Here’s Why You Should Try Rare Sugars as Your Sweetener Substitute


Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Rare sugars are found in natural sources like raisins, figs, and corn, but in limited amounts.
  • Rare sugars contain very few calories and are not considered to be an "added sugar" by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Studies have shown that rare sugars are a viable table sugar alternative for people with diabetes because they do not raise blood glucose levels.

There are plenty of sweetener options that we can add to our coffee, tea, and treats—from sucralose and erythritol to classic table sugar.

Among the sea of sweeteners, naturally occurring rare sugars are becoming a go-to option for people who like a sweet taste but do not want the additional calories or a potential blood sugar spike that comes with table sugar.

Here's what you should know about rare sugars, including the potential health benefits of the sugar alternative.

What Are Sugar Alternatives?

While there is nothing wrong with consuming sweet snacks in moderation, eating too much sugar has been linked to negative health outcomes including obesity, cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes mellitus, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and metabolic syndrome.

Sugar alternatives allow people who are limiting added sugar in their diets to enjoy the sweet taste of sugar while reducing the risks associated with consuming excessive amounts of it.

Up until a few years ago, there were not that many sugar alternatives on the market. People either stuck with traditional table sugar or used the substitutes in pink packets (saccharine or "Sweet 'n Low") or blue packets (aspartame or "Equal").

While these options served their purpose, the taste and function of artificial sweeteners in baking and cooking did not compare to table sugar. 

Today, we have more sugar alternatives that provide the taste, texture, and mouthfeel of table sugar. One option that you might not know about is rare sugars.

What Are Rare Sugars?

As the name implies, rare sugars are uncommon. They are only present in small amounts in certain natural food sources like raisins and figs. Of the 40-plus rare sugars, allulose appears to be the one with the most data suggesting it provides health benefits.

Allulose is produced commercially by breaking down a carbohydrate source through a series of enzymatic processes. This leads to the structure of the rare sugar being changed in such a way that the body does not recognize it as sugar.

Even after these changes take place, the sugar still offers a sweet taste—just without added calories or an effect on blood sugar levels.

Most alternatives for conventional sugar do not have the same chemical structure as "the real thing," which can influence how well they work as replacements.

For example, its structure is what gives sugar—and rare sugar—the functional properties that make it great for baking and cooking. The structure of rare sugars allows them to taste very similar to classic table sugar, as well as function similarly to it.

Rare sugars also provide the taste and texture of table sugar without the added calories or effect on blood glucose levels. Allulose only contains 0.4 calories per gram—much less than the 4 calories per gram found in sucrose (table sugar).

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people try to limit the amount of added sugar in their diets. For men, the recommendation is no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day, and for women and kids over the age of 2, it's 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day.

Since rare sugars have so few calories, they are not counted as "added sugars," making them a tasty and versatile choice for people who are trying to be mindful of their sugar intake.   

What This Means For You

Rare sugars like allulose might be a good sugar alternative if you enjoy the sweet taste of traditional table sugar but are trying to avoid its potentially negative health effects. Unlike other sugar alternatives, allulose holds up well when cooking and baking, and is found in many products like cereal and protein bars, giving them a sweet taste without the extra calories.

Potential Health Benefits

Studies have also shown that rare sugars, like allulose, can offer several benefits when part of an overall nutritious diet:

  • It's very low in calories
  • Does not raise blood glucose or insulin levels in healthy people or in people with type 2 diabetes
  • Has not been found to promote cavities
  • Is digestively tolerated in healthy adults at 30 grams per day

Studies have also shown that allulose as part of an overall healthy diet might be linked to:

  • Reduced body weight
  • Improved glycemic control
  • Loss of abdominal fat
  • Reduced fasting triglyceride levels 

There are a few easy ways to incorporate allulose into your diet. Look for "allulose" on the ingredients list of cereal, bread, and products like protein bars. Allulose is 70% as sweet as sugar, so when you’re cooking with it, you’ll need about 1 1/3 cup of allulose per one cup of sugar. It’s ultimately personal preference, and many people use a 1:1 substitute without noticing a difference.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Paglia L. The sweet danger of added sugars. European Journal of Pediatric Dentistry. 2019 Jun;20(2):89. doi:10.23804/ejpd.2019.20.02.01

  2. Ahmed A, Khan TA, Dan Ramdath D, et al. Rare sugars and their health effects in humans: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence from human trials. Nutr Rev. 2021 Aug 2:nuab012. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuab012

  3. Gupta M. Sugar Substitutes: Mechanism, Availability, Current Use and Safety Concerns-An Update. Open Access Maced J Med Sci. 2018 Oct 19;6(10):1888-1894. doi:10.3889/oamjms.2018.336

  4. Food and Drug Administration. The Declaration of Allulose and Calories from Allulose on Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels: Guidance for Industry.

  5. American Heart Association. Added Sugars.

  6. Jiang S, Xiao W, Zhu X, et al. Review on D-Allulose: In vivo Metabolism, Catalytic Mechanism, Engineering Strain Construction, Bio-Production Technology. Front Bioeng Biotechnol. 2020 Feb 3;8:26. doi:10.3389/fbioe.2020.00026

  7. Han Y, Choi BR, Kim SY, et al. Gastrointestinal Tolerance of D-Allulose in Healthy and Young Adults. A Non-Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2018 Dec 19;10(12):2010. doi:10.3390/nu10122010

  8. Hayashi N, et al. Weight reducing effect and safety evaluation of rare sugar syrup by a randomized double-blind, parallel-group study in humans. Journal of Functional Foods. 2014, 11,152-159. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2014.09.020

  9. Noronha JC, Braunstein CR, Glenn AJ, et al. The effect of small doses of fructose and allulose on postprandial glucose metabolism in type 2 diabetes: A double-blind, randomized, controlled, acute feeding, equivalence trial. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2018 Oct;20(10):2361-2370. doi:10.1111/dom.13374

  10. Han Y, Kwon EY, Yu MK, et al. A Preliminary Study for Evaluating the Dose-Dependent Effect of d-Allulose for Fat Mass Reduction in Adult Humans: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2018 Jan 31;10(2):160. doi:10.3390/nu10020160

  11. Yang Z, et al. The Effects of Consumption L-Arabinose on Metabolic Syndrome in Humans. Journal of Pharmacy and Nutritional Sciences. 2013. doi:10.6000/1927-5951.2013.03.02.2