Maple Syrup Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

agave nectar syrup

 Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Maple syrup is a popular sweetener made by boiling the sap of maple trees. There are different types of maple trees that may be tapped to make the syrup including the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), the black maple (A. nigrum), and the red maple (A. rubrum). The trees are found predominantly in the Northeast section of North America, most notably Vermont, and certain areas of Canada. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of maple syrup.

Maple syrup is commonly used on top of pancakes but maple syrup and commercially-produced pancake syrup are different. Commercial pancake syrup can be made from a wide variety of sweeteners, including corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and natural or artificial flavors.

Maple syrup must meet certain purity standards to be sold in stores and can only contain syrup made from sap.

Maple syrup is rich in manganese and riboflavin. The syrup is known to contain antioxidants and may provide some health benefits.

Maple Syrup Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for a 1/4 cup serving (83g) of maple syrup.

  • Calories: 216
  • Fat: 0.05g
  • Sodium:10mg
  • Carbohydrates: 55.6g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 50.2g
  • Protein: 0.03g

Carbs

Almost of the calories in maple syrup come from carbohydrates. There are 216 calories in a 1/4 cup serving and 55.6 grams of carbohydrate. Of those 55.6 grams, 50.2 are sugars. There is no fiber in maple syrup so there is a very small amount of starch.

According to the University of Sydney, the glycemic index of maple syrup is estimated to be 54, making this a low to medium GI food. As a basis for comparison, granulated sugar has a glycemic index of 65, and brown sugar has a glycemic index of 64.

Fat

There is almost no fat in maple syrup with a single 1/4 cup serving providing less than a single gram.

Protein

There is also no protein in maple syrup with a single 1/4 cup serving providing just 0.03 grams.

Vitamins and Minerals

Maple syrup is an excellent source of manganese. A single serving provides about 2.41mg of the micronutrient or about 104% of the recommended daily value. It is also an excellent source of riboflavin, providing 1.05mg per serving or 81% of the daily value. Maple syrup is a good source of zinc providing 1.22mg or 11% of the recommended daily value,

Maple syrup also provides smaller amounts of calcium (about 6% of the daily value), potassium (about 3.7% of the daily value) and magnesium (4.1% of the daily value).

Health Benefits

Maple syrup has been studied for its potential health benefits. Researchers know that, in addition to sugar (sucrose), the natural sap used to make maple syrup contains minerals, oligosaccharides, amino acids, organic acids, and phenolic compounds. These compounds and nutrients may offer certain advantages to those who consume maple syrup, but much of the research is still in the very early stages.

May Help Prevent Cell Damage and Disease

The antioxidant content of maple syrup may provide certain disease-prevention benefits. Antioxidants are substances that may help prevent or delay certain types of cell damage that can lead to disease.

Antioxidants in Maple Syrup

Specifically, antioxidants help prevent oxidative stress that occurs in cells when your body is exposed to free radicals. Free radicals occur naturally in the body, but we are also exposed to free radicals in the environment from things like air pollution or cigarette smoke.

According to the National Institutes of Health, oxidative stress is thought to play a role in a variety of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Sweeteners that are less refined are known to have higher antioxidant activity than refined sweeteners. According to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, maple syrup, brown sugar, and honey showed better antioxidant capacity than refined sugar, corn syrup, and agave nectar.

Dark and blackstrap molasses had the highest antioxidant activity. These findings led study authors to suggest that "many readily available alternatives to refined sugar offer the potential benefit of antioxidant activity.

Another in vitro study published in 2011 investigated the chemical and biological properties of maple syrup from Canada. Researchers evaluated extracts from the syrup and found that "the plant-derived natural sweetener contains a wide diversity of phytochemicals, among which phenolic compounds predominate."

Phytochemicals are naturally-occurring compounds that provide antioxidant benefits. Researchers believe they may be able to regulate hormones, reduce inflammation, and even slow the growth of some cancer cells. The researchers noted, however, that further research in animals and humans would be needed to confirm their findings.

