At a recent annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, scientists announced findings that suggested maple syrup contains as many as 54 antioxidants. Lead researcher Dr. Navindra Seeram, from the University of Rhode Island, has been studying the relationship between plants and health for a long time.
"I'm from British Guyana," he explains. "It is a Third World country, the second poorest to Haiti. When growing up, we couldn't go to Walgreens or Rite-Aid or CVS. There were pharmacies, but there was limited health care, so we utilized plants as sources of medicine."
Dr. Seeram did his undergrad work in his native country, then earned his Ph.D. in Natural Products Chemistry in Jamaica. "People in my discipline look within nature for sources of medicines. It is estimated that 50 or 60 percent of drugs are either natural products or inspired by natural products. The best antibiotics come from bacteria, the best anti-funghi creams from funghi, and so on."
He was a post doctoral fellow at Michigan State studying tart cherries (Michigan grows more of these than anywhere else), and afterwards spent 5 years at UCLA trying to answer the question: What do the antioxidants in berries specifically do when they get into the body? Significant findings came from those studies, as well as a book, Berries And Cancer Prevention, which he co-edited with Gary Stoner.
But how did Seeram get from berries to maple? "About three years ago I came to the east coast from UCLA," he explains. "On the east coast, what do you want to work on? Could be cranberries, or blueberries, but maple is so prevalent in this region of the world. Canada and the US are the only two countries to commercially produce maple."
What he and others found were some 54 antioxidants, or about twice as many as previously reported. Five of the antioxidants were never before identified. Maple possesses some of the same healthy compounds attributed to berries, green tea, and flax seed. The first paper on these findings will be published in this month's Journal of Functional Foods."
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So should we start guzzling bottles of Vermont Grade A? "Nobody should be eating anything in abnormal portions. Plus maple syrup is high calorie, because it's like 60 percent sucrose, so you want to be cautious about that too. When you eat berries or drink green tea, you aren't going to do so just to get phenolics. But if you eat these, you will get phenolix. Same goes with maple syrup. Do you see the difference?"
Yes, I do. The message Dr. Seeram wants to get across is simply that they have found that maple syrup has antioxidants, so people should be informed and might want to take that into consideration when choosing their sweeteners. "For example, if my kids are going to have sweetener on their pancakes, I want to give them one serving size -- no more than that -- and I choose to serve them natural maple syrup."
Or, to put it one last way: When you ditch the fake Log Cabin stuff for the real McCoy, it will not only taste better, but be better for you.