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Maple Syrup: The New Superfood

April 7, 2011

This is the sweet season of maple syrup, thanks to early April’s warmer days and cool nights. What great timing, then, that researchers are now telling us that maple syrup has been determined a “superfood,” because it contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties similar to those in other superfoods such as green tea, blueberries and açai berries.

While researchers are quick to note that maple syrup is still a high-carbohydrate sweetener to be used in moderation, its healthy compounds could make it a better choice over nutrient-poor sweeteners like corn syrup and white sugar.

The findings were presented this week at an annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, California and are to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Functional Foods.

From Discovery News:

“In our laboratory research we found that several of these compounds possess anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which have been shown to fight cancer, diabetes and bacterial illnesses,” said lead researcher Navindra Seeram, assistant professor of pharmacognosy at the University of Rhode Island.

Initial studies also suggest that polyphenols in the syrup may help keep blood sugar levels in check, important for diabetics, by inhibiting enzymes that are involved in the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar, he said.

The discoveries of new molecules in the syrup also provide chemists with leads that could prompt synthesis of medications to fight other diseases.

The study was funded by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

A total of 54 beneficial compounds were identified by the researchers in pure maple syrup from Quebec, including five of which have never been seen in nature.

Among the new compounds is quebecol — named in honor of the Canadian province of Quebec, which leads the world in maple syrup production. The researchers believe it is created when a farmer boils off the water in maple sap to get maple syrup. It takes 40 liters (20.5 gallons) of sap to make one liter (two pints) of syrup. The sweet sap is collected from maple trees in the spring when freezing and thawing cycles cause it to rise and flow from taps hammered into tree trunks.

Seeram said the irony of finding a potential anti-diabetes compound in a sweetener is not lost on him. “Not all sweeteners are created equal,” he said.

But while it may make a good substitute for high fructose corn syrup on pancakes he discourages anyone from going out and drinking gallons of it in hopes of extracting the benefits.

Yes, the study was funded by maple syrup producers… but we’re still happy to hear that maple syrup has redeeming qualities beyond its dark golden deliciousness. We like a little maple syrup stirred into our coffee or oatmeal, baked into homemade granola, or poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a treat. What’s your favorite way to use maple syrup?

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