Maple Syrup 101: Nutrition Facts, Proven Benefits, and More

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Maple Syrup: Is it Good for You? Nutrition, Benefits
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Maple syrup is a naturally sweet tree sap that contains many antioxidants. The health benefits associated with pure maple syrup include anticancer properties and lowering inflammation. Maple syrup also contains many nutrients that are good for your health. Although maple syrup still contains a lot of sugar, it is much healthier for you than processed white sugar.

Many people now use maple syrup as a good alternative to artificial sweeteners. Drizzling a teaspoon or two of this deliciously sweet sap over pancakes or in your drinks can be better for you than other syrups or sugar. In moderate amounts, most people can enjoy the benefits of maple syrup.

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In this article, you will find out if maple syrup is really as healthy for you as many people claim. You will also learn about any benefits of switching from sugar to maple syrup as a sweetener.

What is Maple Syrup?

Maple syrup is obtained from the sap of the sugar maple tree (Acer saccharum). The maple tree sap is boiled down to leave a sticky, sweet, amber or brown-colored syrup.

The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry says that the majority of the world’s maple syrup comes from Canada. Maple syrup is a pure food, as almost no processing goes into its production. Water is boiled off from the sap to leave behind pure maple syrup. (1)

Research into the benefits of maple syrup has revealed that it is a better choice than sugar. Maple syrup contains a number of minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds.

Of course, the main component of maple syrup is sucrose, and therefore, should be enjoyed only in moderation.

Maple Syrup Grades

Pure maple syrup comes in a number of grades depending on its nutritional content. The color of maple syrup ranges from light amber to dark brown. What are the grades of maple syrup?

Maple syrup classification can vary between countries. For example, in Canada there used to be 5 grades of maple syrup: AA (extra light color), grade A (light color), grade B (medium color), grade C (amber), and grade D (dark). (1)

In USA, maple syrup used to be classified as Grade A which has the lightest color, Grade B which has the darkest color, and the last grade is “substandard”. (27)

However, at present grade B maple syrup is no longer used due to new international standards for labeling and categorizing maple syrup. The new system grades maple syrup according to the color and flavor:

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Golden color with delicate flavor
Amber color with rich flavor
Dark color with robust flavor
Very dark color with strong flavor

All the grades – the lighter and darker colored – are suitable to be used as a natural sweetener, and the main difference between them is that what used to be grade B in the past has darker color, more intense scent and stronger flavor. This is why it is mainly used for baking, whereas grade A that has a lighter color is usually drizzled directly on pancakes and other foods.

Studies have shown that you can tell about the antioxidant content of maple syrup depending on its color. For example, Canadian maple syrup that is very dark contains more antioxidants and calcium than the lighter varieties. (2)

So, it could be that dark maple syrup is a healthier option than sugar due to its better nutritional value.

Maple Syrup Nutrition

Just how healthy is maple syrup for you?

It is good to remember that maple syrup is high in sugar and should only be consumed in moderate amounts. A tablespoon (20 g) of pure maple syrup contains 12 grams of sugar, 52 calories and 13 grams of carbs. (3)

Maple syrup also contains minerals such as magnesium, zinc, manganese, calcium, potassium, and iron. (2)

Researchers have found that the many benefits of using maple syrup rather than sugar come from its antioxidant content. Many of these antioxidants occur as the maple sap is boiled down into sweet syrup. (4)

Maple syrup also has a lower glycemic load of 54 in comparison to table sugar (68) which means that it won’t cause blood glucose spikes as much as sugar.

Which is Best for You? Maple Syrup VS. Honey and Sugar

If you are looking to sweeten food or drink, should you use honey, maple syrup, or white sugar?

Maple syrup vs. honey

Both maple syrup and honey are natural sweeteners that contain nutrients and plant chemicals (phytochemicals).

