Can I have maple syrup on the paleo diet?

The paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, is a popular diet based on eating foods that our early hunter-gatherer ancestors would have eaten during the Paleolithic era. This means focusing on whole, unprocessed foods like meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Processed foods, grains, legumes, dairy and refined sugars are avoided on the paleo diet as they became common in the agricultural revolution, which started about 10,000 years ago.

Many people following a paleo diet choose to exclude sugar and sweeteners, including natural sources like honey and maple syrup. This article reviews whether maple syrup can fit into a paleo diet.

What Is Maple Syrup?

Maple syrup is a sweetener made from the sap of maple trees. Sugar maple trees store starch and sugar in their trunks and roots before winter. In early spring, this starch is converted to sugar and rises in the sap.

Small holes are drilled in the trunks of maple trees and the sap flows out. It takes about 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.

The main steps to make maple syrup are:

1. Collecting the sap

The season for harvesting maple sap is only 4–6 weeks in early spring when temperatures cause freezing at night and thawing during the day. This pressure changes cause the sap to flow.

Sap is collected from holes drilled in maple trees using a tap, which is connected to a bucket. Vacuum tubing systems can also be used to collect more sap.

2. Boiling the sap

The maple sap looks like water but contains about 2–5% sugar. It’s boiled to evaporate excess water, leaving a thick, sweet maple syrup.

It takes 20–50 gallons of maple sap to make 1 quart of syrup. Boiling it down takes hours of time.

3. Filtering and grading

Once boiled to the correct density, the maple syrup is filtered to remove minerals like calcium that would form sugar crystals. It is graded by color and flavor.

Lighter syrup has a more delicate flavor, while darker syrup has a stronger maple flavor.

Maple Syrup Nutrition Facts

Maple syrup contains some nutrients and antioxidants, but its main component is sugar. A 2-tablespoon (30-ml) serving provides (1):

  • Calories: 52
  • Carbs: 14 grams
  • Sugar: 13 grams
  • Calcium: 14% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 5% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 25% of the RDI
  • Antioxidants: 24 antioxidant compounds have been found in maple syrup, including lignans and coumarins (2).

The natural sugars in maple syrup come mainly from sucrose, which is a disaccharide made half of glucose and half of fructose.

Maple syrup contains a decent amount of minerals like calcium, potassium and manganese. However, you would have to consume it in very large amounts for minerals to be a substantial contributor to your daily recommended intake.

Additionally, maple syrup contains at least 24 different antioxidant compounds, including powerful polyphenols. This is 3 to 5 times more than honey, another natural sweetener (2).

Maple Syrup Glycemic Index

The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly a food spikes your blood sugar.

Pure maple syrup has a glycemic index of about 54. For comparison, table sugar has a GI of 65 and honey has a GI of 55–83. This means maple syrup has a medium GI.

However, maple syrup should still be limited on the paleo diet because it is still a form of added sugar, and you want to keep your blood sugar under control.

Is Maple Syrup Paleo?

The paleo diet avoids food products that became common after the agricultural revolution, as the human digestive system hasn’t fully adapted to them.

Foods like sugar, white flour, legumes, dairy and processed foods are on the “banned” list for paleo.

Maple syrup was certainly not a part of early human diets 10,000 years ago. However, some argue that small amounts of this natural sweetener are acceptable since it is less processed than refined sugar.

Others say all sweeteners, even natural sources like maple syrup and honey, should be avoided. They believe a paleo diet should be low in sugar and that sweeteners can trigger overeating and blood sugar issues.

Overall, most agree that maple syrup should be used sparingly, if at all, when following a strict paleo diet.

Some people choose to have small amounts of maple syrup or honey on occasion as a paleo-friendly sweetener. This is normally acceptable if you are otherwise following the diet well and not over-consuming these sweeteners.

However, maple syrup has high sugar content and little nutritional value other than antioxidants. It is best limited to occasional use or avoided altogether on the paleo diet.

Healthier Paleo Sweetener Alternatives

Here are some healthier alternatives for sweetening foods and drinks on a paleo diet:


Fruits like apples, bananas, blueberries and strawberries can be used to naturally sweeten dishes instead of adding refined sugars or syrups.

Try baked apples with cinnamon or fresh fruit salads and smoothies for a sweet treat.


A few vegetables contain natural sugars and can be used to sweeten recipes on a paleo diet.

Carrots, beets, sweet potatoes and winter squash have a mild sweetness that brings natural sweetness to meals.

Dried Fruits

Dried fruits like dates, figs and raisins are high in natural sugars and can be enjoyed in moderation on a paleo diet.

