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Maple syrup: Healthy or unhealthy?

Is maple syrup good or bad for your health?

This article thoroughly examines maple syrup, a natural sweetener that is claimed to be more nutritious and healthier than sugar.

Is it healthy?
Evidence-based
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Maple syrup: Healthy or unhealthy?
Last updated on December 16, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on August 16, 2023.

Maple syrup comes in various varieties, some of which are healthier than others. However, it is still a sweetener high in sugar, so it is advisable to consume it in moderation.

Maple syrup: Healthy or unhealthy?

It’s important to consider the science behind claims about maple syrup’s health benefits. This article evaluates maple syrup’s nutritional value.

In this article

What is maple syrup?

Maple syrup is made from sugar maple trees’ circulating fluid, or sap.

For centuries, North America has been enjoying its consumption. Presently, the province of Quebec, located in eastern Canada, produces over 80% of the world’s supply.

There are two main steps to maple syrup production:

  1. A hole is drilled in a maple tree so that its sap pours into a container.
  2. The sap is boiled until most of the water evaporates, leaving a thick, sugary syrup, which is then filtered to remove impurities.

The final product can be used to sweeten many dishes.

Summary: Maple syrup is made by tapping sugar maple trees, then boiling the sap to produce a thick syrup. Most maple syrup is produced in eastern Canada.

Maple syrup comes in different grades

Several grades of maple syrup are characterized by color, though classification can vary between countries.

In the US, maple syrup is classified as either Grade A or B. Grade A is further categorized into three groups — Light Amber, Medium Amber, and Dark Amber — and Grade B is the darkest available syrup.

For a stronger maple taste, opt for the darker syrups made from sap collected later in the harvest season. These are ideal for baking, while the lighter syrups are best for drizzling directly over foods such as pancakes.

When buying maple syrup, make sure to read food labels carefully. This way, you’ll get real maple syrup — not just maple-flavored syrup, which can be loaded with refined sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.

Summary: There are several different grades of maple syrup based on color. Grade B is the darkest and boasts the strongest maple flavor.

Maple syrup contains some vitamins and minerals but is high in sugar

What sets maple syrup apart from refined sugar is its minerals and antioxidants.

Around 1/3 cup (80 ml) of pure maple syrup contains:

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Though maple syrup provides a decent amount of some minerals, especially manganese, and zinc, keep in mind that it also packs plenty of sugar.

Maple syrup is about 2/3 sucrose, or table sugar — 1/3 cup (80 ml) supplies around 60 grams of sugar.

Consumed in excess, sugar may be a leading cause of some of the world’s biggest health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

The fact that maple syrup contains some minerals is a feeble reason to eat it, given its high sugar content. Most people already eat copious amounts of sugar.

The best way to get these minerals is to eat whole foods. If you eat a balanced diet, your chance of lacking any of these nutrients is meager.

In addition, the high sugar content may affect your blood sugar levels — though maple syrup may be a better option than regular sugar in that regard.

The glycemic index of maple syrup is around 54. In comparison, table sugar has a glycemic index of around 65.

This implies that maple syrup raises blood sugar slower than regular sugar.

Summary: Maple syrup contains a few minerals, such as manganese and zinc. However, it is very high in sugar.

Maple syrup contains antioxidants

Oxidative damage, which is caused by free radicals, is believed to be among the mechanisms behind aging and many diseases.

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Antioxidants can neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative damage, potentially lowering your risk of some diseases.

Studies indicate that maple syrup is a decent source of antioxidants. One study found 24 different antioxidants in maple syrup.

Darker syrups like Grade B supply more of these beneficial antioxidants than lighter ones.

However, the total antioxidant content is still low compared to the large amounts of sugar.

One study estimated that replacing all the refined sugar in the average diet with alternative sweeteners like maple syrup would increase your total antioxidant intake as much as eating a single serving of nuts or berries.

If you need to lose weight or improve your metabolic health, you would be better off skipping sweeteners altogether instead of going for maple syrup.

Summary: Though there are several antioxidants in maple syrup, they don’t offset its high dose of sugar.

Maple syrup provides other compounds

Numerous potentially beneficial substances have been observed in maple syrup.

Some of these compounds are not present in the maple tree, forming instead when the sap is boiled to form syrup.

One of these is quebecol, named after the maple-producing province of Quebec.

The active compounds in maple syrup have been shown to help reduce the growth of cancer cells and may slow down the breakdown of carbohydrates in your digestive tract.

However, human studies to confirm these health effects found in test-tube studies are lacking.

Moreover, keep in mind that most maple syrup studies — which are often accompanied by misleading headlines — are sponsored by maple syrup producers.

Summary: Maple syrup boasts other compounds that may benefit health — but most studies are misleading and sponsored by the maple syrup industry.

Summary

Maple syrup may contain a few nutrients and antioxidants, but it undeniably has a high sugar content.

Suggested read: The 6 best sweeteners on a low-carb keto diet (and 6 to avoid)

In comparison to whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, and unprocessed animal foods, maple syrup falls short as a nutrient source when considering its calorie content.

Replacing refined sugar with pure, quality maple syrup is likely to yield a net health benefit, but adding it to your diet will make things worse.

Maple syrup is a less bad version of sugar, much like coconut sugar. It cannot objectively be labeled healthy.

If you consume it, it’s best to do so in moderation — as with all sweeteners.

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