Honey in the jar and maple syrup on the other side in a leaf shaped bottle
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Honey vs Maple Syrup: Which Sweetener is Healthier?

Honey and maple syrup are often touted to be healthier than table sugar and other sweeteners because they are natural and have been consumed for centuries…. But when comparing honey vs maple syrup, does one of these sweet syrups come out on top in terms of health? Let’s find out!

Honey in the jar and maple syrup on the other side in a leaf shaped bottle

What is honey?

Honey is a sweet, sticky, thick, golden-colored liquid created when honey bees store the nectar from flowers inside their hives within honeycombs. Depending on the source of the nectar, honey varies in flavor and color.

For centuries, honey has been utilized in naturopathic remedies and is touted for its medicinal properties.

One tablespoon of honey contains:

  • 64 calories
  • 17 grams carbohydrates
  • 17 grams sugar
  • 0 grams fat
  • 0 grams protein

Honey is mostly sugar, and contains no protein, fat, or fiber. Most of the sugar content of honey comes from fructose, the same sugar that is abundant in fruits. 

Benefits of using honey

One of the biggest benefits of honey over sugar is that it contains a high amount of antioxidants, which help protect your cells from oxidative damage. Diets high in antioxidants are known to help prevent conditions like heart disease and cancer. Darker variations of honey are typically better sources of antioxidants.

There is also some evidence that honey can help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and inflammation. Together, these effects serve to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Honey in a jar and a honeycomb beside on a cutting board

Another benefit of honey is that it has antibiotic properties. For centuries, honey has been used topically to treat infected wounds and burns. Honey’s healing properties extend to treating diabetic ulcers, which may be better off treated with honey than modern medications in terms of cost and the risk of antimicrobial resistance.

Honey is also effective in soothing coughs, and it may actually be even more effective than modern cough medications. Manuka honey is especially helpful for preventing strep throat infections.

Honey also contains trace amounts of micronutrients, including B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc, which are beneficial to health.

Disadvantages of using honey

Honey is practically 100% sugar, so it has a direct impact on blood glucose levels. With a glycemic index level close to that of sugar (with scores of 58 and 65, respectively), honey only has a slightly slower impact on blood glucose levels when compared to table sugar.

In fact, honey actually has a higher glycemic load per serving than table sugar, with 10 GL and 6 GL, respectively. This means that a typical serving (1 tbsp) of honey increases blood sugar more quickly than a typical serving (2 tsp) of table sugar. 

People with diabetes should proceed with caution and treat honey the same way as they would treat table sugar in order to prevent drastic increases in blood glucose levels.

While honey contains vitamins and minerals, these only occur in trace amounts. Which means you would need to consume a large volume to reap the benefits, which in turn could send blood sugar soaring.

Those who are allergic to bee pollen may also have allergic reactions to honey. In addition, some people can also be intolerant to fructose, the main sugar in honey. In fructose intolerance, even low levels of consumption can lead to digestive distress. 

Lastly, honey should never be given to babies under one year of age. Honey can harbor the pathogen that causes botulism, a disease that can be fatal if not treated promptly. 

How to use honey

You can buy both commercially processed honey and raw honey, an unprocessed and thicker variation, pretty much anywhere you shop for sweeteners. If you tend to keep honey for a long period of time (like I do) you may find it begins to crystallize into a more grainy texture. This is still safe to eat, but if you prefer a smoother consistency, just heat the honey container for a few minutes in a bowl of hot water to re-liquify the honey to its original consistency.

When using honey, keep in mind it is not a 1:1 swap for sugar. For one, it is a different consistency (syrup vs solid). But it is also sweeter than sugar too. If you want to swap out sugar and replace it with honey in a recipe, use ⅔ cup of honey for every cup of sugar while also reducing the total liquid content of the recipe by ¼ cup.

Keep in mind, honey has a distinct flavor, which can alter the flavor of your favorite recipes, or enhance the flavor like in my Balsamic Honey Chicken Wraps.

