"Not all sweeteners are created equal.
I continue to say that nature is the best chemist, and that maple syrup is becoming a champion food when it comes to the number and variety of beneficial compounds found in it.
It's important to note that...several of these compounds possess anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which have been shown to fight cancer, diabetes and bacterial illnesses.
Quebecol--[a newly discovered compound in maple syrup]--has a unique chemical structure never before identified in nature.
I believe the process of concentraing the maple sap into maple syrup is what creates Quebecol. I believe the heat forms this unique compound.
I can guarantee you that few, if any, other natural sweeteners, have this anti-oxidant cocktail of beneficial compounds; it has some of the beneficial compounds found in berries, some that are found in tea and some that are found in flaxseed.
-Researcher Dr. Navindra Seeram of the University of Rhode Island, presenting his paper at the 241st American Chemical Society National Meeting-
Sugar's Been Busted! Now What?
If you received this via email, click here to get to the web version with all the links & more.
Now that Dr. Robert Lustig has trashed all forms of sugar--not just the usual suspects like high-fructose corn syrup & processed white sugar--what are we supposed to use to sweeten our recipes? OK, there's always stevia--but some folks aren't ready for that one.
Pre-Lustig I thought agave was a "safe sweetener". Wrong. He busted agave, big-time--because it can contain up to 90% fructose. Don't know who Lustig is? click here. Don't know why you should pass on agave, click here.
Thanks to Lustig, we learned that for some of us, too much sugar can pile on the fat, make us insulin-resistant, give us type-2 diabetes, cause fatty liver disease, and maybe contribute to heart disease by making our LDLs small dense & dangerous.
Taubes Introduced Us to Sugar's Cancer Connection
Thanks to Taubes, we learned that for some of us, too much sugar might even cause cancer!
Or at least that's what Dr. Craig Thompson, the president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering (the #2 cancer hospital in the U.S.), and Dr. Lewis Cantley, Director of the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard, suspect about sugar!
Look, I'm not into spreading cancer scare stories, but this became a little more believable when Taubes name-dropped Sloan-Kettering & Beth Israel.
Sloan-Kettering's Thompson told Gary Taubes, “I have eliminated refined sugar from my diet and eat as little as I possibly can because I believe ultimately it’s something I can do to decrease my risk of cancer.”
Beth Israel's Cantley put it this way: “Sugar scares me.”
Want a Refresher on How Insulin Resistance Can Promote Cancer?
"So how does it work? Cancer researchers now consider that the problem with insulin resistance is that it leads us to secrete more insulin, and insulin (as well as a related hormone known as insulin-like growth factor) actually promotes tumor growth.
As it was explained to me [Taubes] by Dr. Craig Thompson, who has done much of this research and is now president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, the cells of many human cancers come to depend on insulin to provide the fuel (blood sugar) and materials they need to grow and multiply. Insulin and insulin-like growth factor (and related growth factors) also provide the signal, in effect, to do it.
The more insulin, the better they do. Some cancers develop mutations that serve the purpose of increasing the influence of insulin on the cell; others take advantage of the elevated insulin levels that are common to metabolic syndrome, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Some do both.
Thompson believes that many pre-cancerous cells would never acquire the mutations that turn them into malignant tumors if they weren’t being driven by insulin to take up more and more blood sugar and metabolize it." Excerpted from "Is Sugar Toxic" Gary Taubes, NYT April 13, 2011
But We Still Need a Little Sugar, Sometimes!
Honestly, even if you cut out all the worst sugar culprits: like cakes, cookies, candy, soda pop & ice cream--you'll still need to use some sugar occasionally--like for cooking!
Even my All-American Spicy Chili needs 2 tablespoons of some kind of sweetener, for goodness sakes! Realistiically, I'm not about to eliminate sweeteners 100%. And neither are you! But, what is the best choice when you need a sweetener?
And even the American Heart Association allows us a little sweetness:
Pre-1975, before the invention of high-fructose corn syrup, Americans ate 63 pounds of sugar a year--today we're up to 156 pounds. That's 22 teaspoons a day.
The American Heart Association's 2009 Scientific Statement recommends the maximum to be 6 teaspoons for women--9 teaspooons for men. (that's 2 TBS for women & 3 TBS for men, in case you're wondering)
I think I found the solution to my sweetener problem at the 241st American Chemical Society's Meeting, thanks to Navindra Seeram, the assistant professor of pharmacy at the University of Rhode Island--who is the maven of maple syrup's chemical compounds.
Look Out--Maple syrup is now newest kid on the Super Food Block!