Honey and maple syrup are similar in their calorie count. A tablespoon (20 g) of maple syrup contains 52 calories whereas the same amount of honey has 64 calories. (3, 5)

When it comes to the sugar content, maple syrup contains less sugar than honey. A tablespoon of maple syrup contains 5 grams less sugar than honey. What’s more, most of the sugar content from honey is fructose whereas maple syrup mostly contains sucrose. Fructose is a simple sugar, whereas sucrose is a complex sugar which must be broken down first.

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Some researchers say that we should be limiting fructose content in diets to help prevent obesity and diabetes. (6)

However, raw honey is still an extremely healthy pure food that is a storehouse of vitamins, minerals, and antimicrobial properties. Read more about it in my article about the amazing health benefits of honey.

Although both honey and maple syrup are better for you than sugar, it would seem that the sucrose content of maple syrup and the lower glycemic index make it slightly better than honey.

Maple syrup vs. sugar

Even though sugar is a natural food, it is highly processed and has been linked to a number of health concerns. During the processing, most of the minerals and nutrients are destroyed in sugar which turns it into an energy dense food with little nutritional value.

Is there any scientific basis for viewing maple syrup as a healthier substitute for sugar?

According to research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup are better for you than sugar. Refined sugars contain minimal amounts of antioxidants whereas maple syrup retains its antioxidant capacity. (7)

Because of its antioxidant and mineral content, maple syrup is better for you than sugar. However, it is good to remember that maple syrup is still a sugar-dense food that should be enjoyed in moderation.

Dietitians warn that the over-consumption of any types of sugars can spike blood glucose and lead to weight gain. One of the advantages of maple syrup to sugar is that it is sweeter and you need less of it. (8)

You can learn about other healthier alternatives to sugar which one of them is stevia.

Maple Syrup and Diabetes

The high sugar content of maple syrup means it should be used by diabetics only in minimal amounts.

Even though maple syrup is better for you than sugar because of its nutrient content and lower glycemic index, it is not as nutritious as whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, and lean protein. Also, maple syrup doesn’t contain any fiber, meaning that is can raise glucose and insulin levels quickly.

However, there are still some benefits to enjoying a little maple syrup with whole-grain foods. For example, scientists report that the lower glycemic index of maple syrup, when compared to sucrose (sugar), may help prevent type 2 diabetes. (9)

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It is good to remember though, that the health benefits of maple syrup are better when you compare it to sugar. It is not recommended to add maple syrup to your diet to help boost your health, as you may only increase your sugar intake.

Maple Syrup Benefits

Let’s look at some of the nutritional benefits that pure maple syrup has if you want to use it to sweeten pancakes or other foods.

Pure Maple Syrup Has an Anti-Cancer Effect

Maple syrup is a rich source of antioxidants that have a protective effect against cancer.

Although too much sugar intake has been linked to an increase in cancer (10), it seems that maple syrup is a healthier natural sweetener.

A 2017 study into maple syrup benefits found that dark grade maple syrup has anticancer properties. The study showed that darker maple syrup has phytochemicals that can inhibit the growth of gastrointestinal cancer cells. The researchers concluded that more research should be done to establish properties in maple syrup that could be used to treat cancer. (11)

A study published in the journal Oncology Reports found that the darker colors grades of maple syrup contain compounds that can inhibit the growth of cancerous cells. Maple syrup properties helped to prevent both the development and spread of cancer. (12)

Lab trials have also found that polyphenols in maple syrup have potential use in treating breast cancer and colon cancer. (13)

One of the unique anticancer compounds in pure Canadian maple syrup is quebecol. Researchers have found that quebecol is similar to the chemotherapy drug tamoxifen. In the lab, quebecol was shown to have potential use for treating various types of cancer but without many of the side effects. However, more research needs to be carried out. (14)

You can read about more reasons why you should avoid cancer-causing foods such as refined sugar. You may be interested to learn more about the anticancer diet and how these foods can help reduce your risk of cancer.

Maple Syrup Contains At Least 30 Different Antioxidants

Maple syrup is a naturally sweet food that has a wide variety of properties that kill off free radicals in the body.