May Improve Hydration and Perceived Exercise Exertion

Maple syrup increased in popularity among athletes looking for the best way to rehydrate and maintain energy levels during participation in prolonged exercise. Some studies suggest that a beverage made from maple syrup can provide a reasonable alternative to traditional sports drinks.

One study involved 76 active men between 18 and 45 years old who consumed one of four carbohydrate solutions or a placebo every 30 minutes during a two-hour exercise session. The solutions included concentrated maple sap, diluted maple syrup, a commercial sports drink, glucose, or a placebo (water sweetened with stevia). Researchers wanted to see how ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) compared based on the beverage consumed.

They found that the RPE was significantly lower among those who consumed concentrated maple sap when compared to placebo. However, it should be noted that the study (which was funded in part by Quebec Maple Syrup Producers) was limited in scope and more evidence is needed to know if maple syrup can offer any unique benefits as compared to sports drinks.

There have been some other studies evaluating the consumption of a maple water beverages in exercise environments, but they tend to be small in scope and funded by specific maple beverage brands. More independent research is needed to know for sure if maple syrup can offer any unique benefits during or after exercise.

May Be Useful in Treatment of Some Cancers

Maple syrup has been studied for its potential impact on certain gastrointestinal cancers. While the studies are promising, it is important to note that the research is still preliminary and much more investigation is needed before we know for sure if consuming the syrup or syrup extract can provide any benefit in humans.

Benefits of Dark-Colored Maple Syrup

One study published in 2017 researched the inhibitory effect that dark-colored maple syrup may have on certain gastrointestinal cancer cells in a test tube (in vitro) environment. Dark-colored maple syrup is believed to have greater antioxidant activity.

Researchers found that dark-color maple syrup significantly inhibited gastrointestinal cancer cell growth as compared to non-treated cancer cells.

Specifically, it had anti-cancer effects in upper digestive tract cancer cell lines, such as esophageal and gastric cancer. Study authors concluded that dark maple syrup may be suitable as a phytomedicine for the treatment of gastrointestinal cancer.

A 2015 study published in the journal Oncology Reports, suggested that maple syrup might inhibit colorectal cancer cell growth and invasion and may be useful in treatment, with fewer adverse effects than traditional chemotherapy.

Again, however, this was an in vitro study. Human studies confirming this benefit are lacking and would need to provide better evidence before we know for sure if maple syrup can play a role in the treatment of any cancer.

May Have Potential in Management of Diabetes

Maple syrup contains oligosaccharides—a type of carbohydrate that is formed when three to 10 simple sugars are linked together. The oligosaccharide in maple syrup (composed of fructose and glucose) is notable because in a rodent study it helped process sugars in a way that helped rats with diabetes maintain lower overall blood glucose levels.

In the 2019 study published by the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, researchers wrote that their findings suggest that the oligosaccharide in maple syrup might represent a useful alternative sweetener for inclusion in the diets of patients with diabetes. But research supporting this benefit in humans is lacking.

Another rodent study published in a 2020 issue of the journal Nutrients compared the effects of the sustained consumption of refined sugars versus natural sugar in obese rodents.

Researchers found that the consumption of natural sweeteners (except for corn syrup) was associated with lower insulin resistance. They also found that maple syrup, molasses, agave syrup, and corn syrup as well as fructose helped reduce liver enzyme levels compared to sucrose.

Allergies

There is some evidence that those with tree pollen allergies may be susceptible to a reaction if raw maple sap is consumed. But reports are very limited.

Reported Allergic Reaction

One report published in 1994 details a case where a woman accidentally consumed a few milliliters of raw sap, and within 5 minutes experienced skin redness, itching, and red welts. She had no nasal symptoms, shortness of breath, or wheezing. The reaction lasts for several days, and study authors note that antihistamines were helpful in treating the symptoms.

The woman had always tolerated fully processed (boiled) maple syrup in the past and continued to do so after her reaction. The woman tested positive for both tree pollen and hazelnut allergies.

