More and more people are making a move to healthier alternatives. And as alternatives to refined sugars, we have maple syrup and honey. They don’t contain proteins or fiber and have little to no fat content. However, they don’t hold the same nutritional value. One has a higher glycemic index, one has more calories, and each features its own sets of vitamins and minerals with higher numbers of amino acids and antioxidants. Follow us into the discussion as we delve deeper into maple syrup vs honey and determine the healthy one between the two.
Processing Of Maple Syrup Vs Honey
Maple syrup and honey are natural alternatives to refined sugar. That, however, doesn’t mean they aren’t processed. Let’s look at each production process.
The making of maple syrup is relatively easy. It involves two processes:
- Evaporation and filtration
To extract the maple, you have to drill a hole in a maple tree to get the sap/ circulating fluid. The most common trees used are:
- The sugar or rock trees(Acer saccharum)
- The black maple (Acer nigrum)
- The red maple (Acer rubrum)
Using the tap attached to the hole, you easily collect sap up to 40 gallons, especially in the spring season.
These maple trees in North America, the northeast section, provide over 80% of the world’s supply of maple syrup from Quebec’s province in Canada.
After extraction, the sap is boiled between the temperatures of 219 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit until enough water has evaporated and the syrup has a good enough density of about 67 degrees Brix at room temperature. The syrup is also filtered to remove impurities.
During its production process, depending on a few factors such as the pH of the boiling syrup, sugar concentration of the sap, and environmental temperatures, the syrup can attain different colors/grades. There are four grades of maple syrup:
- Golden. It’s the lightest of them and often the first sap that flows from the tree during the sugaring season.
- Amber. It’s a slightly darker shade than the former but had a richer, more embodied maple flavor.
- Dark. It’s dark amber with a robust flavor.
- Very dark. It’s the darkest grade and has a very intense flavor.
Honey can be in two varieties, raw or regular honey. Raw honey requires no processing as you collect from a bee’s hive, whereas regular honey has to be pasteurized and filtered. We shall take you through both methods of acquiring honey.
Honey is produced and stored by bees as their primary food source during the cold season of winter. Bees make the honey by extracting nectar, the sugary liquid in flowers, using their long, tube-shaped tongue and storing it in their extra stomach called the crop. The nectar sloshes around and mixes with enzymes that change its composition and texture for more extended storage in the crop.
When the new returns to its hive, it passes the nectar along to another bee, and the process repeats repeatedly. By regurgitating the honey into other bee’s mouths, the honey is partially digested by the bees until its final deposit into the honeycomb.
On the honeycomb, the honey is still very dense. Hence, to thicken it up, the bees set to work fanning the comb with their wings to encourage evaporation. Water then evaporates, and the honey becomes denser. The bees finally seal the honeycomb with beeswax, a secretion liquid found in its abdomen, until its time of need.
Upon collection, the honey passes through a mesh or a nylon cloth to separate the honey from impurities such as dead bees and beeswax. After this, it can be consumed or sold.
With regular honey, it’s further processed to elongate its shelf life, add flavor, texture, and a cleaner appearance. Its production process requires two steps, pasteurization and filtration.
Pasteurization destroys yeast from the honey by exposing it to high temperatures, making the honey smoother and extending its shelf life.
The honey is passed through a sieve to remove debris, air bubbles, and other impurities with filtration, so the honey looks transparent and cleaner. The honey is further ultrafiltrated for a more transparent look; however, this often strips its nutrients, enzymes, and amino acids.
In both processes, the sweeteners remain natural with no additives or chemicals.
Nutritional Profile Of Pure Maple Syrup Vs Honey
For better understanding, we shall break down their nutritional value based on the body’s essential nutrients, which are carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins & minerals. Since they don’t contain protein, we shall skip that section.
A tablespoon of pure maple syrup has about 14 grams of carbs equal to 85% of sugar, primarily sucrose, glucose, and fructose. Its glycemic index is 54, ranging from low and medium GI foods.
As for honey, a tablespoon contains 17 grams of carbohydrates, with over 90% sugar. Honey contains fructose primarily, with very little glucose and even less sucrose. The glycemic index is 58, which is slightly higher than maple syrup.
Of the two, maple syrup is more nutritious as it contains a lower percentage of sugar in the carbs and less fructose. As you know, high fructose content can be detrimental to your health, precisely your heart, and liver.
