Most people already consume plenty of sugar – likely even way more than they actually need. That being said, maple syrup is one of the sweeteners you should be using in small amounts and a good alternative to cane sugar when used in moderation.
Similar to the contrast between whole and refined grains, unrefined natural sweeteners like maple syrup contain higher levels of beneficial nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals than white table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. It’s also why we see the many health benefits of raw honey. When used in appropriate amounts, maple syrup nutrition benefits can include the ability to lower inflammation, supply nutrients and better manage blood sugar.
Maple tree syrup, or more accurately sap, has been used for centuries. In fact, sap from various maple trees first started being processed into syrup long before European settlers even arrived in America. Native Americans had theories about the impact of maple syrup nutrition even back then, and the sweetener had cultural significance to many aboriginal tribes. They even celebrated the Sugar Moon (the first full moon of spring) with a Maple Dance and viewed maple sap as a source of energy and nutrition.
What Are the Benefits of Maple Syrup Nutrition?
Compared to refined (or “table”) cane sugar that offers absolutely no nutrients, maple syrup contains some important antioxidants and minerals like zinc and manganese. When we do a side-by-side comparison of sugar nutrition and maple syrup nutrition, we see that they have a few things in common, but also some things that definitely make maple syrup more favorable.
What makes maple syrup better than regular sugar?
Both are made of about two-thirds sucrose, but maple syrup supplies less sugar overall to your diet plus more nutrients. The glycemic index score of maple syrup is about 54, compared to a score of about 65 for regular cane sugar. (1) This means that one benefit of maple syrup nutrition is that it impacts your blood sugar levels a bit less drastically than table sugar does. Maple syrup also supplies some trace minerals and antioxidants, while sugar lacks both of these.
Another factor that makes these two sweeteners very different is how they are made. Maple syrup is derived from the sap of maple trees. Unlike refined cane sugar – which undergoes a long, complex process in order to be condensed in crystalized sugar – maple syrup is a relatively a much more natural, unrefined product. And as you probably know, high fructose corn syrup is not natural or a healthy choice, and neither are artificial sweeteners (hence the name).
For example, sugarcane stalks and beets are mechanically harvested, cleaned, washed, milled, extracted, juiced, filtered, purified, vacuumed and condensed – all before they even become sugar crystals!
Maple Syrup Nutrition Facts
1 tablespoon of maple syrup contains about: (2)
- 0.7 milligrams manganese (33 percent Recommended Daily Value, or DV)
- 0.8 milligrams zinc (6 percent DV)
- 13.4 milligrams calcium (1 percent DV)
- 40.8 milligrams potassium (1 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligrams iron (1 percent DV)
- 2.8 milligrams magnesium (1 percent DV)
9 Health Benefits of Maple Syrup
1. Contains Numerous Antioxidants
According to studies comparing the total antioxidant content of natural sweeteners to refined sugar products like white sugar or corn syrup, substantial differences in total antioxidant content were found. Refined sugar, corn syrup and agave nectar contain minimal antioxidant activity, but maple syrup, dark and blackstrap molasses, brown sugar, and raw honey showed higher antioxidant capacity (with molasses having the highest). (3)
A strong reason to use switch your sweetener? Maple syrup nutrition is impressive when it comes to supplying protective antioxidants. The medical journal Pharmaceutical Biology revealed that pure maple syrup contains up to 24 different antioxidants (4). These antioxidants, in the form of phenolic compounds, are beneficial for reducing free radical damage that can cause inflammation and contribute to the formation of various chronic diseases. Whenever possible, select darker, grade B maple syrups since these contain more beneficial antioxidants than the lighter syrups do. (5)
Some of the primary antioxidants found in maple syrup include benzoic acid, gallic acid, cinnamic acid, and various flavanols like catechin, epicatechin, rutin and quercetin. While most are found at low concentrations, others are present in higher quantities, so it’s possible that the benefits of these antioxidants might counteract some of the downsides to consuming the syrup’s high quantity of sugar.
2. Gets a Lower Score on the Glycemic Index
Refined sugar, and refined carbohydrates in general, are known to be rapidly metabolized by the liver — causing a “sugar high,” followed by a quick “sugar crash.” Even worse, consuming too much sugar quickly spikes your blood sugar and raises insulin levels, which over time can lead to lower insulin response and problems managing blood glucose, with is the reason diabetes develops.
