Is Maple Syrup Healthy?
Registered dietitian and plant-based diet specialist Cynthia Sass shares everything you need to know about maple syrup, including the calories, nutrition facts, and more.
Here’s some sweet news: Maple syrup may be one of the best healthy food trends of the year. According to New Hope Network, the industry enjoyed record-setting production, and consumer packaged sales rose 30 to 40 percent in 2020, compared to 2019. That’s likely due to the demand for all-natural foods—like natural sweeteners—and a growing awareness of maple syrup’s benefits. But is maple syrup healthy?
Maple syrup is one of my personal comfort foods. This distinctly flavourful, beautiful, and nutritious sweetener has been a staple ingredient in many households for generations, and it has a very long history.
According to Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, maple syrup was made by Native Americans long before Europeans settled in America. They would leave the sap out in the cold to freeze and that would separate the water from the sugar, allowing them to concentrate the sweetener. Another method involved evaporating the water using hot stones.
While technology has influenced how maple syrup is produced, the overall process has remained largely unchanged. Maple syrup harvesters tap maple trees to collect their sap, which flows only briefly when temperatures are just right. Reverse osmosis filters the sap, removing water, and then it’s boiled or steam heated, and filtered. Producing one litre of syrup can require up to 40 litres of sap, according to Maple From Canada.
Canada produces over 70 percent of the world’s maple syrup, primarily in Quebec. The best types of maple trees to tap are sugar and black maple, which typically produce the sweetest sap, according to the MSU Extension. However, red and silver maple trees are also sources of sap.
Types of maple syrup
In 2015, producers across North America agreed to standards for maple syrup grades. The four grades include golden, amber, dark, and very dark, according to the Government of Canada. All four are produced the same way; the colour comes from the temperature and microbial activity in the syrup.
Dark and very dark grades have the strongest flavour. These tend to be produced later in the season. Because it takes longer to make the syrup at this time, the lengthier boiling period required allows for more flavour—as well as colour—to develop.
Maple syrup nutrition
A quarter cup of maple syrup has about 220 calories, 0 grams of protein, 54 grams of carbs, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of fibre, and 53 grams of sugar, according to Maple From Canada.
For a quarter cup of this sweet stuff, you’re getting lots of carbs, no protein, virtually no fat, and no fibre. So, it’s safe to say that maple syrup is made up predominantly of carbs and sugar.
However, maple syrup does have lots of minerals and antioxidants, including 75 mg of calcium, 200 mg of potassium, 1.65 mg of manganese, and 1.04 mg of iron. That alone sets it apart from refined white sugar.
The health benefits of maple syrup
A study published in 2014, in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, found that among 35 samples from Southern Ontario, darker maple syrups contained higher antioxidant potential, in addition to phosphorous, calcium, and total mineral contents.
Antioxidants are one of maple syrup’s star attributes. Research published in the Canadian Forest Service Publications found that the sweetener can pack dozens of unique antioxidants. One tablespoon also provides over 30 percent of the DV for manganese, a mineral that supports bone health, collagen production, and wound healing. Maple syrup also delivers smaller amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, and zinc.
Another potential nutritional benefit to note: Maple syrup has a glycemic index of 54 in comparison to 65 for table sugar. As a result, maple syrup may raise blood sugar slightly slower than regular sugar. That said, any sugar still raises blood sugar.
Is maple syrup healthy?
Although maple syrup is my go-to sweetener as a dietitian, it should still be enjoyed only in moderation. When you drizzle maple syrup onto a dish at home, or when it’s added to products like granola or energy bars, it is considered “added sugar,” instead of the naturally occurring sugar inherently found in fresh fruit.
Heart & Stroke recommends limiting added sugar consumption to no more than six teaspoons daily for women, or nine for men.
That’s because of the link between excess added sugar intake and the risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity-related cancers, according to the journal Circulation.
How to use maple syrup
Maple syrup is incredibly versatile, pairing well in a wide variety of sweet and savoury dishes—from pancakes to chicken wings. I also love to add maple syrup to my coffee or plant-based lattes.
Maple syrup is a good sugar substitute, in moderation. Although it’s more nutritious than white sugar, it is still considered “added sugar,” as opposed to the naturally occurring kind found in fresh fruit. Keep your portion sizes in check—and enjoy!