Is brown rice syrup a healthy choice?
Q: I know sugar should be avoided, but what about brown rice syrup? Is it healthier than other sweeteners? – Carolyn
There’s so much confusion when it comes to sweeteners and whether we should be avoiding them or not. Firstly, it’s important to clarify what the word ‘‘sugar’’ means, because it’s a term that tends to be thrown around with a variety of meanings.
The term ‘‘sugar’’ refers to simple sugars, monosaccharides, such as glucose and fructose, as well as disaccharides, which are two monosaccharides linked together such as sucrose, lactose and maltose. These sugars are widely spread throughout whole, real foods but in relatively small amounts when compared to the added and/or concentrated sugars found in processed foods.
Table sugar (what most people think of when we say ‘‘sugar’’) is a disaccharide called sucrose, formed by a glucose molecule and a fructose molecule linked together. Brown rice syrup or rice
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malt syrup differs from table sugar and many other sugars in that it doesn’t contain fructose. However, it is still a highly concentrated form of sugar that should be used sparingly, like all added sugars.
Excess fructose consumption is most definitely a problem, but most people (excluding those who cannot absorb or metabolise fructose well) are perfectly able to handle the amount of fructose in a couple of pieces of fruit and, on occasion, a little bit of added (fructose-containing) sugar such as honey or maple syrup in recipes that are based on whole food ingredients and that are spread across many serves.
It is when we consume a lot of processed foods and overconsume sweeteners that is problematic; eating concentrated, refined sugars on a regular basis makes you hungry and you have little chance of innate appetite regulation when you include these processed foods in how you eat.
Personally, I prefer to use fruit such as dates or Manuka honey as sweeteners (sparingly though). This is because these are less refined options (foods with less ‘‘human intervention’’) so they still contain some beneficial nutrients. For example, in addition to sugars, dates also contain some minerals and fibre, and if a recipe contains five dates and it serves 30, that’s not a lot of sugar per serve. Dried fruits are a more concentrated form of sugar than fresh fruits.
However, for people who are unable to digest or metabolise fructose properly, brown rice syrup will be better tolerated and would therefore be a better choice than honey, maple syrup or fruitbased sweeteners. This is why an individualised approach is so important when it comes to the way we eat. Nutritional aspect aside, the relentless guilt that can come with consuming something that is perceived as ‘‘bad’’ or ‘‘unhealthy’’ can be just as damaging to your health as the actual food.
So rather than thinking of foods (including sugars) as being ‘‘good’’, ‘‘bad’’, ‘‘healthy’’ or ‘‘unhealthy’’, view them as being nutritious (or not). People are healthy, or they aren’t, and the more nutritious foods we choose, the healthier we will be. Remember, it’s what you do every day that impacts on your health, not what you do occasionally.
Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional. See Dr Libby live during her upcoming ‘What Am I Supposed To Eat?’ tour throughout New Zealand. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit drlibby.com
Dates are a good alternative to sweeteners but for those who cannot digest fructose properly, use brown rice syrup.