Is brown rice syrup healthy?

What is Brown Rice Syrup?

Brown rice syrup is a natural sweetener made by culturing cooked brown rice with enzymes to break down the starches. The liquid is then strained off and concentrated into a thick syrup. It has a mild, malted flavor and is about half as sweet as white sugar.

Some key facts about brown rice syrup:

  • Made from whole grain brown rice
  • Thick, viscous texture
  • Sweet, malted flavor
  • Naturally gluten-free
  • Has a glycemic index of 98 (high)
  • About half as sweet as white sugar

Compared to white sugar, brown rice syrup provides small amounts of nutrients like calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. However, its main components are carbohydrates with very little protein or healthy fats.

Brown Rice Syrup Nutrition Facts

Here is the nutrition information for a 1 tablespoon (21 grams) serving of brown rice syrup (1, 2):

Calories 112
Carbs 24g
Sugars 12g
Fat 0g
Protein 0g
Manganese 13% DV
Selenium 2% DV

As you can see, brown rice syrup is high in carbohydrates and doesn’t offer much protein, fat, fiber, or micronutrients. Its moderately high mineral content comes with a large dose of sugars.

Brown Rice Syrup vs Honey

How does brown rice syrup compare to honey?

Honey has more micronutrients than brown rice syrup, providing small amounts of nutrients like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and manganese (3).

Brown rice syrup has a glycemic index of 98, while honey’s is 55–83, making honey a better choice for blood sugar control (4, 5).

However, honey contains trace amounts of bee pollen and royal jelly that some people may be allergic to. Brown rice syrup is hypoallergenic.

Both honey and brown rice syrup have a sweeter flavor compared to sugar. Honey has a floral, nuanced taste, while brown rice syrup is milder tasting.

For culinary purposes, they can often be used interchangeably, though honey is better for baking since it helps items like cakes retain moisture.

Brown Rice Syrup vs Corn Syrup

Brown rice syrup is often considered a healthy alternative to corn syrup, but how different are they really?

Corn syrup is made of refined corn starch that has been broken down into glucose with enzymes. It comes in regular and high fructose varieties.

High fructose corn syrup is very high in fructose, while brown rice syrup has equal amounts of glucose and maltose and only a small fraction of fructose.

While quite sweet, brown rice syrup has a lower glycemic index of 98 compared to high fructose corn syrup’s glycemic index of 68–87 (6).

Unrefined corn syrup contains some nutrients not found in refined corn syrup. Still, brown rice syrup provides more manganese, magnesium, calcium, and potassium by weight.

Taste-wise, brown rice syrup is less sweet with maltier, earthier notes compared to traditional corn syrup’s clean sweetness.

So while both are high in carbs, brown rice syrup does have a better nutrient profile and glycemic response. But it should still be used sparingly.

Is Brown Rice Syrup Keto?

The keto diet restricts net carbs to 20–50 grams per day to induce ketosis, a state where your body burns fats for fuel.

With 24 grams of net carbs in just 1 tablespoon (21 grams), brown rice syrup far exceeds keto carb limits (7).

A small amount may fit into total daily carbs, but it’s impossible to use liberally in keto recipes. Other sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit, and erythritol are better choices.

Brown rice syrup should be avoided on keto since even a few tablespoons could easily knock you out of ketosis.

Is Brown Rice Syrup Paleo?

The paleo diet eliminates modern processed foods, focusing on foods early humans could hunt or gather.

While brown rice syrup comes from whole grain brown rice, the process of culturing, straining and concentrating the starch into syrup is relatively modern.

Early humans would not have had the technology to convert rice into syrup.

For these reasons, brown rice syrup is not an approved paleo sweetener (8).

Paleo-friendly options include raw honey, pure maple syrup, and coconut sugar. These involve less processing and are more similar to ancient sweeteners.

Is Brown Rice Syrup Vegan?

Brown rice syrup is 100% vegan. No animal products or byproducts are used in its production.

It consists purely of cooked rice grains that have been cultured and broken down into a sweet liquid that is then concentrated.

Brown rice syrup gives vegan recipes a natural sweetness. It works well in desserts, smoothies, salad dressings, marinades, and more.

Pair it with non-dairy milks like almond, coconut or oat milk for a vegan-friendly, lightly sweetened beverage.

Is Brown Rice Syrup Gluten-Free?

Pure brown rice syrup is gluten-free.

It’s made by processing brown rice, which does not naturally contain any gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye (9).

Celiacs and those avoiding gluten can enjoy brown rice syrup safely in moderation as part of a gluten-free diet.

Be sure to check labels and purchase brands that are certified gluten-free, as some facilities make other products containing gluten.

Does Brown Rice Syrup Have Arsenic?

Brown rice and brown rice syrup contain higher levels of inorganic arsenic compared to white rice products.

Arsenic occurs naturally in soil, water and air. Rice plants absorb arsenic from the environment more readily than other crops.

While inorganic arsenic levels in brown rice syrup are not extremely high, there is some concern about exposure from regularly consuming rice products (10).

The FDA currently does not have guidelines for arsenic in rice syrup. But if exposure is a concern for you, use brown rice syrup sparingly.

Brown Rice Syrup Glycemic Index

The glycemic index (GI) is a scale of 0–100 that ranks foods by how much they raise blood sugar.

Brown rice syrup has a glycemic index of 98, which is extremely high (5).

