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Maple syrup is the true essence of eating from nature. It’s made with just one simple ingredient: the sap from a maple tree. Maple trees are tapped by drilling a hole and inserting a tube to collect the sap as it slowly drips into a bucket or storage tank. The clearer the sap, the richer in taste it will be.

Once the sap is collected, it’s boiled and filtered to evaporate much of the water, leaving a concentrated amount of sugar. The longer the syrup is boiled, the darker the color. Maple syrup is approximately 33 percent water and 67 percent sugar. The high price tag on maple syrup is understandable when you realize that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of maple syrup!

It’s no surprise that maple syrup is high in calories and sugar. Just one tablespoon has 50 calories and 13 grams of sugar, almost equivalent to table sugar. However, maple syrup does contain several phytochemicals, which are potential protectors of health. Regardless, it is still an added sugar, which can raise blood glucose levels in those with diabetes and contribute to obesity or tooth decay when eaten in excess. As with many good treats, eat it in moderation.

Once opened, store pure maple syrup in the refrigerator. Syrup packaged in tin or glass will keep in the refrigerator for up to one year. Pure maple syrup is not to be confused with pancake syrup. Labeled simply “syrup” or “pancake syrup,” this product is made of only about 1 to 3 percent maple syrup and is primarily corn syrup or cane sugar. It also is high in calories and sugar, and it just won’t stack up to the taste of pure maple syrup.

Maple Glazed Carrots

1 tablespoon trans-fat free margarine

2 tablespoons maple syrup

3 tablespoons water

1 (16-ounce) package baby carrots, or 4 medium carrots, trimmed

⅛ teaspoon black pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, add margarine, maple syrup and water, stirring constantly. Add carrots and black pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until carrots are tender and syrup has reduced to a glaze. If the carrots are tender before syrup has thickened, uncover and increase heat to medium-high.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition facts (per serving): 90 calories, 3 grams fat, 115 milligrams sodium, 16 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 1 gram protein

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Smith, a registered dietitian, is a nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306.