Luckily, many recipes already call for honey as the sweetener, including my Raspberry Chocolate Cupcakes. So, if you don’t feel like doing math to figure out how to adjust a recipe, you can almost always find a similar recipe that uses honey.

What is maple syrup?

A bottle of maple syrup with stacked pancakes on a plate in the background

Maple syrup is a viscous, sticky, brown-colored liquid derived from the sap of maple trees, which are mostly found in the northeast of the United States and in Canada. 

To obtain the syrup, farmers drill holes into the tree to collect sap. The sap is then boiled to evaporate the water content and subsequently filtered. The end result is a delicious thick, sweet syrup.

Maple syrup is classified by grade. Grade A maple syrup can be light amber, medium amber, or dark amber. Grade B maple syrup is the darkest variation with the strongest maple flavor. 

One tablespoon of maple syrup contains:

  • 52 calories
  • 13.5 grams carbohydrates
  • 12 grams sugar
  • 0.1 grams fat
  • 0 grams protein

Maple syrup has no protein, no fat, and 12 grams of sugar per tablespoon. Most of the sugar content of maple syrup comes from sucrose, the same type of sugar as the white sugar.

Benefits of using maple syrup

Three leaf-shaped bottles of maple syrup on a table outside

Like honey, maple syrup is also high in antioxidants, although to a lesser extent. Darker varieties tend to have more antioxidants than the lighter versions.

Maple syrup also contains trace amounts of micronutrients such as vitamin B2, calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, and manganese.

The glycemic index of maple syrup is lower than table sugar, with a score of 54 compared to a score of 65. This means that when consumed in equal proportions, consuming maple syrup will result in a slightly slower increase of blood sugar than table sugar.

Disadvantages of using maple syrup

Like honey, maple syrup is mostly sugar, which increases blood sugar levels. People with diabetes should treat maple syrup in the same way they treat table sugar. 

Both table sugar and maple syrup are medium glycemic foods, so they both impact blood sugar levels at similar rates, although maple syrup leads to a slightly slower increase.

Also similar to honey, despite containing trace micronutrients, you would have to consume an a really large amount of maple syrup to reach meet your micronutrient needs from this food alone, which would have a negative impact on blood sugar.

When choosing maple syrup, be sure to check the label. Sometimes packaging can be deceiving, with some products advertised as “maple flavor” or “pancake syrup” that don’t even contain maple syrup.

How to use maple syrup

The two forms of maple syrup can be used interchangeably, but generally it is recommended Grade B maple syrup is used for baking, whereas the lighter Grade A versions are used to drizzle over pancakes (like my delicious Greek Yogurt Pancakes!) or waffles.

Since maple syrup has about the same sweetness as sugar, you can usually substitute it in a ¾-to-one or one-to-one ratio for sugar. However, since maple syrup is a liquid, you will also need to decrease the amount of liquid in the recipe by about 3 tablespoons per cup of maple syrup used. 

Some experimentation may be required to obtain similar results as the same recipe made with sugar. And since maple syrup has a strong flavor, using it as a complete sugar swap may alter the flavor of the recipe slightly. 

You should also easily be able to find recipes that already use maple syrup as the sweetener, such as my healthy Cookie Dough recipe!

The bottom line

Honey or maple syrup in a wooden spoon

Overall, honey and maple syrup may be considered better options than table sugar because they contain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, while regular sugar does not.

While both honey and maple syrup contain healthful antioxidants and micronutrients, the amounts are minimal, especially compared to fruits and vegetables. 

Honey contains more antioxidants than maple syrup, and also has some antibiotic properties. On the other hand, maple syrup is lower in both calories, sugar, and glycemic index when compared to honey. 

Despite the health benefits, both maple syrup and honey are ‘added sugars’ and can raise blood glucose levels, so use them in moderation like you would with any added sugar. In general, replacing table sugar with these sweeteners is a healthier option than simply adding these sweeteners to your diet.

Wondering about other sweetener options for blood sugar? Check out my posts on erythritol vs stevia and stevia vs monk fruit as well.

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