Rice Malt Syrup – is it really a healthier alternative to sugar?

When it comes to sugar there is a lot of clever advertising out there. Brown sugar, coconut sugar, honey, agave, maple syrup are all forms of sugar. There is a common misconception that choosing a natural sugar like Rice Malt Syrup without the fructose (the sugar most commonly found in fruit) is a healthier alternative and this is not necessarily true. Fructose gets a bad rap as it is commonly found in many processed foods in the form of high fructose corn syrup. When we eat too much sugar, particularly in the concentrated form of high fructose corn syrup then of course we are going to see negative health consequences. When we eat fructose in the form of fresh whole fruit complete with fibre, vitamins and minerals it becomes part of a healthy balanced diet. Cutting out fruit because it contains natural sugars is absurd (unless you have a medical reason to do so such as IBS or some gut malabsorption conditions – there are always exceptions to the rule!) and can even put us at risk of vitamin deficiencies.

Rice Malt Syrup is often thought of as a healthier alternative to sugar as it comes from brown rice but this is where it gets misleading. Rice malt syrup is commercially produced by the use of enzymes which break down the starches from the rice to produce a sugar liquid. The liquid is processed by filtering and boiling to produce a thick, sticky syrup with little or no nutritional value left.

Rice malt syrup consists mainly of glucose, maltose (two glucose units) and maltotriose (three glucose unit. There is negligible fructose present in rice malt syrup which means it gets absorbed into the blood stream very rapidly meaning it has extremely high Glycaemic Index (GI) of 98. In accordance to the Sydney Uni Testing Lab, this puts rice malt syrup as almost the same GI as pure glucose (the maximum GI) which has a GI of 100/100.

What’s a healthy sugar alternative? The truth is there is no healthy alternative. Sugar is sugar however some forms of sugar may contain more trace nutrients than others. Maple syrup (be careful not to choose the maple flavoured variety which tends to be just flavoured syrup), honey, manuka honey are all natural sugars and may be used in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Remember too much sugar of any type both refined and natural isn’t good for us so don’t be lulled into a false sense of security that natural is always healthy. Allow yourself the odd treat but if you think rice malt syrup is a safe and healthy version then think again.

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