Added sugar is one of the worst aspects of the modern diet.
For this reason, many people avoid fructose and use low-fructose sweeteners — like brown rice syrup — instead.
Also called rice malt syrup or simply rice syrup, brown rice syrup is essentially all glucose.
However, you may wonder whether it is healthier than other sweeteners.
This article tells you whether brown rice syrup is good or bad for your health.
What Is Brown Rice Syrup?
Brown rice syrup is a sweetener derived from brown rice.
It is produced by exposing cooked rice to enzymes that break down starches and turn them into smaller sugars, then filtering out the impurities.
The result is a thick, sugary syrup.
Brown rice syrup contains three sugars — maltotriose (52%), maltose (45%), and glucose (3%).
However, don’t be fooled by the names. Maltose is just two glucose molecules, while maltotriose is three glucose molecules.
Therefore, brown rice syrup acts like 100% glucose inside your body.
Brown rice syrup is made by breaking down the starch in cooked rice, turning it into easily digestible sugars.
Although brown rice is highly nutritious, its syrup contains very few nutrients.
Keep in mind that this syrup is very high in sugar.
Thus, brown rice syrup provides ample calories but virtually no essential nutrients.
Like most refined sugars, brown rice syrup contains a lot of sugar and almost no essential nutrients.
Glucose vs. Fructose
There is an ongoing debate about why added sugar is unhealthy.
Some think it’s merely because it contains virtually no vitamins and minerals and that it can be bad for your teeth.
However, evidence suggests that its fructose is especially harmful.
Of course, fructose doesn’t raise blood sugar levels nearly as much as glucose. As a result, it is better for people with diabetes.
But whereas glucose can be metabolized by every cell in your body, fructose can only be metabolized in significant amounts by your liver (
Some scientists hypothesize that excessive fructose intake may be one of the underlying causes of type 2 diabetes (
Because glucose can be metabolized by all of your body’s cells, it shouldn’t have the same negative effects on liver function.
However, brown rice syrup’s high glucose content is its only positive attribute.
Keep in mind that none of this applies to fruits, which are healthy foods. They contain small amounts of fructose — but also plenty of nutrients and fiber.
There is no fructose in brown rice syrup, so it shouldn’t have the same negative effects on liver function and metabolic health as regular sugar.
High Glycemic Index
The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar.
According to the Sydney University GI database, rice syrup has a glycemic index of 98, which is extremely high (12).
It is much higher than table sugar (GI of 60–70) and higher than almost any other sweetener on the market.
If you eat rice syrup, then it is highly likely to lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar.
Brown rice syrup has a glycemic index of 98, which is higher than almost every other sweetener on the market.
Arsenic is a toxic chemical often found in trace amounts in some foods, including rice and rice syrups.
Significant levels of arsenic were identified in these products. The formulas had 20 times the total arsenic concentrations of the ones not sweetened with rice syrup.
However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims that these amounts are too low to be harmful (
Nevertheless, it’s probably best to completely avoid infant formulas sweetened with brown rice syrup.
Significant amounts of arsenic have been found in rice syrups and products sweetened with them. This is a potential cause for concern.
The Bottom Line
No human studies exist on the health effects of brown rice syrup.
However, its high GI, lack of nutrients, and risk of arsenic contamination are significant downsides.
Even if it is fructose-free, rice syrup seems mostly harmful.
You may be much better off sweetening your foods with natural, low-calorie sweeteners that don’t raise blood sugar levels.