The authors of the report suggest that the reaction was related to her tree pollen allergy. Therefore they wrote that exposure to raw sap may be potentially hazardous in those with tree pollen allergy or nuts and therefore these patients should be advised to avoid ingesting raw maple sap. But more recent reports are lacking.

If you know or suspect that you have a tree pollen allergy, speak to your healthcare provider about whether or not it is safe for you to consume raw sap or maple syrup.

Adverse Effects

There are drawbacks to over-consuming sugar—even natural sugars, like honey or maple syrup. While maple syrup does provide antioxidants, the calories still come from sugar (sucrose) and it contains no fiber. In addition to the potential medical effects of over-consuming sugar, those who consume too much sugar may experience dental problems.

In November 2015, the American Dental Association formally endorsed the World Health Organization's recommendation to limit added sugar consumption to less than 10% of daily caloric intake. The organization explains that added sugars promote unhealthy bacteria and acids in the mouth. The acid damages teeth, causing cavities to form or erosion to occur.

When choosing foods at the grocery store, check the ingredients label on packaged foods. Beginning in January 2021, the Food and Drug Administration will require manufacturers to list both "sugar" and "added sugar" on the nutrition facts label. When you're reading nutrition labels to look for added sugars, you might see maple syrup listed as an ingredient. It's important to remember that maple syrup can be an added sugar just like other sweeteners like corn syrup or agave syrup.

Lastly, those with diabetes need to be especially careful about the consumption of high-carbohydrate foods. Those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes need to maintain healthy blood sugar levels in order to avoid hyperglycemia.

Carbohydrates, including maple syrup, can cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly. If you have diabetes, work together with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator to determine whether or not including maple syrup in your diet is safe.

Varieties

There are four classes of maple syrup and each vary in color and taste.

Types of Maple Syrup

  • Golden maple syrup is lightest in color and has a mild delicate taste. It comes from sap harvested at the beginning of the sugaring season. Golden maple syrup can be used on pancakes or on top of ice cream, yogurt, or cooked oatmeal.
  • Amber maple syrup is slightly darker and has a more full bodied taste. Amber maple syrup might be used in dessert recipes or in vinaigrettes.
  • Dark maple syrup has a caramelized flavor and is often used in savory dishes, baking, and sauces.
  • Very dark maple syrup comes from sap harvested at the end of the sugaring season. It has a rich, distinctive, more pronounced flavor that is perfect for glazes and sauces.

Grading

Maple syrup is graded. Grade A maple syrup is the type that is sold in stores. It must be obtained by no other method than concentrating maple sap. Other requirements include:

  • It can carry no objectionable odor or taste
  • It can contain no cloudiness
  • It must be free of fermentation
  • It must be sediment-free
  • It must have a maple flavor that is characteristic of its color class
  • It must have a uniform color

When It's Best

Maple syrup is tapped in the spring, but it is usually available all year long in most grocery stores.

Storage and Food Safety

The shelf life of maple syrup can depend on the container in which it is packaged. According to the USDA, pure maple syrup in a glass container can last four years from the date of purchase if kept in the pantry. When kept in the refrigerator it can last indefinitely.

Maple syrup in a plastic container is likely to keep two years from the date of purchase if kept in the pantry and about 18 to 24 months if stored in the refrigerator.

How to Prepare

There are many different ways to use maple syrup. Of course, it tastes great on top of pancakes. But you can also drizzle the sweetener on ice cream, Greek yogurt, or on cooked oats. You can also use maple syrup instead of sugar or other sweeteners in recipes.

When cooking with maple syrup, adjustments should be made based on the recipe. If you are using maple syrup instead of another liquid sweetener (such as honey, corn syrup, or molasses) you can use an equal amount of maple syrup.

When using maple syrup instead of granulated sugars (such as table sugar or brown sugar) use 2/3 cup of maple syrup for every cup of sugar that the recipe requires. You may also need to reduce the liquid content of the recipe slightly to accommodate the extra liquid that you gain by adding syrup. Experts advise that you also decrease the cooking temperature by about 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

Recipes

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