It seems like every couple of years a new sugar alternative hits the scene and we praise it as a hero. And then a short time later a new study is populated that tears it to shreds. And then we start again.
Agave was the first. Ferment this Mexican plant and you get the most infamous of spirits. Tequila. Boil it down and you get agave syrup. Which is advertised as diabetic friendly due to it's low glycemic index (GI). It was labelled a genius about four years ago, populating all the New York and LA health bars. And then a short time later the health sceptics scrutinised the fructose content and tore it down.
What's Wrong With Fructose?
Fructose, in high volumes, can overload your liver and lead to insulin resistance. As well as fatty liver. However, you can't determine how healthy something is just by looking at it's fructose score. We've previously shown you that it's a HORRENDOUS way to examine fruit. Whilst it's much more relevant to liquid sweeteners, it's by no means a complete tool.
Bloggers Love Brown Rice
The anti-fructose crowd, using their one sided tool, wanted to champion a perfect sugar alternative. So they looked for the sweetener with the lowest fructose score.
In walks brown rice syrup. Also known as rice malt syrup or several other combinations of the words brown, rice, malt and syrup. Brown rice syrup contains 0% fructose. Yayyyyyyyy (the bloggers yell).
"I wonder if we can get paid to criticise all other sugar alternatives and endorse a rice malt brand? Yep, we can."
And so almost every health food blog naively promotes this sugar alternative without first examining it as a product. They see it promoted by bigger influencers and just repeat it's populated benefits. No questions asked.
How do we know that? Because we used to do the same thing! Brown rice syrup was an option in half our Sweet Treat recipes. We don't use it any more.
What's Wrong With Rice Malt?
Brown rice syrup is actually 100% glucose. And it has a glycemic index of 98! That's off the charts. Nearly 40% higher than the table sugar we're running away from. So if you eat brown rice syrup then it is highly likely to lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar. You're not avoiding the sugar spikes from sugar, instead, you're getting more!
Additionally, it's processed. Brown rice syrup is made from fermented cooked rice. Which means a large company commercially boils brown rice into a syrup. Cooking out any nutrients. What's left is empty glucose.
And It Get's Worse
Brown rice is often found to contain arsenic. One study showed that rice malt sweetened baby formulas have 20 times the arsenic of the non-rice malt versions. Which is concerning for me as a soon-to-be parent.
Additionally, it makes me realise that I need to cut down on the store bought almond milks. Those are sweetened with brown rice syrup and my 1-2 daily smoothies would have my consumption levels higher than most.
What's Wrong With Arsenic?
This study shows that high levels of arsenic cause cancer of the lung, bladder and skin! And it's linked to cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and affects neurodevelopment.
One to two tablespoons a day might not be high consumption but we need less in our bodies, not more.
It's As Exciting As Rob Kardashian
If glucose overload, high GI and potential arsenic aren't bad enough, I can't enjoy brown rice syrup because it has no flavour. If I'm going to use a sweetener in my cooking, I actually want the product to taste good. I follow recipes from all the health bloggers who conservatively recommend a couple of tablespoons in a recipe. So it reads better on their website. And you can't taste anything! My sweet treat is now a chore to eat. Flavourless.
According to my tastebuds, not exactly scientific research, you need at least 4 tablespoons of rice malt to match the sweetness of honey. And it still doesn't taste as good.
So If Rice Malt Is Flawed, What's The Substitute?
I love raw honey. Sorry hardcore vegans, you're missing out. The criticism is that it's high in fructose. But that's only one consideration. What about the fact that it's flavour profile is so strong you use smaller servings? Or, more importantly, what about the nutritional properties?
Raw honey contains over 200 substances such as vitamins, phenolic acids, flavonoids, and enzymes. It may also be used as an antibacterial, antimicrobial, and in the treatment of digestive disorders such as colitis.
I'm drinking some raw honey with lemon and hot water right now. Helping conquer a cold.
Even Mariah knows how great honey is.
Canada's Cancer Fighter
Can't do animal products? Then hit up Canada's best export. No not Beiber. Or Drake. Or Celine. We're talking maple.
Maple syrup is derived naturally from tree sap. It contains approximately 23 phenolic compounds including lignans that have been shown to produce powerful antioxidant properties. Additionally, maple syrup contains magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. It may also be able to fight cancer and other inflammatory conditions by inhibiting the formation of tumor cells.
Another favourite at Green Press is dates. They contain 15 minerals and five vitamins, including vitamins A and C, thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin.
Like honey, the knock on dates and maple is fructose. Which is something that can be managed by moderation.
We soak dates in boiling water (50% dates / 50% water) and then blend them into a date paste. One tablespoon contains only two dates. All the sweet satisfaction, few of the consequences.
There's No Magic Bullet
What we need to understand is that anything with the remote flavour profile of sugar is going to have consequences. There's no plant on this planet that has the flavour enhancing properties of sugar and the nutritional profile of kale. It doesn't exist. But I'd much rather have something that is 100% natural than something commercially produced or designed in a science lab (don't get us started on the artificial sweeteners).
And moderation is key. Even though we love the flavour and medicinal properties of raw honey, we don't recommend eating it like big Winnie.