An Australian Dietician has caused you all to freak out with her opinion on rice malt syrup on social media recently. I’m here to set the record straight. Let’s start with some background information.
What is rice malt syrup?
Rice malt syrup (RMS) is made from 100% organic brown rice. It is made through culturing rice with enzymes to breakdown the starches and then cooking until it becomes syrup. The final product contains soluble complex carbohydrates, maltose and a small amount of glucose. RMS is 100% fructose free.
Why is fructose free important?
The importance here is that the carbohydrates in RMS provide a steady supply of energy, requiring up to 90 minutes digestion time. Other sweeteners like sugar, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar and agave, which range from 50-90% fructose, are faster releasing sugars which cause insulin spikes, the associated blood sugar crashes (the blood sugar-insulin roller coaster) and therefore cravings, hunger and fatigue. Or in other words, the all-too-common 3.30-itis. Chronically elevated insulin levels lead to fat accumulation and longer term, obesity and diabetes.
In short, avoiding the blood-sugar roller coaster is the key to satiety, hormonal control and weight management. In comparison to fructose, glucose is used by every cell in our bodies and our liver only metabolizes 20%. Remember, glucose is also found in starchy carbohydrates like sweet potato – our perfect post-exercise glycogen replenishment.
The problem with fructose is that the metabolic burden rests on your liver. It is converted directly to fatty acids, and then body fat. Eat fruit by all means, but stick to two small serves per day and make predominately low fructose choices like berries and kiwi fruits and save bananas for post-training. In terms of sweeteners, be cautious of honey or maple syrup (40% fructose) and avoid coconut sugar (50%) and agave (90%) fructose.
What are the benefits of RMS?
Other than an efficient source of energy, RMS is an ideal sweetener for those following a low FODMAP diet (often for fructose intolerance), and unlike honey, is suitable for vegans. It is gluten free and contains no artificial colours and flavours so it is perfect for our natural nutrition approach. Please choose one that is also organic and GMO free, like Pure Harvest.
In terms of cooking or baking, the great thing about RMS is that you can substitute it for any sugar or sweetener. In my opinion, a tablespoon or two to ¼ cup is sufficient. Unlike our more traditional sweeteners, RMS doesn’t taste too sweet. This helps with portion control and again, blood sugar control, satiety, hormonal control and weight management. In case you hadn’t noticed, sweet foods stimulate the need for more sweet foods and start the vicious cycle of addiction.
Why wouldn’t you use RMS?
As it is made from brown rice, RMS is technically not grain-free. Those following a strict paleo protocol usually use honey or maple syrup as sweeteners for that reason, but personally I prefer a fructose free alternative.
Those following a low-carbohydrate protocol would also not use RMS. It contains 8 grams of carbohydrate per 10g serve (80% carbohydrate) and the reason why sweet treats are exactly that: “treats”. Or “sometimes foods” as I like to call them. Just like sweet potato and bananas, I suggest you consume RMS around training.
What about arsenic poisoning?
Recent research by scientists at Dartmouth College, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2012, found consumers were ingesting potentially harmful levels of arsenic via rice and RMS. This report understandably discouraged some consumers from purchasing RMS, but it’s important to keep these studies in perspective. Remember, we live in Australia and Pure Harvest is flying the flag in chemical-free products and environmentally sound manufacturing techniques.
After this so called controversy, Pure Harvest released the following statement:
“The FSANZ standard 1.4.1 permits a level for cereals of 1 mg/kg (ppm) of total arsenic. As can be seen from the test report provided, our rice syrup has a level of <0.040 mg/kg (ppm) of total arsenic (note the less than, this is the detection limit for the specific test used to detect the arsenic in this case, so the actual levels are less than this), so is well below the maximum permitted levels stated in the code. The American FDA do not have any standards set for arsenic in food or beverages, and are in general many years behind Australia and New Zealand in the development and implementation of Food Safety systems.”
I’m more than happy with that.
What about glycemic index (GI)?
Honestly, GI is so outdated that I am embarrassed it is even still being mentioned. It refers to the blood sugar response of a single food in isolation, and please, who is sitting around eating RMS by the spoonful? We more often than not use it in treats with a high amount of protein and good fats, both of which significantly lower the blood sugar response of a high carbohydrate food. I rest my case.
Unfortunately, not all Dieticians have your best interests at heart. You only need to research what products they endorse for things to become crystal clear.
So please, let’s all keep our perspective and keep rice malt syrup for the occasional treat. As I always say, “what you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while”.