However, keep in mind that because consuming too much sugar, from any source, is one of the leading causes of some of the most widespread health problems − like obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease − even natural sweeteners like maple syrup should be used in small amounts. When it comes to solutions for reversing diabetes naturally, or other blood-sugar related conditions, it’s best to minimize sugar intake overall and especially to avoid refined sugar.
3. Fights Inflammatory Diseases
Because maple syrup nutrition supplies inflammation-reducing polyphenol antioxidants, it can be considred part of a healthy diet that’s helpful in preventing certain diseases like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease or heart disease. Maple syrup’s plant-based compounds reduce oxidative stress, which is responsible for aging us at a quicker rate and reducing the strength of our immune system.
4. May Help Protect Against Cancer
While some evidence shows that to a certain degree sugar can cause cancer or at least contribute to it, maple syrup seems to a much less harmful sweetener. This is due to the presence of antioxidants in maple syrup that can protect cells from DNA damage and mutation. While maple syrup alone won’t likely result in a reduced risk for developing cancer, it’s a much safer option than including high levels of refined sugar or artificial sweeteners in your diet.
5. Helps Protect Skin Health
Many people swear by using maple syrup topically, directly on their skin. Similarly to raw honey, maple syrup can help to lower skin inflammation, redness, blemishes and dryness. Combined with raw milk or yogurt, rolled oats and raw honey, this natural mixture applies to the skin as a mask can hydrate skin while reducing bacteria and signs of irritation.
6. Alternative To Sugar For Improved Digestion
Consuming high levels of refined sugar can contribute to candida, IBS, leaky gut syndrome and other digestive system disorders. In fact, one of the biggest steps you can take to heal leaky gut and autoimmune disorders is to reduce refined sugar intake and opt for small amounts of natural sweeteners instead.
Most artificial sweeteners also cause symptoms of indigestion, including gas, bloating, cramping and constipation. To keep the digestive tract in healthier shape, free from chemicals and the damage done by a high-sugar diet, maple syrup can be a much better alternative to use in baked goods, yogurt, oatmeal or smoothies.
7. Supplies Important Vitamins and Minerals
Maple syrup contains zinc and manganese in fairly high amounts, in addition to potassium and calcium. Zinc can help fight illness and improve immunity since it keeps your level of white blood cells up, while manganese plays a role a crucial role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, calcium absorption, blood sugar regulation, brain and nerve function.
8. Healthier Alternative to Artificial Sweeteners
If you typically use artificial sweeteners or refined sugar products like dangerous splenda, sucralose, agave, aspartame or sugar, you should think about switching these out for maple syrup and raw honey as soon as possible. Artificial sweeteners, while they may be calorie-free, are tied to numerous health problems including weight gain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, short-term memory loss and much more.
Many existing illnesses can be worsened by repeatedly using artificial sweeteners over time, and they also show unfavorable results when it comes to weight loss, too. It’s very possible to form an addiction to artificial sweeteners used in many diet or light foods, since they affect your food cravings and your ability to manage your body’s signs of hunger and fullness.
Maple syrup isn’t linked to any of those health problems, plus it triggers more satisfaction because of its natural sweet taste.
9. May Enhance Antibiotic Effects
Antibiotics may seem like a quick, easy solution to a number of different illnesses, but as new research continues to be released, it becomes harder to ignore the dangers and downfalls of antibiotic use. While targeting bad bacteria, antibiotics can also attack healthy cells, while the overuse of antibiotics results in the creation of “superbugs” that no longer respond to antibiotic treatment.
When researcher Nathalie Tufenkji and her team investigated extracts from maple syrup in conjunction with antibiotics ciprofloxacin and carbenicillin, they observed the same antimicrobial effect with upwards of 90 percent less antibiotics. (6) In other words, the maple syrup extract helped the antibiotics work better. How? Researchers found that the extract increased the permeability of the bacteria, helping the antibiotics into the interior of bacterial cells.
“There are other products out there that boost antibiotic strength, but this may be the only one that comes from nature,” Tufenkji says. More research and testing for allergic reactions is still needed before this could ever become part of a medical protocol, but Tufenkji’s research suggests hope against antibiotic resistance in the future.
History of Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is one of the oldest forms of sweetener there is, having been eaten by Native Americans living in North America hundreds of years ago. Maple syrup was first collected and used by indigenous people before they introduced it to early European settlers, who figured out ways to quickly improve the technology needed to gather more.