Studies show fructose may raise your low-density lipoproteins levels, leading to fats accumulation, heart disease, high blood pressure, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, type two diabetes, and obesity (9, 12). Therefore, looking at the fructose in honey vs maple syrup, maple syrup is much safer to consume.
However, note that as both are sweeteners, they contain a high content of sugar. And seeing sucrose has a glycemic index of 65, you should take both in moderation to avoid the adverse effects of excessive sugar.
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Vitamins And Minerals
Both maple and honey have their vitamin and mineral content. However, the vitamin content is higher in honey, whereas the mineral content is higher in maple syrup.
Honey has a modest content of vitamin C and B6, both of which are absent in maple syrup. Other vitamins in honey include vitamin B3 and B5. Maple syrup has trace amounts of vitamins B1 and B3, which are not present in honey.
Nonetheless, both lack vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamins B12, and B9.
Maple syrup has a very high content in minerals, with over 33% of it being manganese, which is excellent for your bones. Other minerals present in the syrup include iron, calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, copper, and zinc.
Honey contains tiny amounts of zinc, iron, potassium, copper, phosphorus, and much lower sodium content compared to maple. On the upside, it has fluoride, which isn’t present in maple and beneficial to your dental health.
Moreover, honey also contains more than three times the amount of riboflavin than maple syrup. In this section, there’s not a winner/ or one type healthier than the other. They both have their strengths and shortcomings, and none of the vitamins or minerals are present in significant amounts, so choose whichever you prefer.
Both variants have very little to no fat content. In a tablespoon of pure maple syrup, fat content is only 0.1 grams with trace amounts of the three subcategories of fat, saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. Honey doesn’t contain any fat.
Calories In Maple Syrup vs Honey
Calories in both come from their carbohydrate content. A tablespoon of maple syrup will contain just 52 calories against 64 calories contained in honey. However, when consumed in massive amounts, such as cooking or serving on delicacies, a cup of maple syrup will have 819 calories against 1031 calories in honey.
For those of you aiming for weight loss, maple syrup would be the better choice because of fewer calories and less sugar content, assuming the amount you use is the same. The more sugar you consume, the more glucose converts to visceral fat for storage.
However, depending on your diet, you can opt for honey as it goes well with low-fat diets, while maple syrup is an excellent choice for low calorie, low carbs, and low glycemic index diets.
Health Benefits Of Maple Syrup vs Honey
Now, onto the most crucial segment of the article, let’s find out which of the two offers more health benefits.
From its nutritional profile above, you know that maple syrup doesn’t contain many vitamins. Still, it has plenty of minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants which go a long way in improving and maintaining good health. Here are the health benefits of maple syrup.
Rich In Antioxidants
Maple syrup is from tree sap. Being plant-based, it contains plenty of antioxidants to a tune of over 20 different types of antioxidants. Antioxidants reduce and prevent oxidative stress in the body, which happens in cells when your body gets free radicals from the environment.
These 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. Studies suggest that oxidative stress may contribute to various diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (4).
Therefore, taking pure maple syrup will offer a decent source of antioxidants which may further help in the fight against these diseases. Ideally, stick to darker maple grades as they contain more beneficial antioxidants than the golden and amber kind.
Low In Cholesterol And Protects The Liver
One study found that a diet with a higher portion of maple syrup was associated with lower cholesterol and less liver inflammation in mice (20). The study further revealed that these protective effects of maple syrup in the liver highly depend on the amount you take as the syrup is still a sugar and can have its harmful side effects.
Moreover, lower cholesterol also means it might be great for heart health, among other health issues. Scientists confirm that maple syrup has lower calories than some other types of sugar, which makes it a potentially good choice to include in your meals and cooking.
Improved Brain Health
A study on the beneficial effects of natural products on the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, showed that maple syrup could be helpful as well. One study established that maple syrup can aid in preventing the misfolding, tangling, and clumping of two types of proteins in the brain cells, namely;
- Tau peptide
The research showed that these two proteins found in the brain cells often lead to deformations and the accumulation of plaque that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological problems (10).
Maple syrup has an antioxidant compound called (GCG), a glucitol core that contains gallotannin. The compound has antidiabetic properties with an α-glucosidase inhibitor and antiglycation properties. Maple syrup also contains polyphenolic lignans, phytohormone abscisic acid, and other derivatives, which also help fight against diabetes mellitus (8).