- I never stopped using maple syrup. It's always been my favorite go-to sweetener when I first nixed the white stuff. But, now, thanks to Dr. Seeram, I can enjoy a little of it guiltlessly.
- Dr. Seeram's research is funded by the CDAQ, Canada's agricultural development council, on behalf of the maple syrup industry--if this kind of support-thing will make you cast a doubtful eye.
- Dr. Seeram warns that no one should consume large quantities of maple syrup--it's just a better alternative to other sweeteners.
- The identification of Quebecol in maple syrup is brand new. So, bottom line: its benefits will need further research.
- I'm not suggesting that maple syrup is a miracle food--only that it's likely a better sweetener choice!
Maple Syrup - the New Sweetener Solution?
Here's the maple syrup scoop:
First things first. Maple syrup isn't much different from table sugar--mostly sucrose--which is 1/2 fructose & 1/2 glucose! Click here to see how the "sugars" compare to each other. But, thanks to Seeram's research, we now know it's also loaded with beneficial polyphenols/AKA antioxidants. Learn more about Seeram, his Bioactive Botanical Research Laboratory (BBRL) and his natural products research here.
On March 30, 2011 he presented his paper at the 241st American Chemical Society's National Meeting in Anaheim, CA, detailing his lab's discovery of 34 new beneficial compounds in pure maple syrup and confirming that 20 compounds discovered last year play a key role in human health. Click here to read more about Seeram's research on these beneficial compounds.
That's a total of 54 beneficial compounds found in "real deal" maple syrup--and 5 of these had never been seen in nature before.
What's in Maple Syrup, Anyway? This Was News to Me!
- It contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that have been shown to be of benefit in preventing heart disease, certain types of cancer, diabetes, and certain neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer's. Click here and here to read more. Apologies for making this sound a lot like "snake oil"--but this is what Seeram says.
- The natural tree sap contains a whole host of healthful goodies, like: minerals, oligosaccharides, amino acids, polyphenols, phytohormones, lignans (think flaxseed), & coumarins. Ball, DW. "The Chemical Composition of Maple Syrup," J Chem Ed 84:1647-1650, 2007.
- Even the intensive heating process that converts sap into syrup is beneficial--creating a complex cocktail of phenolics known to prevent disease, and promote health. (Shahidi, F. & Ho, C-T, eds. Phenolic compounds in foods and natural health products. Wash, DC, American Chemical Society, 2005.)
- Newly discovered "Quebecol"--a compound found in maple syrup--has structural similarities to the previous beneficial antioxidant phenolics found in maple syrup.
Seeram's hot-off-the press article about Quebecol was just published. Li, L. & Seeram, NP, "Quebecol, a novel phenolic compound isolated from Canadian maple syrup," J Functional Foods 3:125-28, April, 2011.
- Earlier research has found antimutagenic and human cancer cell antiproliferative properties in maple syrup. Theirault, M. et al. "Antioxidant, antiradical and antimuagenic activities of phenolic compounds present in maple products. Food Chemistry, 98:490-501, 2006.
The Maple Syrup Diabetes Connection?
Seeram and his colleagues have also just published preliminary research about their latest discovery--the promising effect of maple syrup on type-2 diabetes.
Turns out, when the natural antioxidants in maple syrup are enriched, they are able to inhibit two carbohydrate hydrolizing enzymes that are relevant to type 2 diabetes management.
Bottom Line: This could mean the future development of a maple syrup sweetener with a lower glycemic index designed especially for type 2 diabetes prevention. Warning: remember the hype that agave was safe for diabetics?
"The irony of finding a potential anti-diabetes compound in a sweetener is not lost on Seeram.
As he says, 'Not all sweeteners are created equal.'"
Seeram, NP et al. "In vitro evaluation of phenolic-enriched maple syrup extracts for inhibition of carbohydrate hydrolizing enzymes relevant to type 2 diabetes management," J Functional Foods, 3:100-106, 2011.
So What Does All This Mean to Us?
When you have to choose between processed white sugar, high fructose agave syrup, or minimally processed natural maple syrup---choose maple syrup. At least it contains some beneficial compounds.
I have no illusions that it's a super food. It just looks like a better choice to me. And, because it's seasonal and it's only made in the U.S. and Canada--it's expensive--which means we can't afford to eat too much of it!
Just Be Sure to Limit Your Sweetener Intake
The AHA Limits--6 tsp. for women, 9 tsp. for men--are the Maximums--and Include all the sweeteners you consume throughout the day--which means everything that's hidden in any processed food you eat--even non-dairy milks.
Aim for less!
The Less You Eat--the Less You Will Want to Eat!