Introducing new flavors to your little one is so exciting! But as parents who always want the best for our babies, it’s pretty normal to have that desire to double check all the ingredients that you’ll use in preparing your baby’s food. Or in this case, introducing a natural sweetener such as maple syrup into his or her diet.
If you remember the safety considerations for honey, you might also wonder, can babies have maple syrup?
Luckily, maple syrup doesn’t have the same health risks for babies as honey and there is no known recommendation against giving maple syrup for babies.
However, since maple syrup is known for its sugar content, some parents are a bit skeptical about its effects on their baby’s overall health.
So, let’s take a closer look at some important facts about maple syrup, its associated health benefits and risks, as well as the best time to give maple syrup to your baby.
What is maple syrup?
Maple syrup is a natural sweetener that is derived from the sweet and watery sap of some species of maple trees, mostly from sugar maple (Acer saccharum), red maple (Acer rubrum) and black maple (Acer nigrum) due to their high sugar content found in these species.
Deriving the sugary syrup out of maple trees was first practiced by the natives in the northeastern America, long before the Europeans came along. Today, the major producers of maple syrup are Canada and the United States.
How is maple syrup made?
To fully understand the process of maple syrup-making, let’s take a quick recall on how the indigenous people of the eastern Woodlands did it a long time ago.
Long before the arrival of the European settlers, the locals used the sweet sap from maple trees for their culinary practices. The local tribes have this tradition of making V-shaped marks on the barks of maple trees and inserting basswood or willow tube into the tree. Bowls made of bark are then used to catch and collect the sap.
The tribes have their so-called “sugaring off period” which often begins in early spring. The increased temperature in daylight during spring stimulates the flow of the sap, which comes from the stored sugar that the trees have stored and matured during winter. During the sugaring off period, the maple sap is at its sweetest, enough to be processed to its syrup form.
There are various techniques that the natives used to derive maple syrup. Some let the maple sap sit in the cold to freeze and separate water from the sugar. Others boil the sap by adding hot rocks under the bark bowls or directly heating it over fire using clay or metal pots. Though the techniques may vary, the idea is just the same- to collect the sweet syrup from the maple tree and preserve it for later consumption.
Using the same principle, the techniques were later on improved by the French settlers. They used hollowed-out logs to collect more maple sap and bring them inside sugar shacks or sugar houses where the sap is boiled in huge metal kettles.
Over time, the maple sugaring process has significantly developed from simple boiling to reverse osmosis systems that dramatically reduced the evaporation time needed to separate water from the sugary liquid that we enjoy today. Modern maple syrups are also filtered, graded and packed accordingly to reach more potential consumers worldwide.
Is maple syrup the same as pancake syrup?
Pure maple syrup is not the same as pancake syrups, mainly due to their ingredients. So if you’re wondering if babies can have syrup on their pancakes then you may think twice after knowing more about the difference between the pure maple syrup and the artificial pancake syrups that are widely available in supermarkets.
Pure maple syrups are made out of maple sap, which is processed to derive the natural sugar from maple trees. Maple syrups do not contain any additional ingredients. Since it involves a more labor-intensive collection and preparation process, maple syrups are typically priced higher than pancake syrups.
On the other hand, pancake syrups can be made up of other sweeteners, usually corn syrups and high fructose corn syrups, as well as artificial colors and flavoring. They do taste and smell like maple due to these artificial ingredients and may be priced a bit cheaper than pure maple syrups.
Other pancake syrups may also have claims of being “made with real maple syrup”. However, be aware that these products may have just incorporated a small percentage of pure maple syrup along with other artificial additives.
So the next time you go shopping for syrup, be extra careful because these products aren’t the same. Pay attention to the ingredients list, especially if you’re planning to give it to your baby.
Is maple syrup good for a baby’s health?
Maple syrups have already gone far from being a simple natural sweetener for various culinary preparations. Researchers are now taking a look at the potential health benefits that can be derived from maple syrup consumption. Some of the possible health benefits that are taken account of are as follows:
Maple syrup is packed with naturally-occurring minerals such as manganese, zinc, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, thiamine and calcium, which are all essential for optimum body functioning and may be significant in babies’ overall growth and development.
Zinc and manganese are known to support immunity, which may be beneficial for babies and young children. Manganese may act as an immune system stimulant and has natural anti-inflammatory effects. Zinc plays an important role in white blood cell production and response, which is essential to combat bacteria and viruses that may enter the body.
A 2010 study found several anti-oxidant compounds in maple syrups which reportedly have antibacterial, anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory properties. These health benefits are linked to the presence of “phenolics,” a class of potent anti-oxidants that are also found in berries.
Inulin, a type of prebiotic, is detected in maple syrup. Inulin is known to promote the growth of good bacteria that can aid in digestion and immunity. Though not yet scientifically confirmed, this may explain why some people use water with maple syrup for baby constipation as a natural remedy.
What are the health risks associated with maple syrup?
The major concern about giving maple syrup to babies is its sugar content. While maple syrup is found to contain minerals and plant compounds that are believed to be beneficial for health, it still has a notable amount of free sugar that cannot be ignored, particularly when consumed by young children.
Maple syrup has around 60 to 66 percent of sucrose as its major carbohydrate, along with lesser amounts of glucose, fructose, and other complex carbohydrates.
This suggests that just like other sugars, maple syrup needs to be given sparingly and with extra care should you decide to give it to your baby. High sugar consumption is linked to several health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart diseases and tooth decay.
The good thing about maple syrup is that it has a relatively lower glycemic index (GI: 54), when compared to table sugar (GI: 58) and honey (GI: 87), making it a better alternative. Glycemic index is the measurement used to rank foods based on their ability to increase the blood sugar levels in the body. Consuming foods with lower GI is believed to help reduce the risk of the associated health problems.
When can babies have maple syrup?
There is no known recommendation against giving maple syrup to babies. However, maple syrup is still considered as a free sugar that has certain limits when it comes to consumption. To know more about maple syrup babies safe limits, let’s look at sugar intake recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The AAP suggests to avoid giving food and drinks with added sugar to children under the age of 2. If we’re going to follow this recommendation, it may be best to wait until your baby turns 2 years of age before you introduce a sweetener such as maple syrup into his diet.
Aside from its sugar content, babies have a natural preference for sweet tastes. Introducing maple syrup and other sweets early on might make it more difficult for you to incorporate bland tastes in your baby food, such as vegetables or grains, which are also essential for their wellbeing.
So now you might be wondering, can babies eat maple syrup once they have turned 2?
One tip is to gradually offer the taste of maple syrup and do it in relatively small portions. Remember that for children, experts still recommend no more than 25 grams or roughly 6 teaspoons of sugar in a day. This also includes sugars from fruit juices, processed foods and sweetened drinks.
Babies can safely eat maple syrup within the recommended sugar intake limits, but it is best to wait until your baby’s second birthday before you try to introduce this sweet syrup into his or her diet.
By this time, your child will have developed a stronger digestive tract as well as personal preferences regarding food. This will surely make them appreciate the unique taste of maple syrup a lot more!