Is Brown Rice Syrup Better than Sugar? Part 1

So last week I got a question on Facebook and I decided to turn it into a couple of blog posts. Unfortunately it turns out that preparing for and moving across the country took up more free time than I had expected so it took me a while to get to the post. But now I am in Raleigh, North Carolina and I have the start of an answer for you Jacqueline!


I fastidiously read labels to avoid corn syrup (and glucose syrup if I can). At home, often use alternate sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and agave nectar but wondering if rice syrup is that much better than corn syrup or liquid sugar as it seems to crop up a lot in processed foods at health food shops. At home in England, we buy sugar free (sweetened with juice) and whole grain ‘snacks’ for the kids but the best in Canada we could find was bars where the second ingredient was organic brown rice syrup. So just wondering…

Answer, Part 1:

I’m going to start off with a very general answer. From your question, it sounds like you use a variety of nutritive sweeteners (see below) and that your efforts of buying sugar-free products is on the right track.

Why? Because it is safe to enjoy a range of sweeteners as part of a healthy diet. Humans have an innate preference for sweetness because it increases the pleasure of eating and that’s okay.

Nutritive sweeteners (sugar, HFCS, maple syrup, honey, brown rice syrup, etc.) contain carbohydrates and provide energy. Some of these occur naturally in foods while others are added. Higher intake of added sugars is associated with higher energy intake and lower diet quality, which can increase the risk for obesity, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. All sugars increase the incidence of dental cavities.

Polyols or sugar alcohols (maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, etc.) are sweet but lower in calories and may reduce risk for dental caries. Foods with polyols but no added sugars can be labeled as sugar-free. You often see thesewith chewing gum.

Non-nutritive sweeteners (acesulfame K, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, stevia, and sucralose) provide sweetness but little or no calories. In the U.S., they are regulated by the FDA as food additives or generally recognized as safe (GRAS). This means the FDA has approved their use based on probable intake, cumulative effect from all uses, and toxicology studies in animals. Non-nutritive sweeteners have different tastes (and aftertastes) some work better than others in various types of foods.

The above information was taken from the Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Use of Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners, May 2012.

Let me emphasize the as part of a healthy diet part. Don’t be afraid of sugar and other nutritive sweeteners, but make sure you enjoy them in moderation.

Here are a few tips to help you do this:

  • Choose water or other unsweetened drinks instead of sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, or even juice
  • Snack fruit when you need a sweet treat
  • Eat fewer processed and packaged cookies, cakes, and other sweets
  • Skip sugary and frosted cereals
  • Skip the snack aisle and make your own snacks
  • Read ingredient labels and look for as few sources of added sugars as possible
  • Cut down on sugar in home baking (but make sure food is still yummy)
  • Savor sweets when you have them

More answer coming soon…

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  1. Is Brown Rice Syrup Better than Sugar? Part 2 « ProjectEatMe
  2. Is Brown Rice Syrup Better than Sugar? Part 3 « ProjectEatMe
  3. Is Brown Rice Syrup Better than Sugar? Part 4 « ProjectEatMe

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