Is Brown Rice Syrup Better than Sugar? Part 4

Alright! Here is the fourth and final part of this sweet discussion! In the last post I told you that sugar is sugar is sugar but promised to break it down a little more for you. Here is the original question along with some details about fructose and glucose and some concluding thoughts.

Question:

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…

Question, Part 4:

So if sugar is sugar is sugar, then why does high fructose corn syrup get such a bad rap?

Answer, Part 4:

First, a couple of definitions:

  • Sucrose, or table sugar: Glucose joined to fructose. 50% glucose, 50% fructose. The glucose and fructose must be separated before being absorbed.
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS): Mix of glucose and fructose side by side. 40% or 55% is fructose and the rest is glucose.

Fructose occurs in nature. The majority of fruits contain 40-55% fructose as a percentage of total sugar. Agave syrup, honey, and fruit juice concentrate are also sources of fructose often added to foods.

Added fructose can also come in the form of HFCS. Commercial HFCS is between 40‐55% fructose, just like fruits. Sucrose contains 50% fructose.

Why Does HFCS get a bad rap?

Since its introduction in 1970, high fructose corn syrup has largely replaced sucrose because of its low cost. Obesity rates have been increasing along with increased use of HFCS so some people have theorized that HFCS is the cause of obesity.

However, the average calorie intake has also increased by 24% since 1970.

And guess what?

High calorie intake is definitely associated with obesity.  In fact, a calorie is a calorie whether from glucose, fructose, or a combination of both.

Also, HFCS and sucrose have similar metabolic effects, BUT fructose and glucose can have different effects because they are absorbed and metabolized differently.

Glucose requires a transporter to be absorbed, requires insulin to be taken up by cells, and has a feedback control mechanism on its metabolism.

Fructose does not.

The lack a feedback control in fructose metabolism can lead to negative health effects under certain conditions. In human and rodent studies, high consumption of fructose (over 100g at a time) has resulted in increased triglycerides, LDL and HDL cholesterol, fasting glucose, blood pressure, and visceral fat. These findings are interesting, but perhaps not realistic because fructose is usually consumed along with glucose and on average, people consume 49g of fructose per day (not 100g in one sitting). These studies reflect acute metabolic overload rather than what occurs with consistent long-term intake of fructose.

But these are the studies that make news headlines and freak people out.

When fructose is consumed as sucrose or HFCS, other factors need to be considered. There are obviously effects associated with fructose consumption but the simultaneous consumption of glucose can mitigate some of the effects. Studies have shown that in normal people, normal amounts of fructose consumed as part of sucrose or HFCS, is metabolized normally and should not cause negative health effects.

In Summary…

HFCS and sucrose both made up of fructose and glucose and are pretty much nutritionally equivalent. Eating too much of either one will cause weight gain.

Fructose when consumed without glucose and in very large amounts can cause many negative health effects. This does not occur when fructose is consumed as part of sucrose of HFCS.

What You Need to Know

Try to keep overall sugar intake low by cutting down on added sugars and also by being aware of foods that are high in sugars. These include:

  • Soft drinks and other sweetened drinks like iced tea, energy drinks, sports drinks, and fruit drinks
  • Sweets such as candies and chocolates
  • Pastries, pies, cakes, cookies, brownies, danishes, muffins…
  • Many breakfast cereals – compare the sugar content in a few of your favorite cereals and choose the one that has the least sugar
  • Dairy desserts such as ice cream, flavored yogurt, chocolate milk, puddings…

When you need a sweet treat, go for:

  • Watermelon or other fruits
  • A small piece of dark chocolate
  • Raisins with peanut butter and celery
  • Apples with a slice of cheese
  • A piece of whole grain toast topped with applesauce
  • A smoothie made with plain yogurt and your favorite frozen fruits
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Is Brown Rice Syrup Better than Sugar? Part 3

Today, I’m going to get a little further into the nitty-gritty nutritional details of some of the sweeteners mentioned in the following question:

Question:

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 3:

Simply put, table sugar is made by extracting syrup from sugar cane or beets, removing impurities, and concentrating it to form crystals. Nutritionally speaking, it is almost 100% sugar with very little water, vitamins, and minerals.­­ Table sugar is technically known as sucrose which is a 50%-50% split of glucose and fructose joined together.

Most of the other sweeteners you mentioned seem a little more natural because the water has not been fully evaporated but nutritionally speaking, they don’t have much more to offer.

Honey is made by bees and it is about 17% water and 82% sugar which leaves about 1% for fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Maple syrup is made by evaporating maple sap and it can be further evaporated to form maple sugar. Maple syrup is about 32% water and 60% sugar, 7% other simple carbohydrate, leaving about 1% for protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals.