Researchers have found that maple syrup has a number of antioxidants that limit free radical activity in the body. Studies published in 2011 found at least 30 different plant chemicals in maple syrup extracts that have antioxidant activity. (15)

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One study found that the antioxidant potential of maple syrup is comparable to that of strawberry juice and orange juice. As already mentioned, darker grade of maple syrup means a higher antioxidant content. (16)

Research published in Canada on the benefits of pure maple syrup found that the combination of many antioxidants in maple syrup has the greatest benefit. This is another reason to view maple syrup as a healthier natural sweetener than sugar. (17)

Maple Syrup Helps Protect Against Inflammation

Swapping sugar for maple syrup can also help protect your body from the harmful effects of chronic inflammation.

Many scientists report that there is a link between increased sugar and fat intake and chronic inflammation. Also, too much fructose intake can also increase inflammation and your risk of belly fat. (18, 19)

A 2016 study found that maple syrup contains healthy compounds that help protect against inflammation. (20)

One study found that the Canadian maple syrup compound quebecol has significant anti-inflammatory properties. (21)

Other studies have reported that properties in maple syrup help to boost fat metabolism and lower inflammation in the liver. (22)

Learn more about some of the best anti-inflammatory foods that can help to manage conditions like arthritis and heart disease.

Maple Syrup is Better for Your Digestion than Sugar

One of the reasons to use maple syrup as a healthier sweetener is that your body can digest it easier than sugar.

Scientific studies have found that compounds in maple syrup actually help to boosta digestive health. For example, research from 2018 found that one of the carbohydrates in maple syrup (polysaccharides) is inulin. Research has shown that inulin promotes the growth of healthy probiotics in the gut and benefit the digestive system. (23)

Because maple syrup can benefit your gut microbiota, it may have a beneficial effect on your immune system. (23)

There is another way that maple syrup can help your digestion and that it is easier to digest. Doctors from WebMD report that some types of sugars such as fructose and sorbitol can trigger diarrhea in people with irritable bowel syndrome. (24) However as mentioned previously, maple syrup contains mostly sucrose.

Using maple syrup can also be a better alternative to artificial sweeteners. Some reports indicate that artificial sweeteners can cause digestive upset such as gas, bloating, and cramping. (25)

Maple Syrup Can Help Improve the Effectiveness of Antibiotics

Compounds in maple syrup can also help to make antibiotic medication work more effectively.

Although antibiotics have some use in treating serious infections, the overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance and so-called “superbugs.”

Researchers have found polyphenolic extracts from maple syrup have an antimicrobial effect and can work in harmony with antibiotics. Using these maple syrup extracts with antibiotics helped to kill off certain bacterial infections more effectively. (26)

Did you know that there are many natural ingredients that act as powerful antibiotics?

If you have to take a course of antibiotics, learn what you should do to protect your gut health.

Where to Buy Maple Syrup

Many stores sell maple syrup in varying grades. If you are looking to buy the best maple syrup, you can opt for organic maple syrup, and always look at the list of ingredients to make sure it is a real and natural maple syrup that only contains pure maple syrup. Some cheaper varieties contain sugar and flavorings to imitate the taste of true maple syrup.

Grade A maple syrup is lighter in color and taste and is usually the best type of maple syrup to drizzle on foods.

Grade B maple syrup contains more antioxidants and is the best type to buy if you want to benefit from maple syrup’s health benefits.

Maple syrups are available in supermarkets, health food stores or online in Amazon.

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2 Responses to Maple Syrup 101: Nutrition Facts, Proven Benefits, and More

  1. anne reily says:

    There is no longer a grade B maple syrup. it is all grade A and is distinguished by color and flavor.
    Grade B is now Grade A, dark color and robust taste.

    the darker syrups have come from the exact same trees as the lighter syrups, just later in the season. The syrup will get darker and richer in nutrients such as iron, manganese, and zinc, as the tree nears budding.

    • Jenny Hills, Nutritionist and Medical Writer says:

      Thank you Anne for pointing it out – I’ve checked and saw that the grading has indeed changed. I’ve updated the article to reflect these changes.

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