Pure maple syrup may pack similar health benefits to those found in berries, tea, red wine and flax seed
There's good news about pure maple syrup from the University of Rhode Island (URI). Researchers there have now identified 54 compounds in maple syrup from Canada, double the amount previously reported, and many with antioxidant activity and potential health benefits. In laboratory studies, they acted 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, CA, 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, 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," Seeram continued. "Not all sweeteners are created equal. When choosing a sweetener, pure maple syrup may be a better choice because of the range of antioxidant compounds not found in other sweeteners."
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 carbohydrate to sugar," said Seeram. "In fact, in preliminary studies maple syrup had a greater enzyme-inhibiting effect compared to several 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 diets, so finding a potential anti-diabetic compound in maple syrup is interesting for the scientific community and the consumer," said Seeram.
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 never before identified, one polyphenol is of particular interest. Given the common name of Quebecol, in honor 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 champion food," commented Seeram, whose findings have recently been published in the Journal of Functional Foods. Dr. Seeram's work at URI is supported by a grant funded by The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, in conjunction with the Conseil pour le développement de l'agriculture du Québec (CDAQ) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) on behalf of the Canadian Maple Syrup Industry.
Attendees at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting also heard promising results from other Canadian researchers who are studying the health benefits of maple syrup. "Part of our New Generation of Maple 2020 strategy is to work with talented scientists to discover and share more knowledge about maple syrup. We are excited that this line of research receives interest from all over the world," says Serge Beaulieu, President of the Federation and member of the Canadian Maple Industry Advisory Committee. Geneviève Béland, Marketing Director for the Federation, adds "Maple is the most important food derived from the pure sap of trees, and given its amazing potential for human health and great nutritional value, it is a natural choice for a healthy lifestyle." The Federation's members produce about 80 percent of the worldwide supply of the natural sweetener.