Although the market in Japan is significant, it’s a relatively little-known alternative sweetener in the West. Allulose is found in small quantities in some fruits such as figs, jackfruit, and raisins and was given a generally-regarded-as-safe (GRAS) food designation by the FDA.
Allulose is a monosaccharide sugar that differs from fructose only at one of the carbon atoms. This one change makes a world of difference in the way the molecule acts in the body. It’s functionally a carbohydrate and mostly absorbed in the small intestines. However, the majority of allulose is excreted by the kidneys before it’s metabolized.
This means that most of the calories you consume from allulose are excreted through your kidneys before being metabolized. It was only recently that the FDA differentiated allulose from sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup on nutrition labels. Before this, anytime it was added to a processed food, it was simply listed as an added sugar.
Therefore, there was little incentive to include allulose in products. Since allulose has 95 percent fewer calories than sucrose, the FDA allowed manufacturers to exclude it from the total and added sugar counts on nutrition labels.
In one animal study, researchers found that allulose contributes a fraction of 1 percent of the energy (calories) of sucrose.
The researchers called the energy value “effectively zero” and suggested that this “rare sugar providing zero energy … may be useful in sweeteners for obese people as an aid for weight reduction.”
In addition to contributing little to no calories, allulose elicits a physiological response in the body that may lower your blood glucose and reduce abdominal fat and fat accumulation around the liver. This may reduce the rising number of people who have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Allulose can also decrease insulin resistance and reduce the potential risk for Type 2 diabetes.
Natural Compound May Reduce Glucose With Few Side Effects
In an analysis of 40 human trials, allulose demonstrated the ability to significantly reduce after-meal insulin response, which the researchers believe leads “to modest improvements on postprandial glucose and insulin regulation.”
Another study engaged 30 people who didn’t have diabetes. They were given a loading dose of sucrose and then randomized to receive 2.5, 5, 7.5, or 10 grams of allulose. Plasma glucose and insulin levels were measured at 30, 60, 90, and 120 minutes after ingestion. The researchers found that in a dose-dependent manner, allulose reduced plasma glucose and insulin levels.
In other words, allulose not only contributes very little to caloric intake or blood glucose, but also may help to improve insulin regulation. While there aren’t yet allulose-specific human studies regarding safety, animal studies have not found toxicity even at high doses.
In one nonrandomized controlled trial using 30 healthy individuals within a normal body mass index range, researchers discovered that individuals experienced gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms when the dose reached 0.4 grams per kilogram of body weight (g/kg*BW). Gastrointestinal tolerance testing didn’t indicate severe diarrhea or other symptoms until the dose read 0.5 g/kg*BW.
This means a person who weighs 160 pounds could eat 29 grams of allulose in one serving, which is equivalent to 7.25 teaspoons of sugar, without experiencing GI symptoms. For reference, a can of coke has about 9.75 teaspoons of sugar.
While there is no immediate toxic effect on the body, evidence suggests that consistent use may affect the weight of your kidneys and liver, the two organs through which the natural sweetener passes. In a study published in 2019, researchers noted that using allulose can prevent obesity, but continuous consumption may increase the weight of the liver and kidneys “without apparent pathological and functional abnormalities.”
The study investigated the potential that these parameters could change after the participant no longer consumed allulose. Using an animal model, the researchers fed allulose for four weeks and then a controlled diet without allulose for another 10 weeks. At the end of four weeks, the weights of the liver and kidney were higher, but the difference disappeared after the animals were no longer fed allulose.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup Is Worse Than White Sugar
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), aka corn sugar, is another common form of sugar found in processed foods. While it’s often cited interchangeably with fructose, HFCS and fructose are not the same. Fructose is a simple sweetener found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. HFCS, on the other hand, is artificially produced from corn, through a process that involves first turning it into corn starch and then back into a mixture of fructose and glucose.
But whether it’s simple fructose or HFCS, there is evidence to show this type of sugar causes greater damage than simple glucose or table sugar. This is because fructose doesn’t act like glucose in your body.
In one study, a group of postmenopausal overweight or obese women consumed fructose beverages with their meals for 10 weeks. The data showed that this practice increased fasting glucose and reduced insulin response. The researchers concluded that the “present results suggest that long-term consumption of diets high in fructose could lead to an increased risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease].”
Unfortunately, because HFCS is cheaper and 20 percent sweeter than regular table sugar, it’s used by many food and beverage manufacturers. Numerous studies have shown, however, that not only can it contribute to impaired glucose tolerance, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, but also HFCS can disrupt your sense of hunger and satiety.
Regarding diabetes, in one global analysis of 43 countries, researchers found that in areas where HFCS was highly available, the prevalence of diabetes was 20 percent higher. The results suggested that increased consumption of HFCS increased the risk of Type 2 diabetes, which was independent of obesity.
In another study, men and women were given a 24-ounce beverage sweetened with either HFCS or sucrose. Blood and urine samples were collected over six hours, and a variety of metabolic biomarkers were measured. The researchers found that HFCS led to significantly different acute metabolic effects compared to sucrose.
Initially, experts thought fructose would be a better choice because it has a low glycemic index. However, only the liver can metabolize fructose. And, as mentioned, consuming fructose also increases your appetite, which ultimately contributes to obesity, diabetes, and NAFLD.
The Toxic Effects of Artificial Sweeteners
Many sweeteners have side effects, and those from artificial sweeteners are more toxic than others. Research in 2008 revealed that sucralose, also known as Splenda, reduces your gut bacteria by 50 percent and increases the pH level in your intestines. A study from 2018 found that sucralose is metabolized and accumulates in fat cells.
Research published in 2016 from the Ramazzini Institute linked Splenda to leukemia. Not long after this study was published in a peer-reviewed journal, the company hired a public relations firm to dull the impact of those findings. By 2017, the market for Splenda reached $697.4 million worldwide and was projected to increase 3 percent through 2025. Most of it was sold in North America and Asia-Pacific.
It was originally hoped that artificial sweeteners would help curb cravings for sweets in people who have diabetes. Yet in one small study using healthy participants, researchers found that it took only two weeks for the noncaloric artificial sweeteners to trigger adverse effects on blood sugar levels.
A 2017 study concluded that these sweeteners actually exaggerated post-meal glucose absorption in users, “which could predispose them to developing Type 2 diabetes.”
Artificial sweeteners may also increase your risk of weight gain, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and other related problems such as Type 2 diabetes by inducing “metabolic derangements,” according to a report published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Further research found that the artificial sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet) is associated with greater glucose intolerance in people with obesity. These are only some of the side effects of artificial sweeteners, which increase your risk of challenging health conditions and are not a safe alternative to table sugar.
Dr. Joseph Mercola is the founder of Mercola.com. An osteopathic physician, best-selling author, and recipient of multiple awards in the field of natural health, his primary vision is to change the modern health paradigm by providing people with a valuable resource to help them take control of their health. This article was originally published on Mercola.com.