Monday, December 5, 2011

Maple Syrup: Sweet with Benefits

I'm originally from Vermont, therefore maple syrup to me is a way of life.  I've experienced arguably the best maple syrup this side of the Canadian border, and believe me this amber nectar from the gods themselves will always hold a place in my heart.  It truly is one of my most favorite tastes, and honestly I've never consumed one of the artificial counterparts (like Aunt Jemima) without a slight level of disgust and confusion as to how that stuff even came close to imitating the real deal.  Real maple syrup really is something special, and despite it being....well....SUGAR, it does have quite a few health benefits that allow it to find its way into a health food blog such as this.

Firstly, I'll give those of you who aren't native to sugaring country a little background as to how maple syrup is made.  It is originally created from sap of the maple tree, which can be collected only in a certain window of time during early spring when it drops below freezing at night and rises above freezing during the day.  This causes the sap inside the tree to flow up and down the trunk and right past any sort of tap you've hammered into the tree.  Many maple sugarers collect the sap in hanging buckets, but the more large scale operations use vacuum tubes that basically meet up with the tap and suck the sap down to a holding tank hundreds of feet downhill, which is also connected to an entire web of other vacuum tubes winding all over the forest.  It's a pretty impressive sight come spring time, if I don't say so myself.

Once the sap is collected, it must be boiled in order to remove most of the water (sap is mostly water with only a tiny hint of sugar.)  This boiling process takes a LOT of sweet time, and ends up removing a lot of the raw material.  In fact, it usually takes in the ballpark of 40 gallons of sap to make one measly gallon of syrup.  And I remember some of my friends back in high school claiming they and their families have made thousands of gallons of syrup each year!  That is a LOT of sap.  Then, based on the quality and color of the syrup, it is either labeled as grade A or B.  All three have distinct tastes.  A is usually called "fancy" syrup and is lighter on your tongue.  Many consumers less used to the distinct taste of organic maple syrup prefer grade A because it tastes more similar to artificial syrups they might have had before.  Grade B is the heavier syrup with a more viscous, powerful taste, and really packs a maple punch (I prefer this =]).  You'll see many more locals using grade B, because to us it represents the most pure taste of Vermont.

 Grade A is made earlier in the season, and usually Grade B is made later.  

I lied slightly, there are multiple grade A syrups, with increasing maple flavor as they get darker.  From left to right, these grades are:

  • Vermont Fancy, light amber color, delicate maple bouquet
  • Grade A Medium Amber, medium amber color, pronounced maple bouquet
  • Grade A Dark Amber, dark amber color, robust maple bouquet
  • Grade B, darkest color, strong maple bouquet

And they're all pure Vermont organic!

So I did mention health benefits, did I not?  Good news is that maple syrup (especially grade B) is packed with large amounts of certain nutrients, so you're getting some good stuff along with all that sugar.  What would that good stuff be?  Let's find out!

Manganese:  This interesting little mineral has all sorts of benefits.  It has shown to be a great supporter of bone and joint health, which you definitely want especially as age starts to catch up with you.  The strength of your bones can determine comfort levels later in life.  Manganese also supports general overall cell health, protecting them from damaging free radicals.  It even promotes good sensory function, specifically taste and smell.

You'd do well to get some more manganese in your diet, and guess what, 1/2 cup of maple syrup has over 250% of your daily recommended manganese!  Impressive!

Zinc:  Maple syrup is also packed with zinc, a fantastic mineral that supports HDL (good) cholesterol levels as well as other heart health benefits.  You definitely want to keep that heart of yours beating strong and stress free, and if you like a little organic maple syrup on your whole wheat waffles, then you'll be doing your heart a favor.  1/2 cup of maple syrup has 45% of your daily zinc (though I should've mentioned before that 1/2 cup is a pretty big serving size when it comes to maple syrup.)

Zinc is also very important as it helps your immune system to function at optimal levels, which you'd definitely be keen to paying attention to this time of the year.

Calcium:  This bone-related mineral is in pretty high supply in maple syrup.  1/2 cup of maple syrup will have around 11% of your daily required calcium, and perhaps a little more if it's grade B.  You definitely don't want to be short on calcium, especially women, as this will increase your chances of osteoporosis.

I found a great nutrition profile of maple syrup online, which I'll share with you right here:


  • Serving Size 1 tablespoon
  • Amount Per Serving
  • Calories 52
  • Calories From Fat 0
  • Calories 52.00 kcal
  • Carbohydrates 13.44 g
  • Calories from Carbohydrates 52.00 kcal
  • % Calories from Carbohydrates 100.00 %
  • Fat 0.04 g
  • Calories from Fat 0.352 kcal
  • % Calories from Fat 0.67 %
  • Monounsaturated Fat 0.0128 g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat 0.02 g
  • Saturated Fat 0.0072 g
  • Ash 0.12 g
  • Calcium, Ca 13.4 mg
  • Copper, Cu 0.0148 mg
  • FA 16:0 Palmitic 0.0072 g
  • FA 18:0 Stearic 0.0008 g
  • FA 18:1 Oleic 0.0128 g
  • FA 18:2 Linoleic 0.02 g
  • Iron, Fe 0.24 mg
  • Magnesium, Mg 2.8 mg
  • Manganese, Mn 0.6596 mg
  • Niacin 0.006 mg
  • Pantothenic acid 0.0072 mg
  • Phosphorus, P 0.4 mg
  • Potassium, K 40.8 mg
  • Riboflavin 0.002 mg
  • Selenium, Se 0.12 mcg
  • Sodium, Na 1.8 mg
  • Sugars, total 12.74 g
  • Thiamin 0.0012 mg
  • Vitamin B-6 0.0004 mg
  • Water 6.4 g
  • Zinc, Zn 0.832 mg

Clearly maple syrup is packed with all sorts of healthy vitamins and minerals, and is a big step up from plain cane sugar which has around 0% of just about everything.  So what does that mean?  It means you can enjoy one of the greatest sweeteners known to man without feeling too guilty.  In my opinion though, as much as I love the stuff, don't go overboard with maple syrup.  A tablespoon or two is fine, and most likely it'll be all you need.  Go much further and you're well on your way to sabotaging your own diet.

But don't be afraid of maple syrup!  In moderation it is absolutely delicious and extremely good for you.  So go ahead, enjoy one of the most beneficial organic sweeteners on this green (soon to be white) earth.

Enjoy those waffles, love the maple tree, and as always, good luck!

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