I remember when I first found out about brown rice syrup. At the time, I was addicted to all things sweet, and it didn’t take much to finagle me into believing its proponents’ health claims.
“It’s a natural, healthy alternative to white sugar,” they promised.
Henceforth, if it had brown rice syrup, it was ok to eat it! In fact, I thought, I was probably doing myself a favor!
Cookies sweetened with brown rice syrup? Finally a sweet treat I could feel good about!
Brown rice syrup flavored non-dairy ice cream? Sign me up!
Chocolate balls infused with brown rice syrup? Bring it on!
And if it was organic brown rice syrup or, better yet, organic sprouted brown rice syrup—hey, the more feel-good adjectives propping up my sweetener, the better I felt about eating it!
At some point, though, as I delved more deeply into nutrition science, I began to wonder, “How healthy is brown rice syrup, really?”, and in the Internet Age, answers are only a click away.
I soon discovered the truth about brown rice syrup—that it’s just another unduly glorified refined sweetener. (Well, maybe it has a few more minerals than table sugar, but you’d have to eat quite a bit of it before those nutrients even began to show up on your favorite diet app.)
What’s wrong with brown rice syrup?
1. Can you say “empty calories”?
The appalling lack of micronutrients in refined sugars—that’s probably the biggest problem with them (including maple syrup and honey). They are devoid of any useful amount of micronutrients, which means that. . . .
Well, let me back up a minute.
You know about free radicals, right?
More to the point, did you know that when your body digests and processes food, free radicals are formed? This happens even when you eat kale and other nutrient-rich pabulum.
Well, whole, unrefined plant foods (e.g., fruits, veggies, beans, whole grains, nuts) are pre-packaged with antioxidants and other phytonutrients that help neutralize free radicals, thus preventing much of the damage caused by oxidative stress (free radicals run wild!).
However, refined foods (flour, bagels, sugar, oil, etc.) and animal foods (meat, cheese, eggs) are lacking in antioxidants and phytonutrients; thus eating them causes your body unnecessary stress and damage, damage that accumulates over time and leads to the common killers of today—heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer.
(In case you’re wondering, taking antioxidants in pill form does not appear to have the same beneficial effects as eating them in their original packaging. If that were the case, I’d be living off chocolate cake and cheese toast.)
To summarize, the lack of a significant amount of micronutrients negates any reputed benefits of brown rice syrup.
2. Another problem—which I have yet to come across in the brown rice syrup literature—is that of what you are eating into which brown rice syrup is inserted. In other words, what kind of foods have brown rice syrup in them to begin with?
Is it a big huge salad with arugula, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, sunflower seeds, and black beans?
No? Ok, is it a Buddha bowl with steamed broccoli and cauliflower, grilled tofu, and homemade tahini sauce over brown rice?
No? Ok, hmmmm……oh, I know. Is it a green smoothie? A bowl of steel cut oats? A vegan, no-pasta lasagna?
No. Of course not. If you’re reading ingredient labels and come across brown rice syrup, I bet you’re looking at a “natural” candy bar, some “healthy” chocolates, or a “whole-food” snack bar (news flash: brown rice syrup is not a whole food).
Or some vegan ice cream.
Those foods aren’t healthy regardless whence their sweetness is derived. Chances are the rest of their ingredients are as calorie-rich and nutrient-poor as the brown rice syrup.
As the unfortunate leader of the free world would tweet, “Sad.”
3. Don’t be fooled!
But perhaps you’re thinking—“Hey, my salad dressing is sweetened with brown rice syrup and it only has 6 grams of sugar."
Yes, I admit, 6 grams sounds innocent enough—until you resurrect and apply a little grade-school math.
Did you know that 6 grams of brown rice syrup (or just about any other sweetener) is equal (in calories and impact) to a half tablespoon of sugar! Yes, 1/2 of a tablespoon. That’s a heaping teaspoon.
Would you ever put a heaping teaspoon of sugar on your salad?
Do you eat snack bars? A quick web search has just revealed one such bar whose first ingredient is organic coconut nectar also contains brown rice syrup. And the total sugar content? 13 grams! That’s a tablespoon of refined sugar in a reputedly healthy snack bar!
This particular bar got great reviews. One person wrote: “It’s a good feeling knowing I can give one to him [her son] and he’s not being overloaded with sugar from a regular granola bar.”
Wow! Does she think coconut “nectar” and brown rice “syrup” are NOT sugar? I wonder if she even checked out the nutrition panel. Lady, do you realize that a snickers bar only has 20 grams of sugar?
Alas, she was probably hoodwinked—as I once was—by the deceptive synonyms (“nectar” and “syrup”) utilized by the food industry to disguise the ingredient’s real identity—sugar!
The reality is that, unless the sugars on the nutrition panel are still attached to their source, they are no more than empty-calorie additives—they may taste good, but they are degrading the nutritional value of whatever you’re eating.
What is a person to do?
If you’re convinced that you’re not doing yourself (or your offspring) any favors by eating including brown rice syrup on a list of healthy foods, now what?
Well, first of all, if you’re not trying to satisfy a craving, don’t buy anything with added sugar period—neither brown rice syrup, honey, maple syrup, molasses, agave, nor coconut nectar. Why waste unhealthy refined sugar calories when you’re not after a sweet treat in the first place?
Personally, I am very clean with my day-to-day diet, and if I’m going to eat anything with added sugars, I make sure it’s something I really really want.
Also, fruit is a great, high-nutrient option to help satisfy a sweet tooth. For that matter, most of us should be eating 3-5 pieces of fruit/day for the plethora of uncontested health benefits fruit has to offer.
Dried fruit (yes, high in sugar but comes packaged with its original fibers, etc.) is an option but should be limited because it is much more concentrated and therefore easier to overeat on than fresh or frozen fruit. For instance, 75 calories worth of apple is weighs about 5 ounces, while 75 calories of medjool date is only one date!
Dried fruit is also a great sweetener for healthy, whole-food desserts.
If you want a little sweet somethin’ AND you want to make the best of every calorie you eat, I offer you WellBean. WellBean is a snack bar made from whole unrefined plant foods, with a half-serving of beans and fruit in every bar. WellBeans also contain healthy fats from cashews, peanuts, and walnuts.
WellBeans are very high in naturally occurring fiber, and this makes them a great afternoon snack, one that will not cause a spike in your blood sugar but will keep you going until supper.
The bottom line: icksnay on the brown rice syrup. (Sorry.)
Fill yourself with WellBean. :-)