Wednesday, January 23, 2013

maple syrup, your health's natural sweetener

Achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is arguably the most rewarding and satisfying goal you can set yourself. However, ensuring a holistic and healthy life involves the adoption of many different factors, from getting adequate amounts of exercise to implementing a fulfilling and balanced diet. When people think of healthy and balanced diets, they naturally think of foods like green vegetables, brown rice and lean protein.

Not many people stop to look at their sweetener choices. However, maple syrup, made from the sap of the black or red maple tree, is an alternative to highly processed white sugar that contains less calories than honey.  With many nutritional benefits, it is a sweetener worth considering.  It is important to note that sugar consumption, even from healthier sources, can still present health challenges when consumed in excess.

Maple syrup is characterised by its rich and earthy taste, natural sweetness, and thick, amber appearance. It is made by piercing the trunk of a red or black maple tree, allowing the sap to trickle out. At this point, the sap is clear in appearance and tasteless. It is then boiled to evaporate the water content, creating a syrup with a high sugar content (about 60 percent) and rich, distinctive taste. Upon boiling, it also adopts its golden coloring which can be found in four different grades from Grade A light amber to Grade B.

Like many other healthy foods, maple syrup is considered a functional food; one that has additional health benefits compared with other foods. Many functional foods have specific nutrients and medicinal benefits that help to combat disease and promote optimum health. Just one ounce of maple syrup contains 22 percent of a person’s recommended daily consumption of manganese, an important antioxidant.  Sufficient manganese consumption is essential to ensuring healthy and strong bones, as well as good functioning of the brain and nerves. Manganese is a great natural anti-inflammatory component, which can help the healing process.  It is also significant for supporting healthy kidneys, liver and pancreas.

Maple syrup is also high in zinc, utilized by the cells in our bodies to combat illness and ensure a healthy immune system. Zinc deficiency can lead to a number of health problems, most of which are linked to the body’s immune system; it typically results in a lack of white blood cells (specifically B cells, T lymphocytes and macrophages), which are essential for rapid immune response.

Due to the high levels of zinc and manganese found in maple syrup, consumption also has considerable benefits for reproductive health. This is particularly significant for men, as the prostate requires higher levels of zinc than any other part of the body. Higher zinc intake can decrease the risk of prostate cancer, as well as decreasing prostate size. And the manganese in maple syrup helps support a healthy male reproductive system as it aids the production of sexual hormones.  For women a deficiency in magnesium is believed to have a strong link to premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

As mentioned already, maple syrup is a great source of zinc, an antioxidant that decreases the risk of heart complications. A healthy intake of zinc ensures that endothelial blood cells are working properly, it also protects against damage to the inner linings of blood vessels leading to and from the heart. Damage is typically caused by harmful oxidized fats, which zinc helps to break down. By consuming the recommended portions of zinc and manganese, you are increasing good cholesterol (HDL) and decreasing bad cholesterol (LDH).

The health benefits of maple syrup should not be ignored. By adding this natural sweetener, in moderation, to your healthy and balanced diet, you are contributing to your overall, holistic health. With it's delicious flavor and functional benefits, maple syrup provides a sweetness that should be part of everyone’s lives.

Lily Rolfe writes health articles on behalf of a number of on and offline health providers based in the US. She is strongly interested in healthy eating and exercise as preventative measures which are, after all, much better than any cure.

photo: Dvortygirl

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