Maple Syrup vs. Honey: Which Is Healthier?

Honey on pancakes

For better health, we all know it’s best to cut back on our sugar intake—but for most people, that doesn’t mean that sweeteners must be stricken from the menu entirely. When you’d like to sweeten your foods, honey and maple syrup can add their distinctly delicious flavor to baked goods, beverages, meat dishes, and more.

Because of their natural origins, both honey and maple syrup tend to have a bit of a “health halo”—and since both are brown, viscous, and sweet, you may be used to using them interchangeably. But there are distinct differences in the nutritional makeup of these two sweeteners, as well as different best practices for when to include each in your cooking and baking. Here’s a look at how honey and maple syrup compare for nutrition, culinary uses, and lifestyle considerations.

Nutrition Information

The following nutrition information for 1 tablespoon of maple syrup (20 grams) and honey (21 grams) has been provided by the USDA. For food labeling purposes, honey and maple syrup have different serving sizes (1 tablespoon for honey and ¼ cup for maple syrup). We’ve shown the same amount of each here for nutritional comparison.

    Honey (1 tbsp.) Maple syrup (1 tbsp.)
  Calories:  64  52
  Fat: 0g  >1g 
Sodium >1mg   2.4mg
Carbohydrates 17.3g   13.4g
Fiber >1g  0g 
Sugars  17.2g 12.1g 
Protein  >1g  >1g
Calcium:  1.26mg  20.4mg
Manganese: 0.17mg 0.582mg
Zinc: .046mg 0.294mg
Riboflavin: .008mg 0.254mg

Nutritional Similarities

As liquid sweeteners, honey and maple syrup do, of course, come with striking similarities for nutrition. Both contain no appreciable amount of fat or protein, with carbohydrates from sugar supplying all of their calories. Both also boast some micronutrients and antioxidants. Research has revealed promising levels of antioxidants in both honey and maple syrup that could contribute to reducing oxidative stress—a key component in preventing some chronic diseases.

Nutritional Differences

The nutrition differences between honey and maple syrup are more significant than you might expect. Although honey has only eight more calories than maple syrup in a single tablespoon, this can add up fast, depending on the amount of sweetener you use. (In a quarter cup, you’ll take in 32 more calories from honey than maple syrup, or 128 more calories in 1 cup.)

There’s also a gap between the two sweeteners’ carbohydrate count. “Despite the carb content being fairly close between maple syrup and honey, the amount is nearly a difference of one teaspoon of added sugar,” says dietitian Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, of Sound Bites Nutrition.

Honey and maple syrup aren’t exactly twins on a micronutrient level, either. “While honey does contain small amounts of vitamin C and B vitamins, you’d have to consume a very large amount of honey to receive much benefit,” Andrews notes. “In 100 grams [about five tablespoons] of honey, you’ll receive about 1% of the RDA for vitamin C.” Maple syrup, on the other hand, is an excellent source of both manganese and riboflavin and a good source of zinc.

Health Benefits of Honey

Cough Suppressant

Although honey is a sweetener—and therefore should be limited in the diet—it may contribute to better health in a handful of ways. Not only do its antioxidants help "clean" cells of damaging free radicals, but it can also be a tasty food-as-medicine remedy during cold and flu season. Research has shown a spoonful might be a better treatment for a cough than over-the-counter medications, especially in children.

May improve seasonal allergies

Allergy sufferers may also want to consider making a trip to a local beekeeper. “While it's not conclusive, some studies have found eating local raw honey can help improve seasonal allergy symptoms,” says registered dietitian Kelsey Lorencz, RD, of Graciously Nourished

Health Benefits of Maple Syrup 

Provides a micronutrient boost

Not to be outdone, maple syrup offers some impressive health benefits of its own, particularly because of its high amounts of manganese and riboflavin. “Manganese is a trace mineral,” explains Lorencz. “We don't need much of it, but it's essential for our body to operate efficiently. It's essential to bone and tissue formation, blood clotting, proper immune response, and sexual function.” Riboflavin, meanwhile, helps create usable energy from the food we eat and may play a role in the prevention of cancer and migraines.

May be more suitable for some health conditions

Maple syrup also offers advantages over honey for people with certain chronic health conditions. “With a lower glycemic index, it would be a better choice for those with diabetes or other blood sugar issues,” says Andrews.

And people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be able to digest maple syrup better than honey because of the type of sugars it contains. “Maple syrup and honey both contain simple sugars, though fructose (in honey) may not be tolerated as well in individuals with IBS that need a low FODMAP diet." 

Taste, Preparation, and Cooking

The flavors of honey and maple syrup are deliciously distinctive—so the choice of where and when to use each is largely up to you and your taste buds. Fans of maple syrup’s more earthy, woodsy taste may prefer a swirl of this sweetener, while others may enjoy honey’s floral hints and thicker texture more.

Honey’s more viscous nature lends itself well to salad dressings and marinades, where it can cling to other foods, whereas maple syrup’s thinner consistency blends easily in baked goods. (Though both work well in innumerable food preparations!)

For cooking and baking, there are some rules of thumb about how to best use honey and maple syrup. “Both can be used in place of sugar, as long as the liquid in the recipe is adjusted,” says Lorencz. “In general, for every 1 cup of sugar that is replaced by honey or maple syrup, decrease your other liquid ingredients by 3-4 tablespoons.”

If you’re using either as a substitute for table sugar, Lorencz also encourages scaling back a little. “Both maple syrup and honey are sweeter than sugar, you will only need three-fourths as much sweetener if replacing sugar.” And be mindful when cooking at high temperatures. “Honey begins to degrade and scorch at a lower temperature than maple syrup, so it's best used for low-temperature baking or cooking.” 

Potential Concerns

Sometimes, the decision of when to use honey and when to use maple syrup doesn’t have to do with nutrition or even taste. Vegans, for example, often choose not to consume honey because it’s an insect by-product. Those who have adopted a vegan lifestyle may prefer to sweeten foods with maple syrup, which is 100% plant-based.

Parents of infants under age one will also need to keep honey off of the high chair tray. Honey may contain small amounts of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, which can cause botulism poisoning in babies. Stick to maple syrup or other sweeteners for eaters under 12 months, even in baked goods or cooked preparations.

A commitment to eating more locally may also factor into your choice of honey versus maple syrup. While honey can be harvested almost anywhere honeybees live, maple syrup is native only to a relatively small region of eastern North America. If you don’t live in this part of the world, obtaining local maple syrup may not be possible.

A Word From Verywell

Used in moderation, both honey and maple syrup can be a part of a healthy diet, sweetening up everything from breakfast oatmeals to dinnertime meat dishes. Depending on your dietary goals or taste preferences, you may have a personal favorite–but neither is inherently better than the other.

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