Astounding as it may seem, maple syrup—real maple syrup—has been found to have anti-cancer and anti-diabetes properties. Plant researchers at the University of Rhode Island have isolated compounds from maple tree sap that are strikingly beneficial to human health. What’s more, some of these compounds are brand new, and surface only after the sap is processed into syrup.
A Science Daily report from March, 2011, announces that the University of Rhode Island medicinal plant researcher, Navindra Seeram, has discovered thirty-four new beneficial compounds in pure maple syrup to be added to the twenty he found the year before, “…five of which have never been seen in nature.” The researcher is quoted, “It’s important to note that in our laboratory research we found that several of these compounds possess anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which have been shown to fight cancer, diabetes and bacterial illnesses.” Seeram applauds Mother Nature as the best chemist, commenting that, “…maple syrup is becoming a champion food when it comes to the number and variety of beneficial compounds found in it.” (Science Daily; Mar. 30, 2011) Seeram’s team acknowledges that inflammation is at the center of several nefarious disease, including heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The maple syrup compounds may show medicinal promise, but the scientists suggest that consumers not consume large quantities of the syrup, but to use it instead of artificial products found in the marketplace.
The scientific names of the compounds derived from maple syrup are enough to scare you away. With thirty or more letters and numbers, these unpronounceable words sound serious. And they are. Among them are phenolic compounds and plant lignans, the former having anti-oxidant properties and the latter having hormonal properties. Of these two major constituents, the phenolics are more active (Li and Seeram. 2010), and were found to be comparable to vitamin C (Li and Seeram. 2011).
Plants make certain chemicals for themselves, often to remain protected from predation or environmental damage, as may occur from heavy metal exposure via exhaust from the electric company’s smokestack, which often contains mercury. These beneficial chemicals transfer to us when we eat those plants, where they may act as chelators besides anti-oxidants. The more a plant is stressed, the more it produces phenolic anti-oxidants, the bioflavonoids being the best-known among them.
Real maple syrup demonstrates quite a nutritional profile compared to the fake stuff, which is primarily high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) flavored with a synthetic ingredient. Ounce for ounce, maple syrup has slightly fewer calories and carbohydrates than HFCS, eleven times the calcium, and more magnesium and zinc. Plus, it tastes a whole lot better.
Two phenols in maple syrup, ethyl acetate and butanol, are able to inhibit enzymes that are relevant to Type 2 diabetes (Apostolidis. 2011), with butanol being more active. Additionally, butanol converts to butyric acid, which plays a role in DNA transcription. Real maple syrup is allowed to be labeled as such. In Quebec, the largest producer of real maple syrup, the locals refer to imitation syrup as “pole syrup,” implying that it has been tapped from telephone poles. That’s not too outlandish a comment. In fact, a brand new compound that forms only during the processing of the sap has been named quebecol, in honor of the Province. (Li and Seeram. J Func Food. 2011) It is not uncommon for heat (in this case, sap boiling) to separate chemical components and then rearrange them to form something else, all mass being retained.
It had already been established that anti-oxidants reside in the leaves, bark and twigs of the maple tree, so examining the sap is a logical step. Exposure to direct sunlight appears to enhance anti-oxidant production. Besides Seeram, other research teams, especially from Canada, have hopped onto the maple syrup train. Because all these scientists are headed in the same direction, why not?
54 Beneficial Compounds Discovered in Pure Maple Syrup
Science Daily (Mar. 30, 2011)
J. Agric. Food Chem., 2010, 58 (22), pp 11673–11679
Maple Syrup Phytochemicals Include Lignans, Coumarins, a Stilbene, and Other Previously Unreported Antioxidant Phenolic Compounds
Liya Li and Navindra P. Seeram
J. Agric. Food Chem., 2011, 59 (14), pp 7708–7716
Further Investigation into Maple Syrup Yields 3 New Lignans, a New Phenylpropanoid, and 26 Other Phytochemicals
Liya Li and Navindra P. Seeram
Journal of Functional Foods. Volume 3, Issue 2, April 2011, Pages 100-106
In vitro evaluation of phenolic-enriched maple syrup extracts for inhibition of carbohydrate hydrolyzing enzymes relevant to type 2 diabetes management
Emmanouil Apostolidis, Liya Li, Chong Lee and Navindra P. Seeram
Journal of Functional Foods. Volume 3, Issue 2, April 2011, Pages 125-128
Quebecol, a novel phenolic compound isolated from Canadian maple syrup
Liya Lia and Navindra P. Seeram
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