When shopping for syrup to put on your morning pancakes or waffles, the choice can be bewildering. Products marketed as real maple syrup can cost much more than other, artificially flavored syrups, but most consumers have no idea what they are paying for. According to the "Vancouver Sun," about half of consumers don't really know the difference between real and fake maple syrup. Understanding which is healthier can help you make the right choice for you and your family.
Real maple syrup is made from the sap of the sugar maple tree, Acer saccharum. The sap is condensed into a thick viscous substance. Fake syrup, also known as imitation maple syrup, is typically made from a high fructose corn syrup base with food coloring and artificial flavors added. In Canada and the U.S., only syrup with a high percentage of actual maple syrup in it can use the word "maple" on its packaging.
Real maple syrup's main sugar is sucrose, with smaller amounts of fructose and glucose. Imitation syrup contains only a processed version of fructose combined with glucose. In terms of calorie count, the two are essentially the same and studies investigating whether high fructose corn syrup is worse for health than other sweeteners have come up with conflicting results.
The nutrient content of real maple syrup is higher than that of imitation syrup, which is composed mainly of sugars with no vitamins or minerals. Real maple syrup has manganese and zinc, minerals that can boost immune health. It also contains small amounts of other beneficial minerals and vitamins, including calcium, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, potassium and magnesium.
The presence of bioactive phytochemicals, beneficial compounds produced by plants, in real maple syrup may be one of its biggest advantages over imitation syrup. Compounds in maple syrup called phenolics may have a protective effect against cancer. A November 2010 study in the "Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry" found 23 different phenolic compounds in maple syrup, including 16 previously unidentified ones. Other phytochemicals in maple syrup include the antioxidants coumarin, vanillin, syringaldehyde and gallic acid, which neutralize free radicals that could harm cells.
Not only is real maple syrup a healthier choice than fake versions, it is also more flavorful as a result of the blend of nutrients it contains. Like all sweeteners, maple syrup should be used in moderation. The high calorie and sugar content can lead to obesity if used too often and consuming large amounts at once can lead to unhealthy fluctuations in blood glucose levels.