Healthful Maple Syrup

By / Magazine / April 4th, 2011 / 1

Don’t feel guilty about pouring pure maple syrup over your pancakes, waffles or oatmeal. Turns out, this sweetie is worth every penny.

Researchers from the University of Rhode Island (URI) have now identified 54 compounds in Canadian maple syrup with antioxidant properties and potential health benefits, double the amount previously reported. The components found in pure maple syrup are believed to act as anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory agents. Initial studies also suggest that maple compounds may inhibit enzymes relevant in Type 2 diabetes management.

These new findings were presented on March 30th at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, California, during a day-long session exclusively examining the bioactive compounds found in natural sweeteners. The session was organized and chaired by Dr. Navindra Seeram, assistant pharmacy professor at URI and a lead scientist on the maple syrup research team.

According to the URI research team, maple syrup contains a cocktail of polyphenol compounds, including several with antioxidant properties and many with well-documented health benefits. “We found a wide variety of polyphenols in maple syrup, said Seeram. It is a one-stop shop for these beneficial compounds, several of which are also found in berries, tea, red wine and flaxseed, just to name a few. Not all sweeteners are created equal! When choosing a sweetener, pure maple syrup is a better choice because of the range of antioxidant compounds not found in other sweeteners.”

“These new scientific findings underscore the nutritional message whereby food that undergoes little to no processing provides greater health benefits,” said dietitian Hélène Laurendeau. “100% pure Maple syrup is a natural, non-refined product, which gives it an edge over other sweetening agents. We have reason to be proud of our maple syrup, whose unique flavour makes it a versatile addition to countless culinary creations.”

Maple syrup may prove to be relevant in Type 2 diabetes management, although the findings must be verified in clinical trials. “We discovered that the polyphenols in maple syrup inhibit enzymes that are involved in the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar,” said Seeram. “In fact, in preliminary studies, maple syrup had a greater enzyme-inhibiting effect compared to other healthy plant foods such as berries, when tested on a dry-weight basis. By 2050, one in three people will be afflicted with Type 2 diabetes, and more and more people are looking for healthier diet, so finding a potential anti-diabetic compound in maple syrup is interesting for the scientific community and consumers.”

Five of the 54 antioxidants in maple syrup were identified for the first time in nature and are unique to the natural sweetener. Among the five new compounds, one polyphenol is of particular interest. Given the common name of Quebecol, in honour of the province of Quebec, this compound is created during the process of boiling down maple sap into maple syrup. “We don’t know yet whether the new compounds contribute to the healthy profile of maple syrup, but we do know that the sheer quantity and variety of identified compounds with documented health benefits qualifies maple syrup as a superfood,” commented Seeram. Some of his findings were recently published in the Journal of Functional Foods. Dr. Yves Desjardins, professor at Université Laval’s Plant Science Department and an active member of the university’s Centre de recherche en horticulture, is particularly interested in maple syrup and sap. His research reveals that these homegrown products boast high levels of abscisic acid, a promising phytohormone that could provide even more health benefits.

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