Nutrition 101: What Is Crystalline Fructose?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Recently, some of you asked about crystalline fructose, a sweetener that is used in plenty of drinks, even some that call themselves "health drinks." We decided to do some research into this corn-based sweetener to help you better understand what you're sipping.

Fructose is a naturally occurring simple sugar found in fruits and vegetables. Many of us consume it regularly as part of our healthy diet. We also know that fructose is 55% of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) with glucose making up the other 45%.

What about the crystalline form of fructose that is being used in carbonated beverages, enhanced or flavored waters, sports and energy drinks, and nutrition bars as well as baked goods, frozen foods, cereal, dairy products, reduced-calorie foods, canned fruits, and drink mixes?

Crystalline fructose is derived from corn just like high fructose corn syrup. Extra processing steps result in the crystalline product that is close to 100% pure fructose. Federal standards define crystalline fructose be at least 98% fructose with the remaining 2% as water and minerals. This nearly pure fructose sweetener is 20% sweeter than sucrose (also known as table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup and has been around for about 20 years.

Crystalline fructose offers several unique benefits that make it more advantageous to use compared to high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners. These are also some of the reasons we are seeing it so widely used today.

Sweetness - Because crystalline fructose is sweeter than table sugar and HFCS, it is a valuable sweetener for low calorie, sugar-free foods and beverages since less can be used to achieve the same sweetness. This saves money and carbohydrate contribution for the same sweetness impact.

Improved product texture, taste and stability - This form of fructose is easily combined with other sweeteners and starches to not only boost sweetness but also improve cake height in baked goods and provide excellent "mouth-feel", surface browning color and pleasant aroma during baking. Since fructose does not hydrolyze in the same manner as sucrose, product flavor remains stable for extended storage periods.

Low Glycemic Index - Fructose has a low glycemic index (22) compared to other sweetener sources such as honey (55), High Fructose Corn Syrup (62) and table sugar (64). Since the bodies' glycemic response is dependent on both the type AND amount of carbohydrate consumed, lower index and less sweetener, aids in the development of foods with low glycemic loads ideal for sugar controlled foods and beverages.

The Bottom Line - Crystalline fructose provides unique benefits compared to other sweetener options including High Fructose Corn Syrup. Because of these benefits, it can be found in a wide variety of products today from dry beverage mixes and enhanced or flavored waters to breakfast cereals, baked goods and other confections. It provides the same safety as consuming other forms of sweetener as well as many of the risks.

Instead of worrying about its safety, perhaps we would all do better to examine what products we are consuming that contain it and why we are consuming them. It is included as a sweetener and we know that in a healthy diet we are best to reduce our sweets. Instead of asking why there is crystalline fructose in my flavored water or energy drink, ask yourself why you are drinking the flavored water or energy drink to begin with. Is it really something you need or would you be better off drinking water with fresh squeezed lemon, lime or orange juice in its place.

Instead of focusing on the presence of crystalline fructose in your breakfast cereal, ask yourself if the sweetened cereal is the best choice to start your day compared to good old fashion oatmeal or another whole grain cereal. Use this opportunity to take a closer look at the labels of the foods and beverages you are consuming to notice what sweeteners are present whether it be HFCS or crystalline fructose. Then take it a step further and ask yourself if this is a sweet product that could be replaced with something more nutritious.

Even if you are consuming calorie free sweetened products, evaluate them to see if there is something better you could be selecting instead. Not only would this help reduce your intake of the crystalline fructose sweetener, it could also replace your intake of sweetened products in general. This can be especially beneficial if these sweet products can be replaced by other more nutritious choices. Perhaps an ounce of nuts with some dried fruit instead of a nutrition bar for a mid-afternoon snack or plain water sweetened with fresh squeezed lime instead of something that has been enhanced or flavored. It might even save you some money at the same time.

What food and beverage products are you consuming regularly that contain crystalline fructose? What other foods or beverages could you select instead to reduce crystalline fructose and other sweetener intake?