Not all sweeteners are good for your health but there are some that are indeed fabulous. One of the healthiest examples is maple syrup, which packs a whole lot of health benefits besides being the perfect topping for your breakfast pancakes.
I mean, did you know it can prevent colorectal cancer, alleviate inflammatory diseases, improve digestion, and supply you with a huge dose of antioxidants—everything in its iconic and delicious fashion? Keep reading to learn the details!
What Is Maple Syrup?
So, let’s start with the basics. Maple syrup is a syrup made from the sap (plant juice, roughly speaking) of several species of maple trees, usually the sugar maple, black maple, and red maple. These trees are known for their ability to store starch in their roots and trunks to get over the cold winter.
This starch is then transformed into sugar which rises in the sap closer to springtime. Everything that comes next is super simple: drill a hole in the tree—and the sap flows out, ready to be turned into syrup!
The next step would be to evaporate the sap until most of the water is removed, thus concentrating the sugar in the mixture. As a rule, you can expect to get 1 volume of syrup from 20 to 50 volumes of sap, depending on its initial sugar concentration. Once the liquid is at least 66% sugar and has a density of 66°, you’ve got yourself some maple syrup! Delicious and sugary—but in an utterly healthy way!
Maple Syrup: A Diabetes-Friendly Sweetener?
The most problematic aspect of living with diabetes isn’t even the insulin injections but the treacherous way in which different foods affect your blood glucose level. Some result in a quick and HUGE boost with a similarly DRASTIC drop, others are mild and steady both on the way up and down.
This depends on the consumed food’s glycemic index (GI) – the higher it is, the quicker and more intense the changes in your blood glucose will be. GI is measured in points relative to glucose, a maximum of 100 points being pure glucose. All other foods are classified as having high, medium or low GI:
- High GI (70 and up): white bread, corn flakes and breakfast cereals, white potato, white rice
- Medium GI (56-69): basmati rice, raisins, prunes, cranberry juice, banana
- Low GI (up to 55): beans, seeds, nuts, whole grains, most vegetables and sweet fruits, mushrooms
And here’s the trick: while most of the super-sweet foods are pretty high in terms of GI, maple syrup is actually low GI. According to Sydney University’s Glycemic Index Research Service, the glycemic index of maple syrup is just 54—meaning that it’s the perfect sweetener for people suffering from diabetes mellitus.
Don’t get me wrong, you should still consume it sparingly. Sugar is sugar, and there’s a whole lot of it in maple syrup; the only difference is that it will kick in gently and gradually, allowing you to control the changes better.
Nutritional Benefits of Maple Syrup
Let’s make a breakdown of what nutrients you’ll get from your maple syrup along with its delicious sweetness. According to Nutritiondata, one tablespoon of maple syrup (that’s roughly 20 grams) contains:
- Calcium – 13.4 mg (1% of daily value)
- Iron – 0.2 mg (1% DV)
- Magnesium – 2.8 mg (1% DV)
- Phosphorus – 0.4 mg (less than 1% DV)
- Potassium – 40.8 mg (1% DV)
- Sodium – 1.8 mg (less than 1% DV)
- Zinc – 0.8 mg (6% DV)
- Manganese – 0.7 mg (33% DV)
- Selenium – 0.1 mcg (less than 1% DV)
To summarize, maple syrup is a fabulous source of manganese and zinc. It has a few other micronutrients as well, but their amounts are not really significant.
In terms of macronutrients, maple syrup is mostly made of carbohydrates: each tablespoon contains 13.4 grams of carbohydrates, of which 11.9 are sugars. No proteins, and virtually no fats (except for some 20 mg of omega-6 fatty acids, which isn’t much).
So, if the nutritional value of maple syrup isn’t what one could call stellar, how in the world does it provide all those fantastic health benefits (that we’ll discuss in just a minute)? The answer is found in just one word: polyphenols. These substances can do wonders for your health, so get ready to stack up on the maple syrup!
10 Fabulous Maple Syrup Benefits You Probably Didn’t Know
1. Maple Syrup Can Inhibit The Growth And Invasion Of Colorectal Cancer
Yep, we’ve decided to start with a blast: recent studies report that maple syrup is able to slow down colorectal cancer growth and invasion, making it a powerful phytomedicine. Similar results were noticed for gastrointestinal cancer.
Keep in mind that darker syrup seems to work better than light-colored ones, meaning that you should aim for an amber or dark-brown shade. We’ll get to the grades shortly.
2. Maple Syrup Can Enhance The Effectiveness Of Conventional Antibiotics
Whenever possible, it’s better to stay clear of conventional antibiotics as they can have a drastic impact on your health, often doing more harm than good. However, there are certain conditions when you just have to take them if you want to stay alive, and that’s when maple syrup could help you a lot.
Studies indicate that polyphenol-rich maple syrup extract significantly boosts the power of certain antibiotics, allowing to achieve greater results (particularly with ciprofloxacin and carbenicillin), using lower doses of antibiotics.