Under the maple syrup vs honey nutrition profile, we established that maple syrup has a lower glycemic index which means that it doesn’t cause rapid spikes in blood sugar that may affect your insulin and blood glucose levels. Moreover, some studies show that the syrup may have the ability to inhibit glucose absorption from the small intestine, preventing elevation of plasma glucose levels, therefore potentially helping prevent type 2 diabetes mellitus (6).
Vegans’ Saving Grace
Vegans feed on strictly non-meat products. They’re devoid of animal products such as eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, and dairy products. And even with the numerous benefits vegan meals can have to your health, they have serious health risks, including malnutrition due to a lack of essential minerals and amino acids.
When it comes down to maple vs honey, maple syrup can offer more mineral content than honey, with its iron, zinc, and calcium content. Moreover, maple syrup is considered safe for vegans because the product is plant-based. Therefore, vegans can consume maple syrup as it offers vital nutrients missing in their diet.
- Other benefits of maple syrup may include;
- Promotion of red blood cells due to iron content.
- Immunity boosting thanks to zinc.
- Improved bone density from calcium and manganese.
Researchers have extensively reviewed honey and its benefits and concluded that it contains many benefits, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, and anticancer properties (15).
Honey has a range of compounds that act as antioxidants, including phytochemicals, flavonoids, and ascorbic acid. Phenols, a specific type of antioxidant present in honey, have been linked to preventing blood clots and increasing blood flow to the heart (15).
These antioxidants help to reduce oxidative stress in the body, similar to maple syrup. Again, through the reduction of oxidative stress, the body is protected against chronic health conditions such as cancers and heart diseases.
To maximize such benefits, one should aim for raw honey as regular honey reduces the number and effect of antioxidants in the honey through pasteurization.
Antibacterial, Antifungal, And Antiviral Effects
Among other great health benefits of honey include antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. Honey has hydrogen peroxide and glucose oxidase, which contributes to its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties and tissue repair.
Research into the antibacterial effects of honey, manuka honey, a type of raw honey, was established that it could kill common pathogens such as (2);
- Salmonella and Escherichia coli or E. coli that causes food poisoning and wound infections
- Staphylococcus aureus or S. aureus, a microbe that causes skin infections
- Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori, a bacteria that causes stomach ulcers and chronic gastritis
From these studies and others, scientists conclude that honey can help with wound healing, either surgical, ulcers, cuts, or burns (15).
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Protects Cardiovascular Health
Long-term consumption of honey has the potential to reduce cardiovascular risk factors. Studies show that honey may decrease the level of cholesterol in the body and the low-density lipoproteins in obese individuals. Furthermore, honey may also reduce the blood levels of C-reactive protein, which is associated with cardiac risk factors and inflammation (18).
However, since honey is still a sugar, moderation is required, or excess consumption can lead to the development of atherosclerosis, hypertension, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, and cardiac arrhythmias (19).
A study revealed that honey could improve blood lipid levels in diabetic patients, but with those improvements also came an increase in hemoglobin A1c, so caution was recommended by the researchers (11).
Therapeutic Effects Against Cancer
Honey may help fight against cancer by inhibiting cell proliferation, inducing apoptosis and cell-cycle arrest (13). Studies also reveal that honey can be effective against breast cancer cells (22), bladder cancer cells (3), prostate cancer cells (5), endometrial cancer cells (5), and renal cancer cells (14) in the lab.
Supports Reproductive Health
Royal jelly, a substance normally reserved for queen bees and young larvae, has excellent effects on female reproductive health. Scientists found that it can reduce PMS (pre and post-menstrual symptoms), reduce oxidative stress that could cause aging of the ovaries, and may also improve the sperm quality for men (15).
Other benefits of honey include;
- Improved memory thanks to vitamin B6.
- It builds the immune system from vitamin C.
- It provides dental support from its fluoride content.
- It helps with relieving coughs, especially for children.
- It offers excellent nutritional value from the body through its vitamins, minerals, and riboflavin.
Which Is Better To Use In Cooking: Maple Syrup Vs Honey?
We can use both maple syrup and honey for cooking and baking, but they have their ups and downs.
Maple syrup has a caramel taste with a woodsy flavor. The flavor is vibrant, especially if the grade is dark. Maple syrup can also have complex notes such as vanilla, nutty (hazelnut), floral, cinnamon, chocolate, coffee, among other flavourful compounds.
As for honey, it also has different tastes depending on its nectar source, but more often than not, it has a sweet, floral flavor.
