(Montreal) Replacing with an equivalent amount of maple syrup 5% of the total daily energy provided by added sugars leads to an improvement in certain cardiometabolic risk factors, researchers from Laval University have found.

The substitution also appears to have a modest, but potentially positive, effect on the gut microbiota.

Animal studies had shown benefits, and “we were convinced that it was worth investing in a clinical study,” said one of the study’s authors, Professor André Marette of the Center for research from the University Institute of Cardiology and Pulmonology of Quebec.

Forty-two adult volunteers in good health, but with a slight overweight, were recruited to participate in this study consisting of two phases of eight weeks. During each of the phases, the subjects were asked to consume either 30 ml (two tablespoons) of maple syrup or 30 ml of a flavored sucrose syrup that mimicked maple syrup each day.

After a four-week break, the roles were reversed: subjects who had consumed maple syrup consumed the sweet syrup, and vice versa.

Researchers found that replacing refined sugar with maple syrup resulted in lower abdominal body fat and systolic blood pressure, and improved glycemic response following a glucose tolerance test orally.

“We still saw, in just eight weeks, a pretty impressive effect of maple syrup,” said Professor Marette.

The composition of the intestinal microbiota remained stable, but certain bacteria were less present during the consumption of maple syrup. Some of them have already been associated with a poor cardiometabolic profile.

It is unusual in the scientific world to see researchers presenting their results by evoking a causal link. But in this case, said Professor Marette, the researchers made sure to compose two groups of similar subjects and to take into account factors that could have confused the issue, such as the diet of the participants.

“When we say that maple syrup has an impact, it is independent of any other factor that could have been confounding, he clarified. You can really tell that people, when they consume maple syrup, have improvements, even if they are not dramatic improvements. »

The participants were not hypertensive subjects whose consumption of maple syrup solved the problem of hypertension, he illustrated, even though the researchers were able to measure what he called an “interesting drop”. blood pressure.

Professor Marette, on the other hand, admits to having been “surprised” by the significant reduction observed in abdominal fat, especially since the effect was observed in both men and women.

Since the study included a placebo group, and since the researchers ensured that there were no other changes to the study protocol, “one has to conclude that it is the maple syrup that induces these effects “, he said.

Professor Marette has long studied the inclusion of natural sugars like honey and maple syrup in our diets, and this study is only the most recent he has done on the subject.

“Natural sugars bring benefits, or at the very least, I would say, fewer problems,” he said. We think that this is explained by the fact that [in] these natural sugars […] there are many other components, vitamins, minerals, phytohormones, polyphenols, which probably give the product a protection which seems beneficial to health. »

The researchers conducted this study with funding from the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) and Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.

The MAPAQ, explained Professor Marette, ensured that the work was carried out in full transparency and in full compliance with the rules of ethics.

“The only way to fund this kind of study is to have industry support, and then it’s done transparently,” he said. But it was very clear from the start that if we had seen no effect of maple syrup in the study, or even a negative effect, we would have published it anyway. »

Researchers will now take advantage of the funding that was not used to try to better understand the mechanism of action of maple syrup.

The results were released Friday at the annual meeting of the Canadian Nutrition Society and have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.