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Honey vs Maple syrup - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison

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Introduction

Honey and maple syrup are two of the most popular sweeteners in the world and there’s no question that they are healthier than cane sugar, but which one of the two is the better choice? Both are natural sources of sugars, certain minerals and vitamins. Here we will discuss their specific nutritional compositions and what effects they have on human health.

How It’s Made

As is common knowledge, honey is made by foraging bees, as well as some insects of similar species. Bees in nature produce honey to use in winter or in times of scarcity. Firstly, bees, with the help of their long tubular mouthpart, extract the nectar in a liquid form from the flowering plants and store it in their extra stomach, also called the “crop”. In the bee’s stomach the nectar changes composition, mixing with enzymes that change the texture and storage time of the honey. Returning to the beehive, honeybees pass the honey to the next bee, by regurgitating into the other bee’s mouth. This goes on, until the honey reaches the honeycomb. Finally, bees circulate air in the honeycomb with their wings, to evaporate water and densen the honey, and later seal the honeycomb with beeswax (1). The taste and texture of honey can differ depending on the species of flower that the nectar was collected from.

Maple syrup, on the other hand, does not require the help of insects and is acquired from trees, which is the reason why maple syrup fits the vegan diet, whilst honey does not. Maple syrup is made from tapping maple trees. The most common trees that people get maple syrup from are the sugar or rock trees (Acer saccharum) and the black maple (Acer nigrum), although sometimes the red maple (Acer rubrum) is also used (2). In spring these trees produce a sugary sap underneath the bark. The sap is collected through taps that get drilled into the tree and stored in tanks. Later the sap is evaporated, to condense it and achieve the final maple syrup (3).

Shelf Life

Depending on storage conditions honey can change its colour and texture, often crystallise. However, these are natural changes and do not mean the honey has gone bad. Honey does not have an expiration date (4).

Maple syrup, due to its density, is more susceptible to growing mold. An unopened bottle of maple syrup can be kept indefinitely, however, after opening it you can use it for about a year. Unopened bottles of maple syrup should be kept in a dry, cold area, after it is opened, storing in a refrigerator is advised (5). 

Nutrition

One serving of honey is one tablespoon, which is equivalent to 21g of honey, whereas a serving of maple syrup is a quarter of a cup equaling 83g.

Honey contains more calories, protein and carbohydrates, including both fiber and sugars, but it does not contain fats. Maple syrup does comprise a small amount of fats. Both foods do not contain cholesterol.

The glycemic index of a maple syrup is lower than honey’s.

Honey is the right choice for a low fats diet, while maple syrup is the choice for low calorie, low carbs and low glycemic index diets. 

Vitamins

Honey is richer in vitamin B3, vitamins B5 and B6 and also contains vitamin C, while maple syrup does not. Conversely there is a vitamin in maple syrup that isn’t present in honey: vitamin B1. Maple syrup is also higher in vitamin B2.

Both foods completely lack vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamins B12 and B9.

Minerals

Honey is richer in iron, copper and phosphorus. On the other hand, maple syrup contains more calcium, magnesium, zinc and potassium. Honey is lower in sodium. 

Health Impact

Cardiovascular Health

Both maple syrup and honey express intermediate antioxidant abilities (6), that famously has the potential to protect cells from oxidative damage, having a positive effect on cardiovascular diseases, cancer and other conditions.

Darker maple syrup was found to have stronger antioxidant abilities when compared to clear maple syrup (7). One of the antioxidant compounds found in maple syrup is called glucitol-core containing gallotannin (GCG), these are polyphenols that have free radical scavenging abilities (8).

Not much is known about the specific compounds that are responsible for honey’s antioxidant abilities. It is most likely due to its phenolic and flavonoid acids composition. Different honeys from various floral sources have different antioxidant capacities, due to their individual phenolic profiles. Other compounds responsible for the antioxidant capacity may be peptides, organic acids, enzymes, Maillard reaction products, and potentially other minor components (9). Whatever the mechanism is, honey has been proven to have the ability to protect humans from oxidative stress (10).

Long term consumption of honey has the potential to reduce cardiovascular risk factors. It has been shown to decrease the total level of cholesterols and low density lipoproteins in overweight individuals. Honey also decreases blood levels of C-reactive protein, which is associated with cardiac risk factors and inflammation (11). 

However all added sugars can play a role in the development of atherosclerosis, hypertension, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, heart failure and cardiac arrhythmias (12), so honey and maple syrup should be consumed in moderation.

Diabetes

Both honey and maple syrup are naturally high in sugars. Maple syrup has a low glycemic index of 54, while honey’s glycemic index of 61 is a little higher, making honey a moderate glycemic index food.

In one study, honey decreased triglycerides in patients with hypertriglyceridemia and reduced low density lipoproteins in patients with hyperlipidemia, however, artificial honey had the opposite effects. Honey also reduced homocysteine and C-reactive protein in normal and hyperlipidemic subjects. Compared to sucrose and dextrose honey caused lower elevation of plasma glucose levels (13).

