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Added Fructose - Trick or Treat?

Posted Oct 30 2009 11:00pm
Trick or Treat? You get a little of both with fructose. Fructose from natural sources - treat! Fruits and vegetables rarely have much fructose and that fructose is bundled along with vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, and good stuff we're only beginning to learn about. Fructose is present in much higher quantities in honey and maple syrup (closer to a 50/50 mix of fructose and glucose), but it also comes bundled with good stuff.

In small amounts, fructose may actually be good for you. In large amounts, the opposite is true. Too much fructose is implicated in many health issues such as high triglyceride levels and type 2 diabetes. Our bodies just aren't equipped to handle large amounts of fructose.

Obviously, we've given up HFCS (for more reasons than just free fructose these days), but what about added fructose? I wrote a post way back in the beginning that talked about how we were also avoiding products with fructose as an ingredient. If I'm concerned about the free fructose in HFCS, why would I not also be concerned about free crystalline fructose used as an ingredient? Recently I found out a bit about this ingredient.

Crystalline fructose is often marketed toward diabetics because of the low blood sugar response of fructose compared with glucose. Your liver is doing other things with fructose, however, that might negate any benefits from the blood sugar response.

What is crystalline fructose? Crystalline fructose (often simply listed as fructose on an ingredient list) is simply fructose in a pure, crystalline form. Crystalline fructose is a relatively new ingredient that has only been available since the late 1980s. Lovely images of fruit juice being concentrated and the fructose (aka fruit sugar) crystallizing out of solution pop into one's head with this ingredient, but that coudn't be farther from the truth. In America, crystalline fructose is almost always produced from...corn! Yes, crystalline fructose is a derivative of our friend high fructose corn syrup.

According to the Sugar Association, crystalline fructose is produced "by allowing the fructose to crystallize from a fructose-enriched corn syrup." The separated crystals are 98% fructose and 2% water and other trace impurities.

So...in case you missed it the first time, I'll say it again. Crystalline fructose is produced from high fructose corn syrup (aka HFCS)!

To be fair, in other countries where corn is not king, crystalline fructose may be produced from sugar. In Brazil, for example, where cane sugar rules the roost, I would expect that crystalline fructose would be produced from sugar. Being produced from sugar, however, does not make it a better ingredient.

Where is crystalline fructose found? So many places! I find fructose listed as an ingredient in lots of "health" foods that know HFCS as an ingredient would turn people away. Foods that wouldn't dare use HFCS will use crystalline fructose and then proudly declare themselves "all natural!" Hmm. That "all natural" designation really is slick marketing with no real meaning behind it.

Trick or Treat? Well, from where I sit, fructose as an ingredient is definitely a trick to be avoided. Worse yet, it's a trick that is touted as being an "all natural" treat.

Just as with HFCS, I've found that it hasn't been a big deal to rid our lives of added fructose. We avoid a lot of junk "natural" processed foods as a result. All you have to do is flip that package over and peruse the ingredient list for the ingredient "fructose" or "crystalline fructose."
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