Sweetening foods can be tricky if you're trying to clean up your diet. A pure, natural sugar such as pure maple syrup could seem like the perfect healthy substitute, and in fact, pure maple syrup does have something to offer in terms of nutrition. It's still mainly sugar, though, so treat it accordingly if you add it to foods.
Pure Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is what you get when you repeatedly boil down the watery sap of the sugar maple tree. Southeastern Canada and New England are the only maple syrup-producing regions in the world, even though the sugar maple itself exists over a wider swath of the United States. Maple syrup has to have at least 66 to 67 percent sugar content by weight -- Cornell says 66 and the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension says 67 -- and it must be produced from pure sugar maple sap in order to be called pure maple syrup.
Pure maple syrup came under nutritional scrutiny in 2010 when a University of Rhode Island researcher reported he had found several compounds in Canadian syrup that were of benefit to human health. The University of Rhode Island says Navindra Seeram, an assistant professor, found that these compounds included phenolics, which are the same antioxidants in berries, often touted for their healthy antioxidant content.
Phenolics are compounds that include substances such as flavonoids. You usually hear about these in stories about berries and grapes, and the compounds are supposed to have beneficial effects on health. The University of Rhode Island quotes Seeram as saying the phenolics in maple syrup might be a form of self-defense by the maple tree as it's pierced for its sap. This isn't that unusual; Palomar College notes the phenolic compound resveratrol, for example, is part of a family of compounds created by plants to ward off insects and fungi.
No matter what nutrients it contains, keep in mind that maple syrup is still basically a liquid sugar. While eating lots of it could certainly be a tasty way to get those phenolics, you'd be ingesting a solution that is at least 66 percent sugar. So while pure maple syrup might not be completely devoid of any nutritional value, it's not really something you can eat in large amounts as a health food. Maple syrup is still a carbohydrate, for example, so if you are diabetic or at risk for developing diabetes, you need to be very careful about how much maple syrup you eat.
- University of Vermont: Maple Syrup: Frequently Asked Questions
- Cornell Sugar Maple Research and Extension Program: Frequently Asked Questions
- Stanford Hospital and Clinics; Nutrition and Lifestyle Recommendations for People With Pre-Diabetes; Jane Borchers; June 2009
- University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension: Extension News
- University of Rhode Island; URI Pharmacy Researcher Finds Beneficial Compounds in Pure Maple Syrup; Mar. 22, 2010
- Palomar College: Major Types Of Chemical Compounds In Plants and Animals