Both maple and honey can be used adversely in the kitchen for cooking, baking, and topping desserts.
For maple syrup, its grading system helps to determine what goes where.
- Golden. It has a delicate taste with a subtle flavor of maple and hints of vanilla. It’s mainly added to foods such as pancakes, yogurt, and waffles.
- Amber. It has a rich and classic flavor of maple, which can also be drizzled on top of food for a more profound flavor or drizzled into tea and other beverages.
- Dark and very dark. Both grades have a deep, more intense flavor of maple. Their robust and strong flavor allows them to cook and still maintain their tastes. These darker grades are best for baking rather than drizzling.
You can use dark and very dark maple syrups for glazing meats, poultry, and seafood such as salmon. However, many manufacturers send very dark maple to other industries such as cookie or candy industries because of their intense flavor.
As for honey, you can use it in a variety of ways, including:
- Sweetening beverages.
- You can add honey to sauces, dressings, and vinaigrettes for salad.
- You can use honey for marinating and grilling.
- You can pair honey with cheese like feta and goat cheese.
- Baking with it.
You can use both variants in cooking, baking, and grilling. However, maple syrup can caramelize and burn in a hot oven. A good enough temperature is about 25 degrees. On the other hand, honey can withstand a bit more heat than maple syrup, which means it can bake and grill at a higher temperature before it burns.
Comparing maple vs honey cooking abilities, the two can offer similar outcomes. However, maple is best for sweet delicacies rather than cooking, such as grilling, due to its heat resistance. Moreover, honey used in baking can quickly dry out the dough, making it dense and dry, hence better for puddings, ice creams, and gelatos.
For a flavorsome topping, stick to maple syrup and for a sticky marinade, stick to honey.
The Bottom Line
After the deep dive into maple vs honey, we can conclude that they both have their benefits and are suitable alternatives to refined sugar; but they are both still sugar and should be taken in moderation.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A Review of Molecular Mechanisms of the Anti-Leukemic Effects of Phenolic Compounds in Honey (2012, mdpi.com)
- Antibacterial Efficacy of Raw and Processed Honey (2010, hindawi.com)
- Antineoplastic activity of honey in an experimental bladder cancer implantation model (2003, pubmed.nih.gov)
- Antioxidants: In-depth (2013, nccih.nih.gov)
- Bioactivity of Greek honey extracts on breast cancer (MCF-7), prostate cancer (PC-3), and endometrial cancer (Ishikawa) cells (2009, sciencedirect.com)
- Changes in plasma glucose in Otsuka Long-Evans Tokushima Fatty rats after oral administration of maple syrup (2015, europepmc.org)
- Comparative analysis of maple syrup to other natural sweeteners and evaluation of their metabolic responses in healthy rats (2014, uri.edu)
- Comparison of the Enhancement of Plasma Glucose Levels in Type 2 Diabetes Otsuka Long-Evans Tokushima Fatty Rats by Oral Administration of Sucrose or Maple Syrup (2013, just.go.jp)
- Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans (2009, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Maple Syrup May Protect Brain From Alzheimer’s And Other Neurodegenerative Disease (2016, medicaldaily.com)
- Effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients: an 8-week randomized clinical trial (2009, pubmed.nih.gov)
- Fructose, but not glucose, impairs insulin signaling in the three major insulin-sensitive tissues (2016, pubmed.nih.gov)
- Honey and cancer (2012, pubmed.nih.gov)
- Honey induces apoptosis in renal cell carcinoma (2011, pubmed.nih.gov)
- Honey, Propolis, and Royal Jelly: A Comprehensive Review of Their Biological Actions and Health Benefits (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Inhibitory effect of maple syrup on the cell growth and invasion of human colorectal cancer cells (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Natural Honey Lowers Plasma Glucose, C-Reactive Protein, Homocysteine, and Blood Lipids in Healthy, Diabetic (2004, liebertpub.com)
- Natural Honey and Cardiovascular Risk Factors (2008, researchgate.net)
- Oxidative Stress as a Mechanism of Added Sugar-Induced Cardiovascular Disease (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Potential Protective Effects of Maple Syrup in the Liver and on Cholesterol (2017, web.uri.edu)
- The total antioxidant content of alternatives to refined sugar (2009, pubmed.nih.gov)
- Tualang honey induces apoptosis and disrupts the mitochondrial membrane potential of human breast and cervical cancer cell lines (2011, pubmed.ncbi.nih.gov)