Although its extra sweetness does add up to fewer calories, more research is needed on its effects on obesity, diabetes and other conditions.
Diligent readers of food and beverage labels may have noticed an increasingly common ingredient in some health and energy drinks: crystalline fructose.
To some, the ingredient is a reassuring sign that the product hasn't been sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener that's been falling out of consumer favor over concerns of a disputed link to obesity and diabetes. Others, however, may have found themselves wondering what, exactly, is crystalline fructose? And is it really any different from high fructose corn syrup?
"Technically, yes, but physiologically, no," says Roger Clemens, a professor at the USC School of Pharmacy whose research has focused on functional foods, food processing and nutrition. The two ingredients are chemically distinct, Clemens says, but their nutritional ramifications vary only slightly.
High fructose corn syrup and crystalline fructose are made from the same starting material: corn. In the U.S., this is an abundant and cheap source of fructose, the plant-sugar responsible for making many fruits so naturally sweet.
But though high fructose corn syrup often contains about 55% fructose (the rest is glucose), crystalline fructose is the result of several extra processing steps which yield a product that is close to 100% fructose. (According to federal standards, crystalline fructose is, by definition, at least 98% fructose; the remaining fraction is water and minerals.)
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