While we all have heard of high fructose corn syrup and know to stay away, the food industry has still been able to sneak harmful syrups and sweeteners into our food for years. After the public became wary of high fructose corn syrup, the food industry had to quickly transition to lesser-known but comparable alternatives. Some of the alternatives are clearly harmful or provide no real nutrients, but for others, it is less obvious or they may even be marketed as healthy! Many of these other syrup alternatives can lead to a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or even heart disease.
One of the most frequent replacements of corn syrup is glucose syrup. Glucose syrup and corn syrup are actually quite similar in their uses and their (deficient) nutritional benefits. It is an affordable option to help preserve, increase sweetness, retain moisture, and thicken products but is also incredibly sugar-dense.
It’s easy to see why it became so popular in food. It makes the process of creating delicious food much easier and cheaper. However, besides its cost-effectiveness, it provides no benefits. Because it is glucose instead of fructose, food companies say that it is easier on your body, and specifically less stressful on your liver. This is true to some degree, but they are leaving out important details.
Glucose syrup is better for you than high fructose corn syrup, but it is still not good for you and provides no nutritional value. One tablespoon of glucose syrup has 62 calories, 17 grams of carbs (4 times more than table sugar) and zero nutritional value. Because of how processed it is and its negative nutritional values, it is certainly ideal to leave glucose syrup out of your diet to avoid some of its potential effects like obesity, heart disease, and high blood sugar.
(Organic) Brown Rice Syrup
Another syrup that has gained popularity recently is brown rice syrup; sometimes it’s even organic brown rice syrup. Hey, brown rice is good for you, and it's organic! It must be good! The unfortunate reality is that it’s only slightly better for you than any other processed syrup.
The main argument for why brown rice syrup is healthier is because it doesn’t contain fructose. It is all glucose, so your body must process it just like glucose. Some studies have shown that lots of fructose can lead to liver problems whereas glucose can be processed more easily. It is also vegan, so it has become very popular in “healthy” plant-based products. Some proponents argue that it also has beneficial minerals. But it only contains traces of these minerals, which are pretty much negligible from a food perspective. That being said, it is mostly just a highly-refined syrup.
There are even more factors to consider with brown rice syrup! It has an extremely high glycemic index (GI). This is the measure of how quickly a food raises someone’s blood sugar. Eating lots of high-GI foods can cause obesity, spike insulin levels drastically before crashing, and lead to hunger and cravings. Brown rice syrup has a GI of 98, which is very high, especially when compared to traditional table sugar which already has a high GI of 60-70.
Overall, organic brown rice syrup is slightly better for you than high fructose corn syrup. But it is still highly refined and concentrated, essentially making it like any other syrup - a large source of calories and carbs. It is another gimmick of the food industry to make consumers think they are eating healthy, when in reality they are still eating highly-processed foods.
We only touched on a couple of the most popular syrups above, but there are many other syrups that are used as ingredients to help preserve, sweeten, retain moisture, etc. It’s important to stay on the lookout for syrups and countless other additives that companies put in their products.