Canada has a lot to feel smug about: some of the world's most beautiful lakes and mountains, an unrivalled winter sports scene, Justin Trudeau … But you know what's better than all of that?
A hip, panda-snuggling prime minister can't make your waffles taste better. "Lake Ontario" doesn't work as a doughnut flavour and what has ice hockey ever done for your applesauce? The sap of Canada's national emblem may well be its greatest gift to the world.
Even more so now that, according to new research presented at the annual American Chemical Society meeting, maple syrup may protect brain cells against damage.
Exploring the effects of natural products on brain diseases like Alzheimer's, an international team of researchers looked at the results of 24 different studies on promoting a healthy brain through diet.
And a sticky pattern began to emerge.
They found that real maple syrup, i.e. the stuff that comes from an actual maple tree—not your phony "maple flavoured" instant porridge—may help prevent beta amyloid and tau peptide (two cellular proteins found in brain cells) from clumping together, which is the root cause of Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.
This is because when the two proteins tangle, the clumps they form block cell-to-cell signalling in the brain, meaning messages of communication cannot reach other regions. According to the researchers, phenolic compounds—the plant metabolites found in fruit and vegetables—from maple syrup have antioxidant effects, meaning they can capture harmful free radicals before they damage brain cells.
These phenolic compounds are also found in grape skins, which is why red wine is also thought to be an antioxidant. Research released this week from the University of Cincinnati also discovered phenolic-rich blueberries to have Alzheimer's-fighting qualities.
The American Chemical Society researchers found that maple syrup could also prolong the lifespan of people already diagnosed with Alzheimer's by protecting the brain cells from clumping together further.
In a statement, lead researcher Dr. Navindra P. Seeram from Texas State University explained: "Natural food products such as green tea, red wine, berries, and pomegranates continue to be studied for their potential benefits in combating Alzheimer's disease."
Alright Canada, we'll let you feel smug about this one: maple syrup is pretty great. Douse those pancakes, glaze that ham, and drizzle over all the ice cream cones.
Just don't go too overboard.