Is brown sugar healthier than maple syrup?

Quick Answer

Brown sugar and maple syrup both contain similar amounts of calories and carbohydrates. However, maple syrup contains more minerals like calcium, potassium, and manganese. Maple syrup also has over 20 antioxidants, while brown sugar does not contain significant antioxidants. Overall, maple syrup can be considered healthier due to the additional beneficial nutrients it provides. However, both should be consumed in moderation due to their high sugar content.

Calorie and Carbohydrate Content

Brown sugar and maple syrup have a similar calorie and carbohydrate content per serving.

Brown sugar contains about 15 calories and 4 grams of carbohydrates per teaspoon (4g) [1]. Maple syrup contains about 17 calories and 4 grams of carbohydrates per teaspoon (5g) [2].

Therefore, substituting one for the other will not make a significant difference in calories or carbohydrates when used in small amounts. Both should be used sparingly due to their high sugar content.

Vitamins and Minerals

Maple syrup contains more essential vitamins and minerals than brown sugar.

Maple syrup is a source of:

– Calcium: 18mg per tablespoon (20% DV)
– Potassium: 35mg per tablespoon (1% DV)
– Manganese: 18% DV per tablespoon
– Zinc: 8% DV per tablespoon

It also contains some B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, and B6 [2].

In comparison, brown sugar does not contain significant amounts of vitamins or minerals, as it is refined from sugar cane or sugar beets. It may have trace amounts of some minerals like calcium, iron and potassium [1].

Therefore, maple syrup contains more beneficial vitamins and minerals than brown sugar. The manganese and zinc it provides support metabolism, wound healing and immune function.


Maple syrup is also higher in antioxidants than brown sugar.

Maple syrup contains over 20 unique antioxidants, including phenolic compounds like gallic acid, benzoic acid, cinnamic acid and various flavonoids [3].

These antioxidants can help neutralize harmful free radicals and reduce oxidative damage linked to chronic diseases [3].

Brown sugar does not contain significant antioxidants, as it is refined from sugar cane or beets. Any antioxidants present would be minimal compared to maple syrup.


In addition to antioxidants, maple syrup contains phytochemicals that may have anti-inflammatory effects.

Studies show maple syrup contains phenolic compounds like lignans and coumarins that demonstrate anti-inflammatory abilities [3].

Human and animal studies reveal maple syrup extracts can inhibit the activity of inflammatory enzymes like nitric oxide synthase and cyclooxygenase-2 [4].

Brown sugar does not contain significant phytochemicals with anti-inflammatory effects. Therefore, maple syrup may have added benefits from anti-inflammatory compounds.

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly foods raise blood sugar levels.

Maple syrup has a GI of about 54, while brown sugar has a GI around 64 [5,6].

Foods with a GI under 55 are considered low glycemic. This means maple syrup causes a more gradual rise in blood sugar than brown sugar.

Maple syrup’s lower GI may be attributed to its high antioxidant and phytochemical content [7].

Micronutrients in Maple Syrup vs Brown Sugar

Nutrient (per 100g) Maple syrup Brown sugar
Calcium 100 mg 85 mg
Iron 1.4 mg 1.5 mg
Magnesium 12 mg 13 mg
Phosphorus 5 mg 4 mg
Potassium 212 mg 140 mg
Sodium 4 mg 19 mg
Zinc 1.2 mg 0.2 mg
Copper 0.1 mg 0.05 mg
Manganese 0.5 mg 0.2 mg

This table compares the micronutrient profiles of maple syrup and brown sugar. Maple syrup contains more calcium, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese. The additional minerals make maple syrup a healthier choice.

Other Potential Benefits

Some research suggests maple syrup may offer other benefits:

Antimicrobial effects: Phenolic compounds in maple syrup demonstrate antimicrobial effects against common food pathogens like Listeria and Salmonella species [4].

Brain health: Animal studies reveal maple syrup extract supplementation may improve memory and brain function by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain [8].

Wound healing: Applying maple syrup or its extracts to wounds may accelerate healing and tissue regeneration [9].

However, more research is needed to determine if consuming maple syrup provides these specific benefits in humans.

Downsides of Maple Syrup

Despite some potential upsides, maple syrup should still be consumed in moderation. Potential downsides include:

High in sugar: Maple syrup is over 60% sucrose. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to 25g/day (6 tsp) for women and 36g/day (9 tsp) for men [10]. Just two tablespoons of maple syrup provide 26g of sugar.

High glycemic index: Although maple syrup has a lower GI than regular sugar, its GI of 54 is still considered high. High GI foods may increase blood sugar spikes and inflammation [5].

Easy to overconsume: The liquid form of maple syrup makes it easy to unintentionally consume excessive amounts, contributing excess sugar and calories.

Processing removes nutrients: Processing maple sap into syrup removes some minerals and phytochemicals. Maple water or sap may be healthier [3].

Overall, maple syrup is best consumed in small amounts as an occasional substitute for other sugars. Moderation is key.

Is Maple Syrup Vegetarian/Vegan?

