Sugars are the fuel of life, and sweeteners are something everyone instinctively desires. How we satisfy this craving for sweets can have a significant effect on our health and happiness. The quick energy lift from refined white sugar, brown sugar, fructose, honey, and maple syrup can cause rapid mood shifts on a daily basis. Over long periods of time, this can result in mental illness, hypoglycemia, diabetes, and other hormonal and degenerative diseases.
When choosing sweeteners, it is important to consider both quantity and quality. There is, of course, a world of difference between using lots of white sugar, which has no nutritional value, and using a moderate amount of honey or maple syrup, which has some nutritional value. However, even regular consumption of these higher quality sweeteners can cause rapid upsurges in blood sugar levels, followed soon after by dramatic plummets. This cycle, often referred to as the "sugar blues," is due to a high concentration of simple sugars. The next time you start the day with pancakes smothered in maple syrup, pay particular attention to your emotions over the next few hours. The first sign of the sugar blues is usually anxiety or irritability, typically followed by low energy or depression.
If you are eating a healing diet or if you simply want to enjoy the highest quality sweeteners available, choose naturally malted whole grain sweeteners such as rice or brown rice malt syrup. Like many of the traditional foods discussed on this web site, rice malt syrup is made by a slow, natural enzymatic process, as the whole grains are partially broken down to yield a thick, rich, sweet liquid.
Rice malt syrup contains about 30 percent soluble complex carbohydrates, 45 percent maltose (grain malt sugar), 3-4 percent glucose, and 20 percent water. The glucose is absorbed into the blood almost immediately. The maltose takes up to one and a half hours to digest, and the complex carbohydrates are gradually digested and released for up to four hours. Unlike other concentrated sweeteners, which are high in simple sugars, rice malt syrup provides a slow but prolonged source of energy that is calming and soothing.
Another advantage of rice or brown rice malt syrup is that it has many of the B vitamins and minerals that are found in rice and sprouted barley. Characteristically rich but mild flavored, rice malt syrup complements simple foods, whereas honey, maple syrup, and molasses have stronger, often overpowering tastes. Before Commodore Perry's ships forced open Japan's ports to American trade almost 150 years ago, the Japanese sweet tooth was usually satisfied with the subtle sweetness of amazake (fermented sweet rice pudding), mirin (sweet rice wine), or brown rice malt syrup. Today, after over a century of experimenting with white sugar, the Japanese are also singing the "sugar blues". But scattered throughout Japan are a few small traditional shops, such as Mitoku's producer, the Uchida Toka Company, that still make rice and brown rice malt syrup exactly the way it was made before the introduction of white sugar.