Dates are especially popular to sweeten paleo desserts, smoothies and sauces. Soak them first to soften.

Raw Honey

Raw honey is a paleo-friendly sweetener in very small amounts, though you still want to be mindful of your total sugar intake.

Use raw, local honey sparingly to sweeten teas, oatmeal or paleo desserts.


Stevia comes from the leaves of a South American plant. It’s allowed on the paleo diet as a zero-calorie natural sweetener.

Keep in mind that products marketed as “stevia” often contain very little actual stevia and lots of artificial sweeteners or corn syrup. Be sure to check the ingredients.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is a great paleo option for satisfying a sweet craving.

Just opt for a bar with 70% or higher cocoa content and avoid high amounts of sugar.

Healthier Ways to Enjoy Maple Syrup

If you choose to include some maple syrup in your paleo diet, here are some ways to consume it in moderation:

– Add a drizzle to oatmeal or paleo pancakes, waffles or muffins

– Mix a teaspoon into coffee, tea or hot chocolate

– Make a maple BBQ sauce for chicken or pork

– Stir a teaspoon into plain Greek yogurt or chia pudding

– Mix with mustard and use as salad dressing

– Use in place of refined sugar in baking paleo muffins, cookies or granola

Additionally, you can flavor foods with maple extract instead of using syrup. This provides the lovely maple taste with no added sugar.

Also, remember to account for the calories from maple syrup in your daily intake and balance it out by decreasing calories elsewhere.

Should Maple Syrup Be Avoided Completely on Paleo?

Most nutrition and health experts advise against having any maple syrup or other sweeteners on a strict paleo diet.

However, some believe that small amounts of 100% pure maple syrup on occasion can be acceptable if you are otherwise following the paleo diet consistently.

Here are some pros and cons to consider:

Reasons to Avoid Maple Syrup on Paleo

– Maple syrup is essentially pure sugar without nutrients. Your body doesn’t need sugar.

– It can spike your blood sugar levels and lead to overeating.

– The paleo diet prioritizes foods early humans could obtain, and maple syrup wasn’t one of them.

– All sweeteners should be avoided, as a paleo diet is naturally low in sugar.

Reasons Maple Syrup May Be OK in Moderation

– 100% pure maple syrup does contain some beneficial antioxidants and minerals.

– Maple syrup causes lower blood sugar spikes than refined sugar. The Glycemic Index of maple syrup is 54 compared to 65 for refined sugar.

– Having a small amount of maple syrup occasionally can be acceptable if you avoid it most of the time.

– Maple syrup is less processed than regular sugar. The paleo diet focuses on less processed, more natural foods.

Overall, most paleo experts advocate avoiding all sweeteners, including maple syrup.

However, an occasional small amount of 100% pure maple syrup can be acceptable for some people when following a paleo diet. Just be mindful of your total sugar and calorie intake.


Here are some delicious paleo recipes that use small amounts of maple syrup:

Paleo Maple Glazed Salmon


  • 1 pound salmon fillet, cut into 4 portions
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. In a small bowl, mix maple syrup, mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
  3. Place salmon pieces on a baking sheet and brush maple glaze over the top.
  4. Bake for 12 minutes until cooked through.

Paleo Maple Walnut Banana Bread


  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a loaf pan with parchment.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients. In another bowl mash the bananas.
  3. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until combined.
  4. Pour batter into the loaf pan and top with chopped walnuts.
  5. Bake for 40-50 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
  6. Let cool before slicing.

Paleo Maple Dijon Vinaigrette


  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper


  1. In a jar with a tight fitting lid, add all ingredients and shake well until combined.
  2. Pour over your favorite salads or roasted veggies. Store leftovers in the fridge.

The Bottom Line

Most paleo experts advise against using maple syrup or any other added sweeteners when following a paleo diet.

The paleo diet prioritizes foods early hunter-gatherers could have consumed, and sugar syrups would not have been available.

Additionally, maple syrup is high in sugar and calories and doesn’t offer much nutritionally aside from some antioxidants.

However, some people allow occasional small amounts of pure maple syrup in moderation if they are otherwise consistently following the paleo diet.

To satisfy a sweet tooth on the paleo diet, try fresh fruits, dark chocolate, honey or stevia instead.

If you do indulge in maple syrup, be mindful of your total sugar and calorie intake that day. Focus on obtaining most of your carbohydrates and calories from fresh vegetables, fruits and paleo-friendly starches instead.

Overall, maple syrup is not considered paleo, but an occasional small serving may be acceptable if you avoid it most of the time.

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