3. Maple Syrup Contains 23 Powerful Antioxidants (And A Lot Of Mild Ones)
Chances are, you’ve already heard that antioxidants are incredibly beneficial for your health. They are known to decrease cellular oxidative stress, alleviate age-related damage, and even reduce the risk of cancer (to a certain extent). Well, maple syrup contains at least 23 phenolic compounds with fabulous antioxidative activity and several other substance groups (like coumarins and lignans) with a somewhat milder antioxidative potential.
4. Maple Syrup Shows Anti-Inflammatory Properties
At least one of the polyphenols present in maple syrup, namely quebecol, shows great anti-inflammatory potential. Taking into account that all polyphenols are great antioxidants, it could be that ALL of them actually fight back inflammation. Further studies are needed but this is a great start!
5. Maple Syrup Makes Wonderful Facial Masks
Actually, this doesn’t come as a surprise when you think of all the antioxidants it contains. Combine it with a moisturizing and healing factor—and voila!
One of the most popular recipes is also the easiest: just mix a tablespoon of maple syrup with a tablespoon of aloe vera gel. Apply to the face and leave for some 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse well.
6. Maple Syrup Could Have Anti-Alzheimer’s Properties
The could here is important, though, because we’re still far away from conducting human studies. Animal trials, however, report that maple syrup extracts reduce inflammation in the nervous system and inhibit aggregation of β-Amyloid, one of the key components in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Let’s hope for the best and wait for future studies!
7. Maple Syrup (And Eating Other Low-GI Foods) May Improve Insulin Sensitivity
Once again: maple syrup has a low (54) glycemic index, which means that the changes it causes in blood glucose are gradual and gentle. This allows diabetics to better control their blood glucose fluctuations, but did you know that low-GI diets may greatly improve insulin sensitivity in general? In other words, by adopting a low-GI diet you actually lower your risk of developing diabetes!
8. Maple Syrup Provides A Great Blend Of Micronutrients
Zinc and manganese are the top ones and there’s also some calcium, iron, and potassium as well. Their amount might not sound like something stellar but hey, your regular sugar has none of these good stuff. That makes maple syrup an undoubtedly healthier option!
9. Maple Syrup Could Help To Keep Declining Testosterone At Bay
This one is for the folks that frowned upon the zinc present in maple syrup: zinc is known to be a natural testosterone booster. This matter is crucial for males, as it is a fact that testosterone levels after age 30 decline by 1% with each passing year. Taking into account that a single tablespoon of maple syrup has a whole 6% of the recommended daily value, it surely wouldn’t hurt to include it in a man’s everyday diet.
10. Maple Syrup Could Help In Supporting The Immune System
…and once again this is thanks to its micronutrients and polyphenols. Both zinc and manganese were scientifically proven to play a great role in immunity to bacterial infections, so making sure you get enough of them is essential to fight back a whole bunch of nasty conditions.
We are pretty sure that after reading all these benefits you will be eager to put your hands on a bottle of the stuff. But we all know that maple syrup is actually quite pricey, so how can you be sure you’ll be buying the real deal and not some “maple” flavored corn syrup instead?
How To Tell Genuine And Pure Maple Syrup
If you live in North America, just look for the word “maple” on the bottle. According to current US and Canada laws, a manufacturer is forbidden to label the product as maple if it’s not made almost entirely from maple sap. “Breakfast syrups” and “pancake syrups” are usually not maple at all, so stay away from them.
Also, all maple syrups should be properly graded according to local standards.
Maple Syrup Grades And Consumption Tips
The current maple syrup grading system in the US and Canada is as follows:
Grade A Maple Syrup: This is the one you’ll find on the shelves, ready to be bought and fancy up your breakfast. It comes in four different variations:
- Golden Color and Delicate Taste
- Amber Color and Rich Taste
- Dark Color and Robust Taste
- Very Dark Color and Strong Taste
As a rule, the first two (golden and amber) are used for immediate consumption as toppings while the latter two (dark and very dark) are generally preferred as cooking and baking ingredients.
Note: Grade A doesn’t mean there are also Grades B or C or D. With the old grading system, there was Grade B and that is done away with now. With the new grading system, there is only Grade A, which is the “healthy” grade suitable for consumption.
Processing Grade: If there’s something wrong with the syrup (for example, it has a slightly odd flavor or a non-uniform color), it receives a Processing Grade and sold only in big containers (often for further processing and improvement). As a rule, you won’t find these being sold in your usual malls.
Although consumption is a matter of personal preference to a great extent, the usual recommendations are to use light-colored maple syrup to top your kefir or oatmeals, and leave the darker ones for cooking and baking. Unlike raw honey, maple syrup is heat-stable and does not change its constituents when heated.
In terms of health benefits, dark-colored maple syrups usually show more significant effects—but then it’s recommended to take them in moderation. In other words, no more than a tablespoon 1-2 times per day. It’s healthier than most other sweet things out there, but taking too much of it doesn’t mean better.
We hope that this article has inspired you to stay as close as possible to natural living. After all, maple syrup is a great example of that: what can be more natural than taking tree juice that is made into delicious sweet amber syrups without chemicals added?
Be it to keep diabetes at bay, improve your skin’s health or support your immune system, know that maple syrup will effectively support you on the way to optimal health!