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Maple syrup a sweet 'superfood': researchers

OTTAWA--Researchers have identified compounds in maple syrup with similar anti-inflammatory or anti-oxidant properties as blueberries, green tea and other “superfoods,” they said Friday.

“In our laboratory research we found that several of these compounds possess anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which have been shown to fight cancer, diabetes and bacterial illnesses,” said lead researcher Navindra Seeram, assistant professor of pharmacognosy at the University of Rhode Island.

Initial studies also suggest that polyphenols in the syrup may help keep blood sugar levels in check, important for diabetics, by inhibiting enzymes that are involved in the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar, he said.

The discoveries of new molecules in the syrup also provide chemists with leads that could prompt synthesis of medications to fight other diseases.

The findings were presented this week at an annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, California and are to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Functional Foods.

The study was funded by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

A total of 54 beneficial compounds were identified by the researchers in pure maple syrup from Quebec, including five of which have never been seen in nature.

Among the new compounds is quebecol — named in honor of the Canadian province of Quebec, which leads the world in maple syrup production.

The researchers believe it is created when a farmer boils off the water in maple sap to get maple syrup. It takes 40 liters (20.5 gallons) of sap to make one liter (two pints) of syrup.

The sweet sap is collected from maple trees in the spring when freezing and thawing cycles cause it to rise and flow from taps hammered into tree trunks.

Seeram said the irony of finding a potential anti-diabetes compound in a sweetener is not lost on him.

“Not all sweeteners are created equal,” he said.

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