Maple syrup is considered both vegetarian and vegan, as it’s simply derived from maple sap. There are no ingredients that would make it unsuitable for vegetarian or vegan diets.

Maple syrup production does not require any animal inputs. The sap is simply collected from tapped maple trees and then boiled to evaporate water. The final product is a purely plant-based sweetener.

Vegan diets exclude all animal products, including honey. Maple syrup is considered a good vegan alternative to honey with some similar beneficial attributes like antioxidants.

Those following vegetarian or vegan diets for health or ethical reasons can safely enjoy maple syrup. It aligns with these dietary patterns.

Environmental Impacts

When it comes to environmental impacts, maple syrup has some advantages over brown sugar:

Sustainable harvesting: Maple syrup production involves tapping sap from trees. The trees are not cut down and continue producing sap each year.

Local production: Most maple syrup comes from forests in northeast North America. It has a smaller carbon footprint than brown sugar transported long distances.

Less processing: Maple syrup requires less processing than brown sugar, which goes through more refining and uses more energy.

However, there are some environmental considerations with maple syrup:

Forest management: Keeping maple forests healthy requires careful planning to prevent over-tapping of trees [11].

Syrup production uses energy: Converting sap to syrup requires significant fuel for boiling. Some producers are switching to cleaner energy sources.

Overall, maple syrup is considered one of the most sustainable sweeteners. But care must be taken to harvest sap without damaging maple tree populations.

Cost Differences

Maple syrup tends to be more expensive than brown sugar. Based on US supermarket prices:

– Brown sugar costs about $0.12 per ounce

– Maple syrup costs around $0.73 per ounce

So maple syrup is around 6 times more expensive than brown sugar by weight.

The higher cost of maple syrup reflects the more extensive production process:

– Sap is collected from maple trees. Each tree only produces about 1.5 gallons of sap per season.

– It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup.

– Sap is boiled to evaporate water, requiring substantial fuel.

– Total syrup yield is limited by short maple tree tapping season.

In contrast, brown sugar is made from refined sugar cane or beets which are cheaper crops to grow and process.

The limited supply and production efforts result in maple syrup’s higher retail cost. Consumers pay for its unique flavor and nutritive benefits.

Varieties of Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is available in different grades according to color and flavor:

Grade Color Flavor
Grade A Light Amber Light golden Mild, delicate maple flavor
Grade A Medium Amber Amber Richer maple flavor
Grade A Dark Amber Dark amber Robust maple flavor
Grade B Very dark Strong maple flavor with molasses or caramel overtones

The grade correlates with time of harvest. Early season is lighter, progressing to darker syrup as the season advances.

All grades provide equivalent nutrition. Darker syrup has a stronger maple taste that some prefer for cooking. Any grade works well as a sweetener.

How to Store Maple Syrup

Maple syrup can maintain quality and flavor when properly stored:

– Keep maple syrup in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark place like a cupboard or pantry.

– Refrigeration can prolong shelf life after opening, but is not required.

– For long-term storage, keep maple syrup in freezer. It will never freeze solid.

– Maple syrup can last opened for up to 1 year in the refrigerator or up to 2 years in the freezer.

– If mold develops on the surface, you can simply boil the syrup for a few minutes to kill mold before using.

Proper storage helps retain the maple syrup’s unique flavor compounds and nutritional content. Keeping it in the fridge or freezer prevents premature spoilage.

How to Use in Cooking and Baking

Maple syrup can be easily swapped for white sugar or corn syrup in recipes. Here are some tips:

– Reduce oven temperature by 25°F to prevent excess browning when using maple syrup.

– For every 1 cup sugar, use 2/3 cup maple syrup and reduce liquids by 3 tablespoons.

– Maple syrup adds moisture, so you may need extra flour or cornstarch to prevent batters getting too thin.

– Maple syrup is great for sweetening pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, granola, coffee and more.

– Use maple syrup to sweeten and glaze roasted vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts and parsnips.

– Maple syrup works well in baked goods like cookies, muffins, bread and banana bread.

– For candy making, maple syrup can replace corn syrup in recipes.

– Add maple syrup to smoothies, yogurt, overnight oats or chia pudding.

– Drizzle over ice cream or fresh fruit for an easy dessert.

With some simple recipe adjustments, maple syrup can be swapped for sugar in most applications. Get creative with this uniquely flavored natural sweetener.


Maple syrup is healthier than brown sugar, providing more beneficial nutrients like minerals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. However, maple syrup still contains high amounts of sugar and is not a health food.

When used sparingly to replace other added sugars, maple syrup can provide a slightly more nutritious sweetener with a delicious flavor. But both brown sugar and maple syrup should be limited in the diet due to their high calorie and carbohydrate content.

Overall, those looking to reduce intake of added sugars should consider maple syrup as an occasional alternative to brown sugar and regular white sugar. Just be mindful of portion sizes, as maple syrup is energy dense. Moderation and smart substitution is key to harnessing the potential benefits of this natural sweetener.

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