Honey vs Maple syrup - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores
Comparison summary table
|Lower in Sugar|
|Lower in glycemic index|
|Lower in Sodium|
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Lower in price|
|Lower in Cholesterol||Equal|
|Rich in minerals||Equal|
|Rich in vitamins||Equal|
Which food is preferable for your diet?
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet|
|Low glycemic index diet|
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All nutrients comparison - raw data values