Added sugar is one of the worst aspects of the modern diet.
It is made of two simple sugars, glucose and fructose. Although some fructose from fruit is completely fine, large amounts from added sugar may have harmful effects on health (, ).
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.
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.
SUMMARY 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.
It may host tiny amounts of minerals like calcium and potassium — but this is negligible compared to what you get from whole food ().
Keep in mind that this syrup is very high in sugar.
Thus, brown rice syrup provides ample calories but virtually no essential nutrients.
SUMMARY Like most refined sugars, brown rice syrup contains a lot of sugar and almost no essential nutrients.
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 ().
High fructose intake has been associated with insulin resistance, fatty liver, and increased triglyceride levels (, , ).
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.
SUMMARY 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.
The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar.
Evidence suggests that eating a lot of high-GI foods may cause obesity (, ).
When you eat high-GI foods, blood sugar and insulin levels skyrocket before crashing, leading to hunger and cravings ().
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.
SUMMARY 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.
One study looked at the arsenic content of organic brown rice syrup. It tested isolated syrups, as well as products sweetened with rice syrup, including infant formulas ().
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 (14).
Nevertheless, it’s probably best to completely avoid infant formulas sweetened with brown rice syrup.
SUMMARY Significant amounts of arsenic have been found in rice syrups and products sweetened with them. This is a potential cause for concern.
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.