Brown rice syrup sounds like a healthy sweetener, but with a glycemic index (GI) rating higher than table sugar, it’s just another way to include empty calories in your diet while gambling with blood sugar levels.
Clocking in at 98 on the GI scale, which is only two points below the ceiling of 100, brown rice syrup can cause blood sugar spikes that lead to hunger and cravings up the road. (1)
You’ll have to look long and hard to find another sweetener on the market to beat that GI number, which isn’t likely to land brown rice syrup on the “good” side of any health food list.
For anyone with a sweet tooth, the challenge of satisfying that desire in the least harmful manner can be a confusing question.
Brown rice syrup is made by exposing cooked brown rice to enzymes that break down the starch and turn it into simple sugars. Once the impurities are filtered out, the remaining dark brown syrup contains three kinds of sugar:
- Maltotriose at 52%
- Maltose at 45%
- Glucose at 3%
Even though the list makes it look like there’s very little glucose, that’s not the case at all; maltose is really two glucose molecules, and maltotriose is three.
By the time brown rice syrup reaches the small intestine, it’s been converted into glucose, and is ready to go to work, spiking blood sugar levels and tweaking your metabolism.
Because of its dark color, brown rice syrup may look like a healthy food, but most of the nutrients in brown rice are lost along the way. The remaining amounts of potassium and calcium are negligible. (6)
Fructose and Glucose: Not Identical Twins
Learning how fructose and sucrose affect the system can help you sort out questions about including brown rice syrup or other sweeteners in your diet.
Since the detrimental effects of fructose are well-known, health-conscious people tend to avoid sweeteners containing fructose (like high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS).
But all fructose doesn’t affect our bodies the same way; fruits contain fructose, but because fiber slows down the rate of sugar assimilation, moderate fruit consumption can be part of a healthy diet.
And while starchy foods like potatoes contain glucose, eating potatoes may not have the negative impact on metabolic health refined sugar does.
Fructose can only be metabolized by the liver (7), but every cell in the body can use glucose.
- Fructose is converted to fat, which can lead to fatty liver syndrome and insulin resistance
- Fructose is sent into the bloodstream, which raises triglycerides
Since brown rice syrup doesn’t contain fructose, the energy can be utilized without passing through the liver.
In view of the fact that it’s just another added sugar in the diet that can create and escalate physical imbalances leading to disease and dysfunction, this may be the most positive statement it’s possible to make about brown rice syrup.
More Penalty Points for Toxic Chemical Content
Nobody wants to discover a sweet treat made with brown rice syrup is laced with arsenic, a toxic chemical the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says is safe.
Brown rice, syrup made from it, and products sweetened with it, have all tested positive for arsenic contamination.
The FDA was created to protect Americans from dangerous substances in food and drugs, but keeping an eye on the agency’s tolerance level for chemicals or contaminants is something to consider, since personal standards can vary.
For example, the FDA deems HFCS safe despite the fact that it burdens the liver. Soybean oil is also considered safe, even though it contributes to skewing the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which leads to inflammation, which in turn leads to a whole list of nasty diseases. (11)
When random organic brown rice syrups were tested for arsenic, significant levels of the chemical were found. Infant formulas sweetened with brown rice syrup contained up to 20 times the amount of arsenic as formulas using other products to enhance flavor. (12)
Though we can’t completely avoid chemicals and contaminants, it’s a blow when organic brown rice and syrup contain arsenic. It’s even more disturbing that the FDA allows toxic chemicals in formula.
Conflict of Interest
The fiber in whole, brown rice does just what it’s supposed to do in slowing down the assimilation of energy and preventing blood sugar spikes.
The dark syrup made from brown rice does exactly what processed table sugar does to our bodies, at a faster rate.
Having solid information about the attributes of brown rice syrup doesn’t solve the problem of finding healthy ways to stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain through eating sweets without negatively impacting metabolism.
At some point, we may have to consider that as much as we enjoy sugar and foods sweetened with sugar, the body isn’t set up to handle a lot of sweets.
Humans evolved in an environment where sweets were rare and occurred in small quantities.
Wild fruits were available in centuries past mostly on a seasonal basis. These would not have contained the sugar content of modern commercial varieties, which have been selectively bred for sweetness over recent decades.
Fiber, phytochemicals and antioxidants are among the redeeming qualities of fruit, but brown rice syrup contains nothing of value for creating a healthy body.
Jams, lattes, candy, desserts and soft drinks, as well as thousands of other processed foods delivering many times the amount of sugars found in a natural human diet, have become everyday fare for many, and the price is our health.
Summary: You’re better off eating brown rice than using a processed sweetener like brown rice syrup.