By Peeyush Maheshwari, PhD for VegAnnie
Adding to the endless deluge, the latest sweetener studies spur continued confusion among health-conscious consumers struggling to decipher the swirl of mixed messages, leaving many risk-averse Americans to simply opt to “Go Natural.”
Most recently, a March 2020 Yale University Study found that consuming sucralose together with carbs may increase your risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Further, a February 2020 University of Calgary study warns that over exposure to low and no calorie sweeteners in pregnancy may increase body weight and lead to other cardiovascular risk factors.
So, what are the best natural sweetener options for the anti-artificial crowd? Many folks don’t realize they are not all created equal.
Today, Malt is making a comeback as the “forgotten” natural, plant-based functional sweetener. While the origin of malt can be traced back to early Egyptians, the full health value is often overlooked and underappreciated with its complete nutritional properties only recently fully recognized by nutritional science.
Malt is nostalgically remembered as a cornerstone of American culture, conjuring fond memories of vintage “malt shops” or a delicious glass of Ovaltine™ malted milk. But, what exactly is malt? Malt is basically sprouted barley. By sprouting the barley, the grain’s enzymes are unlocked with only water and heat in an ancient, natural process that releases the whole grain’s nutritional power. Malt can be further processed to produce liquid or powder sweeteners called malt extracts that are used in beverages (beer, malted shakes, energy drinks), baked goods (cakes, pretzels, breads), cereals and snacks (protein bars, yogurts, confections), and other foods.
Malt extract offers abundant clinically proven natural health benefits including:
- Antioxidants Galore: Malt extract packs more than 5 times the antioxidant power of fresh broccoli and nearly 50 percent more than blueberries. It is an abundant source of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, dietary silicon (supports bone health), B vitamins and minerals. Specifically, malt contains significant quantities of vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6. Malt also offers consumers rich amounts of critical minerals like iron, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc.
- Sweetener Type Matters: Malt extract is comprised of glucose and maltose, as opposed to fructose. While glucose is an “energy sugar” necessary for cell prosperity, fructose – which is found in HFCS and sucrose/table sugar – is basically a toxin processed by the liver.
- Boosts Energy and Mood: Malt extract contains hordenine, a plant-based, naturally occurring compound that, in scientific studies, has been found to boost energy and lift your spirits by stimulating the brain’s pleasure sensors. Hordenine was shown to activate the dopamine D2 receptor, the brain’s reward center, which causes this “feel-good” effect. Hordenine also has been reported to improve athletic performance and increase blood flow. Additionally, hordenine promotes a metabolic interaction with the adrenal system, which produces bountiful mental energy as well as enhanced alertness and focus.
- Athletic Recovery: Recent studies have shown that athletes may benefit from consuming malt, as it provides synergistic compounds that support energy and enhance post-workout recovery. After exercise, malt extract was found to improve both the sugar and lactic acid blood levels in athletes. Additionally, research has shown that the high antioxidant content of malt may reduce exercise-induced inflammation for improved recovery.
- Supports Digestive Health: The human body hosts some 100 trillion (yes, with a “T!”) microbes. A huge portion of these microbes – as much as a full pound or two – reside in our guts. The bacteria in our guts play an important role in human health, including the biosynthesis of vitamins and essential amino acids and supporting systemic immunity. Recent studies demonstrate that supporting gut microbial balance and activity can help modulate our risk for diseases including IBS, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
Simply put, malt extract can be good for your gut. Functioning as the preferred base for fermented beverages and foods, malt is a viable proponent for digestive health. Studies show malt extract can optimally facilitate the growth of probiotic cultures that can enhance digestive health by maintaining the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Promotes Heart Health: Malt extract is shown to reduce the risk of heart problems. A heart healthy mix, malt extract contains, potassium, folate, and vitamin B6, which together can decrease the risk of cardiac disease. Studies have shown that consuming foods rich in antioxidants provide a wealth of health benefits, including promoted heart health.
Companies such as Malt Products Corporation provide all natural, non-GMO certified malt extracts and an array of other natural sweeteners to leading manufacturers across the nation, including those in the bakery, confectionary, beverage, snack food, and cereal markets. As health-minded consumers sift through the flurry of sweetener information, many choose to go back to basics with ingredients like malt serving as a resounding reminder that sometimes our ancestors truly do know best.