Another study concluded that long term consumption of honey may have positive effects on body weight and blood lipid levels of diabetic patients. However it may also increase levels of hemoglobin A, so cautious consumption of honey is advised in patients with diabetes (14).

Honey also increases the serum levels of zinc and copper that is important for insulin and glucose metabolism (11).

Previously mentioned antioxidant compound found in maple syrup, named glucitol-core containing gallotannin (GCG) also has potential antidiabetic α-glucosidase inhibitory and antiglycating properties (8). Other chemicals maple syrup contains that might help its antidiabetic properties are polyphenolic lignans and phytohormone abscisic acid and its derivatives (15).

Studies have found maple syrup to be a healthier substitute as a sweetener instead of sucrose due to a lower glycemic index (16). Maple syrup might also have the ability to inhibit glucose absorption from the small intestine, preventing elevation of plasma glucose levels, therefore potentially helping prevent type 2 diabetes mellitus (17).

In conclusion, honey and maple syrup are both better options to use instead of processed sugars, however the high sugar content means they have to be used with caution and moderation.

Cancer

Even though honey and maple syrup are high in sugars, which are thought to be carcinogenic, they have potential anticancer qualities due to other chemicals they contain.

One study has found an inverse association between maple syrup and colorectal cancer. Maple syrup might inhibit cell proliferation and invasion through suppression of AKT activation, thus becoming a potential suitable phytomedicine for colorectal cancer, with fewer adverse effects than traditional chemotherapy (18).

Maple syrup extracts and pure maple syrup, the dark ones in particular, have shown a selective in vitro antiproliferative activity against prostate, lung, breast and colorectal cancer cells (7). 

Honey can potentially be used as chemopreventive and therapeutic treatment against cancer. It is suggested that honey has abilities to inhibit cell proliferation, induce apoptosis and cell-cycle arrest (19).

Honey has been studied to be effective against bladder (20), breast, cervical (21), colorectal (22), renal (23), prostate, endometrial (24) cancers , leukemia (25) and others.

Allergy

Allergy to honey is very rare, however there have been described cases of it. The main allergens causing this allergy are thought to be pollen proteins (Compositae pollen) from the plants and glandular proteins produced by bees. Propolis, that can be found in beeswax, is also known as a contact allergen (26). Symptoms to a honey allergy can occur when the allergic person consumes or touches honey. These may include oral allergy syndrome, itching, swelling and redness of the mouth area, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rashes and other symptoms.

Maple syrup allergy is also quite uncommon, but can occur. People who are allergic to maple syrup have a higher chance of being allergic to the pollen or sap of the maple tree. Symptoms are similar to that of honey allergy.

Restrictions

Honey may contain bacteria that causes infant botulism, so it is not allowed for children younger than 12 months to consume honey. It is safe for children that are one year of age or older (27).

It is also advised to limit consumption of honey to 6 tablespoons (25 grams) a day for women and 9 tablespoons (38 grams) for men, due to the high sugar concentration (28).

It is better to avoid giving babies maple syrup as well, due to the high sugar concentration.

Summary

In summary, honey and maple syrup are healthier options as sweeteners instead of refined sugars. Honey contains more carbohydrates, protein and calories, while maple syrup contains more fats. Honey has a higher glycemic index. It is richer in vitamin C, vitamins B3, B5 and B6, whereas maple syrup is higher in vitamins B1 and B2. Honey has higher levels of iron, copper and phosphorus, but maple syrup contains more calcium, potassium, magnesium and zinc. Honey is lower in sodium.

Both honey and maple syrup express certain cardioprotective, antidiabetic and anticancer qualities, due to certain antioxidant compounds within. However it is always important to moderate the intake of all high sugar food products, including honey and maple syrup.

Sources.

  1. https://www.livescience.com/37611-what-is-honey-honeybees.html
  2. https://recipes.howstuffworks.com/food-facts/question71.htm
  3. https://www.maplesource.com/how-pure-maple-syrup-is-made/
  4. https://www.naturenates.com/does-honey-expire/
  5. https://www.doesitgobad.com/does-maple-syrup-go-bad/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19103324/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20132041/
  8. https://web.uri.edu/maple/glucitol-core-containing-gallotannins-inhibit-the-formation-of-advanced-glycation-end-products-mediated-by-their-antioxidant-potential/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12358452/
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12617614/
  11. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5398991
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4244242/
  13. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/109662004322984789
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19817641/
  15. https://web.uri.edu/maple/comparative-analysis-of-maple-syrup-to-other-natural-sweeteners-and-evaluation-of-their-metabolic-responses-in-healthy-rats/
  16. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jos/62/9/62_737/_article/-char/ja/
  17. https://europepmc.org/article/med/25757438
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4358083/
  19. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22761637/
  20. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12657101/
  21. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21167897/
  22. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21167897/
  23. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21472079/
  24. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0308814609003124
  25. https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/13/11/15054
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5287071/
  27. https://www.cdc.gov/botulism/prevention.html
  28. https://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/the-sweet-science-behind-honey.html

