Maple Syrup

ORAC Value:
μ mol TE/100g.

The antioxidant value of Maple Syrup described in ORAC units is: 590 μ mol TE/100g.


Other than pancakes, waffles, and dessert items, it's rarely used to sweeten food. Instead, we often use refined white table sugar and agave. We all know the evils of that unhealthy white powder, but agave is no saint, either. The only reason it ranks so low on the glycemic index scale is because most of its sweetness comes from fructose instead. Agave is 70 to 90% fructose, which is higher than any sugar substitute, even worse than high fructose corn syrup! Fructose is a significant contributor to type 2 diabetes as well as NASH (Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver) disease (1). But what about this delicious sap that comes from a tree? Is pure maple syrup low glycemic?

As it turns out, maple syrup might very well be the best low glycemic sweetener. Not only is maple syrup vegan (honey isn't), gluten free (barley malt syrup isn't), and paleo friendly (coconut palm sugar isn't), it happens have a Glycemic Index rating which beats most other natural sweeteners.

The GI for 1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup is 55, which surprisingly qualifies it as a low glycemic food, albeit barely. The American Diabetes Associates classifies low GI foods as those which are 55 or less (2).

But don't get carried away, remember the 55 rating is for just 1 tablespoon and it doesn't include the quasi maple sauce products on the market like Mrs. Buttersworth which contain little to no maple mixed in with lots of refined sugars like corn syrup (the first 3 ingredients listed on Mrs. Buttersworth are high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water).

Even with the real stuff, is maple syrup healthy for diabetics? A better word choice would be it's healthier than white sugar, but it's not really that healthy or good for you. Ideally, both type 1 and type 2 diabetics should limit their intake of all sweeteners, even the best lower glycemic ones, as much as possible. The exception of course being those which do not impact GI or have very little impact, such as stevia and monk fruit. Discuss with your doctor.

Last but not least, the other benefit of maple syrup is its antioxidants. Granted, the amount it contains is not much versus fresh fruits and vegetables. Its 590 ORAC value corresponds to 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of the syrup. That's the equivalent of 7 tablespoons. If you consumed that much it would be 364 calories worth and definitely leave you with a sugar crash afterward! The darker varieties such as Grade A dark and very dark contain the highest amounts of antioxidants. The lighter amber varieties will contain less. Organic maple syrup probably doesn't have any more or less, but it's still worth the added cost because non-organic syrup production might involve trees treated with chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides which would otherwise not be allowed in organic production.

ORAC Source

USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, Release 2 - Prepared by Nutrient Data Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center (BHNRC), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - May 2010