FDA will exempt allulose from 'added sugar' labeling rules

Picture Credit: Pixabay

AUTHOR:  Cathy Siegner

PUBLISHED: April 25, 2019

Dive Brief:

  • The FDA announced last week it will use its discretion to exclude allulose from the amount of "total sugars" or "added sugars" on Nutrition Facts panels. Allulose will still count toward the caloric value of food on the label, but at a revised lower calorie count, the agency said.
  • Compared to regular sugar, allulose has fewer calories, a smaller impact on blood glucose and insulin levels and doesn't promote tooth decay, FDA said. The low-calorie sweetener naturally occurs in small amounts in wheat, fruits such as raisins and dried figs, and other sweet foods including brown sugar and molasses. 
  • Susan Mayne, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a release that allulose will be excluded from label declarations because the latest data suggests allulose is not metabolized in the same way as table sugar. The agency is taking comments on its draft guidance until June 17, and will later issue final guidance.

Dive Insight:

This is the first time the FDA has stated intent to exempt a sugar from new declarations on labels. Allulose is made by using enzymes to convert fructose from corn and other plants. The result is described as about 70% as sweet as table sugar, but with only about 10% of the calories.

This is good news for suppliers that have turned to allulose in the race to natural sweeteners to replace sugar. Suppliers of the ingredient — including Tate & Lyle and Ingredion, which has partnered with Matsutani on allulose — have already cheered the announcement, according to Food Ingredients FirstData from Innova Market Insights indicate allulose is most commonly found in cereals and sweeteners, which comprise 36% of products containing the ingredient. But this announcement could open the door to more opportunities to sweeten different items. 

Ingredion said in a release following the announcement that U.S. food and beverage makers "can now intensify development of reduced-sugar products" with allulose. A company executive called the agency's move a "pivotal shift" in introducing the ingredient nationwide, according to Food Ingredients First.

Tate & Lyle — which submitted a citizens' petition asking that the ingredient be exempt from listing under "total sugars" or "added sugars" — said in a release that greater consumer understanding of allulose's attributes would come from this update since labels can now show the potential health benefits of the ingredient.

FDA's action could boost the marketing appeal for allulose, which consumers could reject if it were to show up under "total sugars" or "added sugars" in revised Nutrition Facts panels. It's also possible makers of other types of sweeteners will ask federal regulators for exemptions from the new labeling requirements, which must be met by January 1, 2020, or January 1, 2021, depending on a company's annual sales. However, an FDA official told Food Ingredients First the draft guidance is unique to allulose and doesn't address or include other sweeteners. 

A major marketing plus is that a significant portion of U.S. consumers are trying to limit their sugar intake for health reasons, and they're increasingly seeking out "no sugar added" items in order to accomplish these goals.

Despite these selling points, formulating products with allulose could have drawbacks. Some nutritionists have cautioned that eating large amounts of allulose could cause bloating, pain and gas as it ferments in the intestinal system. Also, many consumers aren't familiar with allulose, so education will be needed as the ingredient starts showing up more often on product labels.

Still, barring other regulatory obstacles or other problems, a green light from the FDA could result in allulose emerging as the more natural and lower-calorie sweetener for which food makers and consumers have been waiting.