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Why is brown-rice syrup in my food? Is it healthier than sugar? Add to ...

The question: Is brown-rice syrup healthier than white sugar? What about organic evaporated cane juice?

The answer: If you check ingredient lists on packaged foods, inevitably you’ll find brown-rice syrup or evaporated cane juice (organic or not) on the labels of many natural and organic foods. They may sound healthier than white sugar, but don’t be fooled. Both are added (a.k.a. refined) sugars that need to be limited.

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Brown-rice syrup is made from whole grain rice that’s been treated with enzymes that break down its natural starches into sugars. The resulting liquid is boiled down into a syrup that has a consistency similar to honey.

It’s often used as a substitute for high-fructose corn syrup in products such as breakfast cereals and snack bars. Brown-rice syrup is also sold as a tabletop sweetener that can be used in baking and stirred into coffee and tea. It tastes less sweet than white sugar and has a nutty flavour.

Is brown-rice syrup better for you than white sugar? No. Even though it’s made from brown rice, it’s still a refined and concentrated sweetener. One tablespoon of rice syrup has 55 to 75 calories, depending on the brand; sugar has 48 calories per tablespoon. Brown-rice syrup also has a high glycemic index (98), meaning it causes your blood sugar to spike quickly. (White sugar, or sucrose, has a glycemic index of 65.)

Brown-rice syrup does contain trace amounts of calcium, magnesium, manganese and zinc, but not nearly enough to make a difference to your daily intake.

Evaporated cane juice is just another name for sugar. Like sugar, evaporated cane juice is made from sugarcane. Liquid is removed from the plant, evaporated, and then spun to separate the molasses from the sugar crystals. The only difference: White sugar is stripped of all traces of molasses whereas evaporated cane juice isn’t, giving it a golden brown colour. Health-wise, evaporated cane juice isn’t any better or worse for you than granulated sugar.

Bottom line: Consuming too much sugar is linked to obesity and cardiovascular disease. Limit your intake of added sugars – in any form – to 5 per cent of your daily calorie intake, which is about 25 grams (six teaspoons) for women and 37 grams (nine teaspoons) for men.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct; lesliebeck.com.

Follow on Twitter: @lesliebeckrd

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