For comparison, table sugar has a GI of 65 and honey has a GI of 55–83. High fructose corn syrup ranges from 68–87.

This means brown rice syrup causes a rapid spike in blood sugar and insulin. The surge of insulin can lead to crashes later causing hunger and cravings.

Regularly consuming high GI foods is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Ideally, low GI foods under 55 are healthiest, especially for those with diabetes (11, 12).

Brown Rice Syrup and Diabetes

With diabetes, it’s important to control blood sugar and insulin response. Due to its very high glycemic index, brown rice syrup is not the best choice.

Consuming brown rice syrup regularly can cause blood sugar to rise rapidly and then fall dramatically, which is problematic for diabetes management.

Lower glycemic sweeteners like monk fruit, stevia, yacon syrup, and allulose cause a slower, more steady rise in blood glucose.

If you do use brown rice syrup, pair it with protein, fat, and fiber to help slow digestion and prevent blood sugar spikes. But it should be minimized in a diabetic diet.

Is Brown Rice Syrup Fattening?

At 112 calories per tablespoon, brown rice syrup is a concentrated source of calories and carbs that can promote weight gain if eaten in excess.

However, it does not inherently cause fat gain. The amount consumed and your overall calorie intake determine its effects on weight.

Replacing other sugars with a small amount of brown rice syrup should not lead to fat gain. But binging on it can drive overeating and obesity.

To prevent weight gain, use modest amounts in place of other caloric sweeteners and be mindful of portion sizes. Also, focus on a diet high in whole foods.

Brown Rice Syrup for Babies & Infants

Brown rice syrup is sometimes used as a sweetener in homemade infant formulas and finger foods. However, there are a few reasons to use caution:

  • High arsenic content may pose risks
  • Very high glycemic index can spike blood sugar
  • May promote a strong preference for sweets
  • Lack of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, followed by gradual introduction of solids including iron-rich foods, vegetables, fruits, and quality sources of protein and fat (13).

Homemade formulas and foods with added brown rice syrup should be avoided in the first 1–2 years. If used sparingly later on, pair it with nutritious whole foods.

Is Brown Rice Syrup Acidic?

Brown rice syrup has a pH of approximately 4.2, giving it mild acidic properties (14).

However, once metabolized in the body, researchers believe it likely has an alkalizing effect that helps neutralize acids and prevent bone loss. This is attributed to its high potassium and magnesium content (15).

Also, brown rice protein itself demonstrates an alkalizing effect during digestion. So brown rice syrup made from whole brown rice may counteract its acidity (16).

For those monitoring their dietary acid load, brown rice syrup in moderation should not significantly impact acidity.

How Is Brown Rice Syrup Made?

Brown rice syrup is made by breaking down the natural starches in brown rice via an enzymatic process. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Add brown rice powder to water with other enzymes and culture it
  2. The enzymes break down rice starches into smaller sugars
  3. Liquid is strained out and concentrated by evaporation
  4. The final syrup is about 50% as sweet as refined sugar

No harsh chemicals are used. The sugars are extracted using natural culturing agents combined with heat and pressure.

Be sure to purchase organic brands made from whole grain brown rice without unnecessary additives. Brown rice syrup should just contain rice with natural enzymes.

Where to Buy Brown Rice Syrup

You can find brown rice syrup at most health food stores and well-stocked supermarkets. Purchase it from retailers you trust and certified organic brands to ensure quality.

Some places you can buy brown rice syrup include:

  • Natural food stores
  • Co-ops
  • Specialty grocery stores
  • Online retailers like Amazon and Thrive Market
  • Large supermarkets like Whole Foods

When shopping, check the ingredients to verify the product is made purely from brown rice or brown rice flour without unnecessary additives.

Store brown rice syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator after opening. It will keep for several months.

Brown Rice Syrup Recipes

Brown rice syrup works well in a variety of recipes as a sweetener. Try using it in some of these recipes:

  • Salad dressings: Whisk together brown rice syrup, mustard, vinegar, and oil for sweet and tangy vinaigrettes.
  • Marinades: Combine brown rice syrup with soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and spices to make marinades for meats, tofu, and tempeh.
  • Granola: Mix oats, nuts, coconut, spices, and brown rice syrup and bake until crispy for homemade granola.
  • Energy bars: Bind together dry ingredients like oats, nuts, and dried fruit with brown rice syrup for chewy power bars.
  • Cookies: Substitute brown rice syrup for half the white sugar when baking soft baked cookies.
  • Cakes: Replace up to 1/4 of the sugar in cake recipes with brown rice syrup for added moisture.
  • Smoothies: Add a tablespoon of brown rice syrup plus frozen fruit to milk or yogurt for a subtly sweet smoothie.

Start by substituting 1/4 to 1/3 of the sugar in a recipe with brown rice syrup at first. Adjust to taste based on your preference.

The Bottom Line

Brown rice syrup starts with whole grains, making it less processed than white sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

However, its very high glycemic index can spike blood sugar rapidly. Brown rice syrup also contains concerning levels of arsenic.

Using it sparingly in place of other sugars may provide trace minerals. But it does not offer complete nutrition and is high in carbohydrates.

For improved health, it’s best to get most of your nutrition from wholesome, minimally processed foods and use small amounts of brown rice syrup as a supplementary sweetener.

While brown rice syrup is not as unhealthy as sugar or artificial sweeteners, it should still be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet. For most people, restricting added sugars of all types is ideal for optimal health.

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