Sap running is a very Canadian sign of Spring! Families visit their local sugar bush to learn about the process of making maple syrup, while children enjoy the taste of maple taffy and maple sugar candy. It may come as a surprise that such a sweet indulgence could be good for us, but it is.
Canadian maple syrup is a simple thing, with only one ingredient – the concentrated sap of maple trees. It takes 40L of maple sap to make 1L of syrup, but the end product is most definitely worth the time and effort it takes to create. In fact, some people make it as a hobby. We eagerly await the syrup my Brother-in-Law makes in New Brunswick every year (thanks Bev). It’s delicious on everything from pancakes to popcorn, and can be used in everything from muffins to barbecue sauce. Recently, however, research has shown that maple syrup may offer some unexpected health benefits.
Scientifically Proven Health Benefits of Maple Syrup
Scientists at both the University of Toronto and the University of Rhode Island have conducted studies that show measurable health benefits from eating maple syrup. For starters, their research shows that it contains 24 types of antioxidants, which are known to help prevent cancer, diabetes, and bacterial infections.
Maple syrup boasts minerals and trace elements as well, including copper, calcium, manganese (1/4 cup contains 100% of the RDA of manganese), iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. It contains vitamins too, including Niacin, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B2, Folic Acid, B6, Biotin, and Vitamin A. The quantities of these vitamins and minerals are quite small. However, when you compare the levels to those of refined sugar, it’s easy to see that maple syrup offers far more in terms of nutrition than sugar does. Research has also shown that this sweet gift from nature contains 65 known phytonutrients, which are naturally occurring chemicals that contribute to human health.
Maple syrup may help create and maintain a healthy gut biome, as it contains both prebiotics (which are, essentially, food for probiotics) and probiotics (which are the beneficial bacteria and yeast strains that live in our digestive system). Additionally, it may be helpful in preventing or treating chronic inflammation due to inulin content, a complex carbohydrate that acts as a prebiotic. It may also help prevent metabolic syndrome, brain issues, and liver disease.
Recent studies done by Dr. Donald Weaver of the Krembil research Institute, the University of Toronto and Navindra Seeram of the University of Rhode Island, have indicated that maple syrup contains phenolics, which are a type of antioxidant that helps to prevent the clumping together of neurons in the brain. When the brain neurons clump together, they prevent the brain from functioning properly. This clumping is seen in diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Believe it or not, it even helps manage blood sugar levels. The types of phenols that maple syrup contains are known to inhibit two of the enzymes that are believed to be associated with the development of Type II Diabetes.
Research conducted at the University of Tokyo suggests that pure maple syrup may promote a healthy liver.
Nathalie Tufenkji Ph.D. , of McGill University has discovered preliminary evidence that an extract of maple syrup greatly enhances the effectiveness of antibiotics, which could lead to a much more effective treatment for ‘superbugs’, those hard-to-kill infectious agents that kill a significant number of Canadians each year.
“There is still much to discover about maple’s health benefits, and the scientific community has only uncovered the tip of the iceberg.” said Serge Beaulieu, President of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. “We will continue to allocate resources to do research on maple products to discover its impacts on the human body.”
How is Maple Syrup Used?
Because maple syrup is a natural product with only one ingredient, it’s ideal for raw food diets and shows up in many vegan recipes. Allergies to maple syrup are extremely rare, making it a food that is safe for almost everyone.
Maple syrup is 2/3 sugars, though, so it is important to use it sparingly. It contains fewer calories than honey, and has a lower glycemic index score (54) than honey does at 58, while refined white sugar has a GI value of 65. Maple syrup contains less glucose and far more nutrients than refined sugar, so when choosing a sweetener it is a far healthier choice than sugar. Even so, all sugars should be eaten in moderation.
The most nutritionally beneficial type of Canadian maple syrup is Grade B (or Grade A ‘Dark’). The darker it is, the more concentrated it is. The lighter grades of syrup contain a lower concentration of nutrients and healing properties.
Stored in glass jugs or bottles, maple syrup can stay good for many years If it’s stored in plastic containers the shelf life is only 18 months. Maple syrup stored in tin cans should be used within six months.
There are hundreds of different uses for this sticky treat. It will impart its unique flavor to foods when used as a sweetener in almost any recipe that calls for sugar, honey, or any other sweetener. It’s good drizzled on popcorn, in muffins, most baked goods, on vegetables such as brussels sprouts or squash, in glazes for meats, and even in alcoholic drinks. You can even add a bit of maple syrup to sweeten homemade dog treats.
There are many recipes designed with the health benefits of maple syrup in mind. This maple water sports drink recipe not only helps to hydrate you during and after a workout, but also supports gut health.
You can use this Canadian treat in other ways as well. For example, it makes a wonderful antibacterial, anti-wrinkle face mask when combined with yogurt and oatmeal. Mix the ingredients well, apply gently to face, let sit for 15 minutes, and rinse off with cool water. The results are amazing!
For more recipes and ideas, visit the Pure Canadian Maple website.
Check out this video to learn more about how maple syrup is made and the many uses for it:
??? What is your favourite way to enjoy the health benefits of Canadian maple syrup?
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I find it helpful to know that maple syrup offers more vitamins and minerals than refined sugar, making them a healthier option for sweeteners. My kids love sweets, but I’m a bit hesitant to give them sugar since I don’t want them to end up with rotten teeth. Perhaps I should use maple syrup more and even buy some maple candies for them. Thanks!
I missed visiting the sugarbush next door this year but I’m out of maple butter so I’ll still support them before the year is out. Missed doing snow candy too! It’s nice to know there’s a treat that’s actually good for you.
I LOVE maple sugar candy…I don’t suppose that’s healthy too? 😉
I remember sneaking into the sap buckets around home when I was a kid. Even the straight sap is tasty. We didn’t know then how healthy it was!
They’re really discovering lots of benefits now. We had a little sugar bush when I was a little girl and I remember my dad saying it was healthy sugar.