Infographic

Honey vs Maple syrup infographic
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Mineral Comparison

Mineral comparison score is based on the number of minerals by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Honey
4
:
Contains more Iron +281.8%
Contains more Copper +100%
Contains more Phosphorus +100%
Contains less Sodium -66.7%
Contains more Calcium +1600%
Contains more Potassium +307.7%
Contains more Magnesium +950%
Contains more Zinc +568.2%
Contains more Iron +281.8%
Contains more Copper +100%
Contains more Phosphorus +100%
Contains less Sodium -66.7%
Contains more Calcium +1600%
Contains more Potassium +307.7%
Contains more Magnesium +950%
Contains more Zinc +568.2%

Vitamin Comparison

Vitamin comparison score is based on the number of vitamins by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Honey
5
:
Contains more Vitamin C +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +49.4%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +88.9%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +1100%
Contains more Folate, total +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +3242.1%
Contains more Vitamin C +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +49.4%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +88.9%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +1100%
Contains more Folate, total +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +3242.1%

Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores

Summary score is calculated by summing up the daily values contained in 300 grams of the product. Obviously the more the food fulfils human daily needs, the more the summary score is
Vitamin Summary Score
1
Honey
18
Maple syrup
Mineral Summary Score
3
Honey
13
Maple syrup

Macronutrients Comparison

Macronutrient comparison charts compare the amount of protein, total fats and total carbohydrates in 300 grams of the food. The displayed values show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Protein
2%
Honey
0%
Maple syrup
Carbohydrates
82%
Honey
67%
Maple syrup
Fats
0%
Honey
0%
Maple syrup

Comparison summary table

Pay attention at the most right column. It shows the amounts side by side, making it easier to realize the amount of difference.
Honey Maple syrup
Lower in Sugars ok
Lower in glycemic index ok
Lower in Sodium ok
Lower in Saturated Fat ok
Lower in price ok
Lower in Cholesterol Equal
Rich in minerals Equal
Rich in vitamins Equal

Which food is preferable in case of diets?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Honey Maple syrup
Low Calories diet ok
Low Fats diet ok
Low Carbs diet ok
Low glycemic index diet ok

People also compare

Comparison summary

Which food contains less Sugars?
Maple syrup
Maple syrup contains less Sugars (difference - 21.66g)
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
Maple syrup
Maple syrup is lower in glycemic index (difference - 36)
Which food contains less Sodium?
Honey
Honey contains less Sodium (difference - 8mg)
Which food is lower in Saturated Fat?
Honey
Honey is lower in Saturated Fat (difference - 0.007g)
Which food is cheaper?
Honey
Honey is cheaper (difference - $1)
Which food contains less Cholesterol?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Cholesterol (0 mg)
Which food is richer in minerals?
?
It cannot be definitely stated which food is richer in minerals. See charts below for detailed information.
Which food is richer in vitamins?
?
It cannot be definitely stated which food is richer in vitamins. See charts below for detailed information.

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

In the column "Opinion" we made some assumptions which could be controversial. For instance we are assuming that less saturated fats is good for you. Please ignore this column if you have your own opinion.We marked the nutrients, comparison of which we considered as not meaningful, as "N/A"
Nutrient Honey Maple syrup Opinion
Calories 304 260 Honey
Protein 0.3 0.04 Honey
Fats 0 0.06 Maple syrup
Vitamin C 0.5 0 Honey
Carbs 82.4 67.04 Honey
Cholesterol 0 0
Vitamin D 0 0
Iron 0.42 0.11 Honey
Calcium 6 102 Maple syrup
Potassium 52 212 Maple syrup
Magnesium 2 21 Maple syrup
Sugars 82.12 60.46 Honey
Fiber 0.2 0 Honey
Copper 0.036 0.018 Honey
Zinc 0.22 1.47 Maple syrup
Starch
Phosphorus 4 2 Honey
Sodium 4 12 Honey
Vitamin A 0 0
Vitamin E 0 0
Vitamin D 0 0
Vitamin B1 0 0.066 Maple syrup
Vitamin B2 0.038 1.27 Maple syrup
Vitamin B3 0.121 0.081 Honey
Vitamin B5 0.068 0.036 Honey
Vitamin B6 0.024 0.002 Honey
Vitamin B12 0 0
Vitamin K 0 0
Folate, total 2 0 Honey
Folic acid (B9) 0 0
Trans Fat
Saturated Fat 0 0.007 Honey
Monounsaturated Fat 0 0.011 Maple syrup
Polyunsaturated fat 0 0.017 Maple syrup
Tryptophan 0.004 Honey
Threonine 0.004 Honey
Isoleucine 0.008 Honey
Leucine 0.01 Honey
Lysine 0.008 Honey
Methionine 0.001 Honey
Phenylalanine 0.011 Honey
Valine 0.009 Honey
Histidine 0.001 Honey
Fructose 40.94 0.52 Honey
The main source of information is USDA Food Composition Database (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Dietary Guidelines for Americans is used as the primary source for advice in this web resource
Data provided by FoodStruct.com should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.