Because of its natural harvesting method and history as a healing sweetener, this is one reason why today many people choose maple syrup and raw honey as their sweeteners of choice, even those following the paleo diet, for example.
Today, Canada supplies over 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup. In the U.S, the largest producing state of maple syrup is Vermont. Maple syrup has been made in Vermont for hundreds of years; in fact, some large maple trees in Vermont that are still suppliers of sap today are over 200 years old! Most maple trees are about 10 to 12 inches in diameter and usually about 40 years old.
How is Maple Syrup Made?
In all plants, a sort of sugar is naturally present. Plants’ primary sugar is a product of photosynthesis that occurs when sunshine comes into contact with the plant’s leaves. Sucrose is the most prevalent type of sugar found in maple syrup (at least 66 percent of the sugar in maple syrup must be sucrose in order for it to be considered pure).
Sugar synthesized in plants is used as a source of energy for their growth and is stored throughout the plant, usually in the roots. In most plants, the sugar isn’t easily extracted from the plants roots, stalks or leaves (such as in sugarcane plants) without undergoing mechanical and chemical processes, but in the case of maple trees, sap is easily gathered.
According to makers of Vermont maple syrup, “a tree yielding sap is like a person donating blood. They both have some to spare.” Sugar made by the maple tree’s leaves during summer is stored as starch in the roots, then during the winter months “taps” are inserted into the trees. After the taphole is drilled, a spout with either a bucket and hook or tube is attached.
Then when spring comes and the temperature gets warmer, a pattern of freezing and thawing temperatures builds up pressure within the trees, which causes the sap to flow from the tapholes into the buckets. The buckets are gathered by hand and added to large tanks where some of the water is evaporated and removed to produce a richer syrup. And that’s it – the process is that simple. A typical “sugaring” season lasts 4–6 weeks, and it takes 40 gallons of sap to make each gallon of maple syrup!
How to Buy and Use Pure Maple Syrup
In order to get all of these benefits of maple syrup nutrition, you’ll need to be careful to buy the right kind. Many maple syrups sold in stores are basically imposters, or maple syrup “flavored” sugars that are highly refined. Carefully check the ingredient label to make sure pure maple syrup is the only (or primary) ingredient, not refined cane/beet sugar or high fructose corn syrup. It’s also smart to buy organic maple syrup whenever possible, which ensures the trees weren’t treated with any chemicals.
All types of pure maple syrup is either classified as “grade A” or “grade B.” Both grade A and grade B maple syrups can be good choices, as long as they are pure and free of preservatives, artificial dyes and flavors. The biggest difference is that grade B syrups are darker in color and more concentrated, so they’re usually used to cook with instead of drizzling onto foods. Some research also shows that grade B syrup tends to be richer in antioxidants that grade A.
Most maple syrups bought in stores are grade A, the lighter type used to sweeten pancakes. There are also several different types of grade A syrups, which range in color from light to dark amber. The darker the syrup, the later it was harvested in the year and the stronger the flavor will be.
When using maple syrup in place of table sugar in baked goods, replace the regular sugar content with the same amount of maple syrup but reduce the amount of liquid the recipe calls for by about a half-cup. This will give you enough of a sweet taste without adding too much moisture and diminishing the texture you’re looking for. In smoothies, salad dressings or other liquids, you can simply replace sugar or agave nectar with maple syrup instead.
Maple Syrup Recipes
Maple syrup is a heat-stable sweetener that works well in many types of recipes, so you can use it numerous ways, including in marinades, dressings, glazes, baked recipes or simply on its own. It’s even a good alternative to white sugar in your morning coffee or tea.
- 1 pound grass-fed ground beef
- 2 tablespoons coconut aminos
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- In large bowl, mix all ingredients together.
- Place a frying pan over low heat and add the butter.
- Form meat into sausage links and place in the pan.
- Cook with lid on for 15–20 minutes or until cooked through.
Concerns with Consuming Maple Syrup
Like previously mentioned, maple syrup can make a good natural sweetener choice when the serving size is kept small and eaten in combination with other whole foods. While maple syrup does contain some nutrients and benefits over white sugar, it doesn’t supply a very high level of important vitamins or minerals compared to other whole foods like vegetables, fruits and high-quality proteins and fats.
As a result, it might be better to think of it as a better alternative to sugar, but not necessarily something you should strive to include in your diet every day. As long as you have maple syrup in moderation, it shouldn’t create a problem, just make sure you purchase the best kind possible and keep an eye on your portion!
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