In the swimming, swirling world of sugar, the distinction between what's good and what's bad for you can get really confusing. Brown rice syrup is one of the many sugar alternatives available out there, and with the words “brown rice” involved, it must be a healthy option, right? If you're wondering, 'what is brown rice syrup,' I'm here to answer the essential questions about this sugar doppelgänger, including whether or not it's actually good for you. 

What Is Brown Rice Syrup?

Also called rice syrup or rice malt syrup, brown rice syrup is a sweetener derived from brown rice. It is made by fermenting brown rice, breaking the starches down with certain enzymes, and then reducing the substance until it reaches a syrup-like consistency. Broken down, brown rice syrup is basically pure glucose.

You can find brown rice syrup in many organic and health food products, such as breakfast cereal and snack bars, as an alternative to white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. Some recipes, such as granola bars, also call for brown rice syrup.

Is it a Healthy Sugar Alternative?

Although brown rice syrup is found in many organic and health food products, there are no inherent benefits in consuming brown rice syrup in comparison to other sugar options. According to Lela Fausze, Northwestern University’s campus dietitian, brown rice syrup is not a healthier option when compared to regular sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

“Even though brown rice syrup is promoted as plant-based, gluten-free, and generally 'healthy,' it is ultimately broken down into simple sugars in our bodies, just like regular white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup,” Fausze said. “Some studies have shown that brown rice syrup has a higher glycemic index, which means the sugar is absorbed more quickly and leads to a spike in sugar levels in our bodies.”

Glycemic Index? What's That? 

Brown rice syrup’s glycemic index, a number associated with how fast your body converts sugar into glucose, is a whopping 98 out of 100. It ranks the highest in GI out of every other processed sugar, including white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. High-glycemic food, such as bread and puffed wheat cereals and crackers, get absorbed into bloodstream faster, and cause rapid changes in blood level. You feel full for a shorter period of time, making it more tempting to reach for that second Oreo or bag of chips.

Fausze also emphasized on the implications of consuming brown rice syrup. “Most brown rice syrup is used in processed food in place of high-fructose corn syrup. Consumed on a regular basis, and on top of excessive caloric consumption, added sugars like brown rice syrup may lead to weight gain and illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease."

The Takeaway

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Alex Tom

Brown rice syrup is not a healthier option compared to white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or other sugar alternatives. Just because it's not refined sugar and appears in many organic foods doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy.

The important thing to keep in mind is maintaining a balanced diet, Fausze advised. “Consume sugar in the form of natural sugars in whole and natural foods like fresh fruits instead of processed food. If you need a sweetener, natural ones like agave syrup or honey are good alternatives." 

And finally, she added that the amount matters, too. “Moderation is key. Any added sugars should only be consumed in moderate amounts. Quantity and overall balance of diet and lifestyle behaviors play a huge part in determining whether something is healthy for an individual."

For those of you who are curious, checkout the USDA guidelines on the recommended amount of sugar intake on a daily basis.