Is brown rice syrup a healthy choice?

Rotorua Review - - YOUR LOCAL NEWS -

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


Email your ques­tions for Dr Libby to ask.dr­libby@fair­fax­me­ Please note, only a se­lec­tion of ques­tions can be an­swered.

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 ‘WhatAmI Sup­posed To Eat?’ tour through­out New Zealand. For more in­for­ma­tion and to pur­chase tick­ets, visit dr­


Dates are a good al­ter­na­tive to sweet­en­ers but for those who can­not digest fruc­tose prop­erly, use brown rice syrup.

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