Agave nectar is made a couple of different ways but it starts with a liquid consisting of starch and water that comes from agave plants. It is processed with heat or enzymes to break the starch down into sugar, mostly fructose with some glucose.

Glucose syrup is usually corn syrup in the U.S. but may come from other starch sources as well. Corn syrup is made from corn starch. It is processed with enzymes to break the starch down into simple sugars. Corn syrup is about 23% water, 27% sugar, 50% other carbohydrate, with trace amounts of fat and minerals. Glucose typically makes up 100% of the sugar.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made by further processing corn syrup with enzymes. HFCS is about 24% water, 26% sugar, and 50% other carbohydrate, with trace amounts of fat and minerals. Of the sugar, the fructose content is usually 40% or 55% with glucose and some starch making up most of the remainder.

Rice syrup is produced by treating rice starch with enzymes. As far as breakdown of nutrients, it is similar to regular corn syrup.

Fruit juice is a little more complicated (but simple at the same time) so humor me as I work through it. You start with fruit (if they don’t specify the fruit, it’s probably apple or grape or a mix). Okay, you take your apple, you throw out the peel and the core. Then you squeeze out all of the juice and toss any solids that are left. So the fiber from the peel and all of the vitamins and minerals that were attached to the solids get thrown out. What you are left with is water with the sugar and some vitamins and minerals that are dissolved in the water. So: about 88% water, 10% sugar, 1% other carbohydrate, and 1% left for protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Of course when fruit juice is used in foods (fruit juice concentrate), most of the water is evaporated so you are left primarily with sugar (and much of the sugar in fruit is fructose).

In Summary…

As you can see, most of the sweeteners (other than honey) are made by somehow extracting starch or sugars from a plant, using enzymes to break the starch down into syrup, and evaporating the syrup to get a more concentrated product. Some of them, such as HFCS have a few additional processing steps.

In the end, they are mostly composed of sugar and water. None of them contribute much to the diet in terms of fiber, fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

In the next post I will explain a little bit about glucose and fructose and why HFCS gets a bad rap.

What You Need to Know

Instead of trying o figure out what the best sweetener is, why not try to stick to naturally sweet foods such as fruit. If you eat a piece of fruit, you can rest assured you are getting good nutrition as the sweetness comes with natural fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Other sweet snack options include:

  • Plain yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit mixed in – try pineapple, peaches, or strawberries
  • Sliced bell peppers
  • A piece of sweet corn on the cob
  • Dried fruit – mix them with nuts for a more filling option
  • Peanut butter and banana pinwheels made with a whole wheat tortilla
  • Frozen grapes or blueberries
What are your favorite naturally sweet snacks?

Is Brown Rice Syrup Better than Sugar? Part 2

I answered part of the following question in my last post:

Question: 

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…

But my answer left you annoyed and still wondering:

Question, Part 2:

If 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, why not just eliminate sugar?

Answer, Part 2:

So here’s the thing. Sugar (in it’s various forms) has important functions in food. It’s not just there to satisfy your sweet tooth. Sugar also functions to:

  • Preserve food. Sugar can act as a preservative by binding to water to inhibit microbial growth in jams and jellies.
  • Ferment. Wines, beers, cheeses, yogurts, and yeast breads rely on sugar’s ability to be fermented.
  • Contribute to texture. The texture of many processed or prepared foods such as baked goods and preserved fruits rely on sugar. 
  • Contribute to volume. Sugar contributes volume and creamy consistency to ice cream and other frozen desserts.
  • Absorb water. The ability of sugar to hold water is partly responsible for the moistness and texture of baked goods.
  • Caramelize. Caramelization results from heating sugars and results in foods that are less sweet but more flavorful than the original. Caramelization is used in candies, puddings, frostings, ice cream toppings, and dessert sauces.
  • Crystallize. The ability of sugar to crystallize or not is vital in candy manufacturing. Crystalline candies include chocolates, creams, fudge, fondant, nougats, marshmallows, and pralines. Non-crystalline candies include caramel, toffee, taffy, jelly beans, and gummy bears. 
  • Dissolve. The solubility of a sweetener influences the perceived mouthfeel and texture of a food or beverage.
  • Balance acidity. Sugar balances the acidity in salad dressings, sauces, and condiments. It also decreases perceived bitterness when added to coffee.

In my next post, I’ll talk about each of the sweeteners mentioned in the original question and hopefully get a little bit closer to the answer you’re looking for.

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!

Question:

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…