Healthy Maple Syrup

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

Here’s a sappy story about a sweet breakfast treat that you don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying (unless you have diabetes) — maple syrup, which I love to drizzle onto my morning oatmeal. With a few nuts and some raisins or dried cranberries sprinkled on top, it’s my go-to breakfast for weekday mornings in cool weather. I called nutritionist Jane Kirby, RD, CD, CCP, author of Eat Great, Lose Weight and founder of Vermont Grain Mills in Charlotte, Vermont, for both the details on the health benefits of maple syrup and to get some ideas on different ways to enjoy it.

Unlike the many processed products that try to imitate it, real maple syrup contains significant amounts of both zinc (1.6 mg per ounce), an immune supporter and helpful to male reproductive health, and manganese (1.2 mg per ounce), which is good for bone health.

Also, Kirby points out that maple syrup is a healthier sweetener than table sugar for a variety of reasons…

  • The sugars in maple syrup are absorbed more slowly by the body than refined sugar.
  • There is no chemical processing involved, so it’s completely natural.
  • Maple syrup has some nutrients, while sugar has none.

buy the real thing

Most of what you’ll find in the “syrup” section of your supermarket contains exactly 0% real maple syrup. Therefore you have to check the package carefully to find “pure maple syrup,” which is USDA-graded according to color and intensity of flavor. Here’s how real maple syrups differ from each other…

  • Grade A Light Amber or Vermont Fancy usually is made early in the season and has a mild, delicate flavor. It’s often used for maple candies.
  • Grade A Medium Amber is darker and has a more robust maple flavor. It’s typically used for pancakes and waffles.
  • Grade A Dark Amber, darker still, has strong maple and caramel-like flavors. It can be used for pancakes if you like a more intense flavor, as well as for cooking.
  • Grade B is very dark and has the strongest flavor, mostly maple but also with hints of caramel. It’s the best choice for cooking.

The differences among these grades relate to variances in weather, growing conditions and time of harvest, but all grades are nutritionally equal.

Now You’re Cooking! (With Maple Syrup)

Kirby told me that she often substitutes maple syrup for sugar in recipes — she recommends a one-to-one replacement, using Grade B (or cooking grade) syrup because it works best. Note: Decrease the amount of other liquid in your recipes by three tablespoons per cup since the syrup adds liquid.

She shared some of her favorite easy ways to use maple syrup in the kitchen…

  • Fizzy maple. Drizzle maple syrup in a glass of carbonated water, with a lime wedge squeezed and dropped in.
  • Maple carrots. Shred carrots in a food processor, pile on a plate, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and maple syrup, sprinkle with salt, pepper and grated fresh ginger. Microwave, covered, two to three minutes until carrots begin to soften.
  • Maple glaze. Grade B (cooking-grade) maple syrup is thick, like molasses, and serves as a delicious glaze to be slathered on before roasting a chicken or ham.

And let’s not forget about the classic — maple syrup on pancakes! Kirby suggests warming Grade A Light or Dark Amber syrup slightly before pouring it onto a fresh, hot stack. This, by the way, is what we enjoy at my house on the more leisurely weekend mornings — with a swallow of fresh-squeezed orange juice to counter the sweetness, I can’t think of a better way to start the day!

Jane Kirby, RD, CD, CCP, author of Eat Great, Lose Weight: Tried and True Recipes from Real Weight-Loss Winners (Rodale) and founder of Vermont Grain Mills in Charlotte, Vermont.