What kind of maple syrup can I have on paleo diet?

Maple syrup is a popular natural sweetener that is often used as a sugar substitute. The paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, is a nutritional plan based on foods that early humans would have eaten during the Paleolithic era. This diet emphasizes meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds while excluding processed foods, sugar, dairy products and grains. Many people following a paleo diet are uncertain about whether maple syrup can be included. This article provides a comprehensive overview of the different types of maple syrup available and their suitability for the paleo diet.

What is Maple Syrup?

Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees, most commonly the sugar maple. The sap is collected and boiled down to evaporate the water, resulting in a syrup containing concentrated sugars. Maple syrup contains two main types of sugar – sucrose and fructose. The specific contents can vary between syrups:

  • Sucrose: 60-70%
  • Glucose and Fructose: 30-40%

In addition to sugar, maple syrup provides small amounts of minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese. It also contains over 24 different antioxidants that may provide health benefits.

Overall, maple syrup is about 60% as sweet as regular refined sugar. It has a rich flavor and can be substituted for sugar in many recipes.

Types of Maple Syrup

There are several different grades of maple syrup available:

Grade A

  • Light Amber (Extra Light): This is the mildest tasting grade. It has a light color and is made early in the maple season.
  • Medium Amber: This grade has a richer maple flavor and darker color. It’s made later in the season.
  • Dark Amber (Grade B): Dark amber syrup has a robust maple flavor and is made at the end of the season.

Processing Grades

  • Syrup: Plain maple syrup. May be filtered.
  • Fancy: A lighter, more delicate flavored syrup.

Organic Maple Syrup

Organic maple syrup is also available. It’s collected from trees that are not sprayed with chemicals. The organic certification guarantees the syrup production adheres to environmental and sustainable practices.

Other Considerations

Other aspects that affect maple syrup:

  • Raw or Unpasteurized: Raw maple syrup is heated only enough to evaporate water. It retains more minerals and antioxidants compared to refined syrups.
  • Grade A vs B: Both are good quality. Grade A is lighter in color while grade B is darker with a robust flavor.
  • Artificial Colors or Flavors: Some cheaper syrups contain artificial additives. Check the label.

Overall the darker syrups are produced later in the season and have a stronger maple flavor. Lighter syrups are more delicate. Raw, organic syrups retain the most nutrition.

Maple Syrup on a Paleo Diet

The paleo diet aims to mimic the diets of early hunter-gatherer humans. This means avoiding processed foods, added sugars and syrups.

However, moderate amounts of natural, unprocessed maple syrup are generally considered paleo-friendly:

  • It’s harvested straight from maple trees and contains beneficial antioxidants.
  • It is less processed than refined white sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
  • It has a low glycemic index score around 54.
  • The sugars are natural and found in the sap.

Overall, pure maple syrup is considered a “real food” that falls within paleo guidelines.

It’s best to choose an organic, Grade B dark amber syrup for the strongest maple flavor and most nutrients. Avoid any products with added flavors or coloring.

When cooking with maple syrup, use it sparingly as it still contains concentrated natural sugars. Limit to occasional use, such as:

  • Drizzled over pancakes or waffles made with paleo flours.
  • Mix into paleo baked goods like muffins, cookies or granola.
  • A glaze for meat or sweet potatoes.
  • Stir a tablespoon into coffee.

Nutrition Facts

Here is how 100 grams (about 1/4 cup) of pure maple syrup compares nutritionally to sugar and honey:

Nutrient Maple syrup Refined sugar Honey
Calories 260 387 304
Total Carbs 67g 99.8g 82g
Fiber 0g 0g 0.2g
Sugars 60g 99.8g 82g
Manganese 183% DV 0% DV 2% DV
Riboflavin 41% DV 0% DV 1% DV

Maple syrup contains some minerals and antioxidants, unlike refined sugar. It also has slightly fewer calories and carbs compared to sugar or honey per gram.

However, maple syrup is still high in natural sugars – about 67g per 100 grams. It should be used sparingly even within a paleo diet.

Health Benefits

Maple syrup contains beneficial compounds that may provide some health advantages:


Maple syrup provides phenolic compounds like lignans, coumarins and flavonoids. These function as antioxidants to prevent cellular damage from oxidative stress and inflammation.

Darker syrups contain higher antioxidant levels compared to lighter syrups.

Anti-inflammatory Effects

The polyphenols in maple syrup may help reduce inflammation. Studies in rats fed maple syrup showed lower inflammatory markers like interleukin-6 (IL-6) compared to sugar-fed rats.

Anti-Cancer Properties

Test tube studies found that maple syrup extract inhibited the growth of certain colon and prostate cancer cells. The antioxidants likely play a role in blocking cancer cell proliferation.

However, more research is needed to confirm anti-cancer effects in humans.

Skin Health

Applying maple syrup directly on the skin could aid wound healing. One animal study found wounds treated with maple syrup healed faster compared to sugar and honey treatments.

It’s thought that the anti-inflammatory compounds in maple syrup reduce oxidative damage and boost immunity to expedite healing.

Nutrient Absorption

Maple syrup polyphenols may help increase the absorption of some minerals.

One study in mice found maple syrup increased the uptake of magnesium and calcium compared to regular sugar. More research is needed.

Overall, maple syrup provides useful plant compounds that may contribute to better health, especially when substituting refined sugar.

Downsides of Maple Syrup

Despite health advantages over regular sugar, maple syrup does come with some downsides:

  • High in sugar and carbs. It should be used sparingly even on paleo.
  • Less micronutrients than whole foods like fruits or vegetables.
  • Easy to overconsume since it’s sweet and high in calories.
  • Processed, though less than refined sugar.
  • Only provides trace minerals, not enough to rely on frequently.

The sugar content is the main concern. Overdoing syrup, honey or other natural sweeteners could impair blood sugar control and weight management.

Paleo Alternatives

For those looking to further limit sugar, even from natural sources, here are some paleo-friendly alternatives:

  • Stevia extract
  • Monk fruit extract
  • Erythritol
  • Coconut sugar
  • Raw honey

These can be used sparingly to sweeten foods or drinks without spiking blood sugars as dramatically.

Focusing on getting sweetness from whole fruits and limiting added sweeteners is another good approach.


Pure maple syrup can fit into a paleo lifestyle when used wisely. Compared to refined sugar, maple syrup is less processed and provides some beneficial antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

The darkest grades of maple syrup contain the most antioxidants and maple flavor. Raw, organic syrup is ideal.

However, maple syrup is still high in natural sugars. Limit to occasional use or special treats. Focus on getting nutrition from whole foods instead.

Maple syrup is a better option than refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup. But other less sugary substitutes like stevia, monk fruit or coconut sugar can be alternated with maple syrup in paleo recipes.

Overall, maple syrup is a gray area ingredient for paleo. Used excessively it can spike blood sugar and inhibit weight loss goals. But the nutrients and antioxidants in maple syrup make it a good replacement for sugar in moderation.

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