I'm a Dietitian, and This Is the One Sweetener I Keep in My Kitchen to Replace Sugar

As a registered dietitian, I'm constantly trying to sneak in nutrition wherever I can, without giving up the flavors I love. So, while I try to limit sugar in my diet, I still need something to cook with, bake with, and use as a condiment when I'm craving something sweet. In my home, that's pure maple syrup from Canada. While it's often lumped in with sweeteners like sugar and honey — and it's true that they provide similar calories and carbohydrates per serving — pure maple syrup delivers a slew of healthy nutrients, in addition to natural sugars.

That's because pure maple syrup is different from the syrup you typically find poured over a stack of pancakes in a diner. In fact, pancake and waffle syrups rarely contain maple syrup at all. Rather, they're made with artificial maple flavoring, along with more refined ingredients like corn syrup and sugar. Pure maple syrup is a natural sweetener harvested directly from maple trees. The tree is tapped, and sap is collected, then boiled down to get that golden delicious sticky goodness.

What Are the Benefits of Using Pure Maple Syrup?

Let's be real: vowing to go sugar-free for the rest of your life simply won't last. Most people with taste buds love and crave something sweet, and food is meant to be enjoyed. Using pure maple syrup as a sweetener is a smart swap for many reasons.

1. Antioxidants
Eating fruits, veggies, nuts, and beans is usually the go-to move when trying to up your antioxidant intake to fight off pesky free radicals in your body. While those foods are all excellent sources of antioxidants, a stack of whole-grain pancakes topped with some pure maple syrup is both a Sunday bruncher's dream and a powerhouse meal. Data published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that using readily available alternatives to refined sugar, like pure maple syrup, can increase your total antioxidant intake as much as eating a single serving of nuts or berries.

The reason for that is simple. Pure maple syrup from Canada can add more than 67 different types of antioxidants called polyphenols into your diet. Nine of these polyphenols are unique to pure maple syrup, including one called quebecol, which research suggests may reduce inflammation in the body.

2. Prebiotics
Probiotics get all the credit for supporting a healthy gut, keeping the immune system in check, and helping to regulate inflammation, but prebiotics help feed probiotics, making them just as essential. Pure maple syrup naturally contains prebiotics called oligosaccharides, which help sustain a number of probiotics, including lactobacilli, the good bacteria found in some kombuchas, yogurts, and supplements.

3. Vitamins and minerals
Pure maple syrup is a natural source of vitamins and minerals, including zinc, potassium, calcium, and manganese. In fact, two tablespoons of syrup provide 35 percent of the daily value of manganese, more than one cup of your beloved kale! Manganese plays a role in the metabolism of many nutrients, including carbohydrates. It also may help alleviate some symptoms of PMS, according to a small study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Maple syrup is also a good source of riboflavin, a vitamin that helps maintain the body's energy supply.

4. Lower glycemic index
The glycemic index signals how slowly or quickly a food increases blood sugar levels. Foods with a higher glycemic index can cause your blood sugar to spike, followed by a precipitous drop. That dip in blood sugar can cause some people to feel sluggish, shaky, or headache-y, and can trigger cravings. Pure maple syrup has a lower glycemic index when compared with sugar. The glycemic index of maple syrup is around 54, while table sugar has a glycemic index of around 65.

How to Use Pure Maple Syrup in Your Kitchen

Swapping out sugar for pure maple syrup is super simple. In recipes, use a cup of maple syrup for a cup of granulated sugar or brown sugar and reduce liquid by a quarter of a cup. Other swaps include:

  • Using it in lemonade instead of using sugar.
  • Making a homemade salad dressing comprised of maple syrup, extra-virgin olive oil, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper.
  • Combining it with soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and lemon juice for a marinade for poultry, tofu, or fish.
  • Adding it to smoothies instead of using typical sweeteners like honey.
  • Using it in your coffee or tea instead of adding table sugar.

It's important to keep in mind that all of these benefits do not give you a hall pass to guzzle down gallons of pure maple syrup like Buddy the Elf. While it does offer health benefits, it should be consumed in moderation and as part of an overall healthy diet. It still contains natural sugars and should be treated as such.