Is honey better for you than sugar?
The sugar industry has done a great job of marketing its product – so much so that confusion abounds as to which sweeteners are healthiest, and how much is too much of a good thing.
The Honey Positives
Honey contains trace vitamins and minerals, so its nutrition label will not impress you. However, it also contains phenols and other antioxidants that sugar does not. Nutrients vary depending on the region where the honey is collected.
The antioxidants in honey may reduce inflammation, triglycerides and “bad fats” (LDL), while increasing “good fats” (HDL) in the bloodstream.¹
Honey also has less glucose and fructose by volume (70%) than granulated sugar (99%), because it has a more complex chemical composition. That means it digests at a slower rate than sugar.
Raw honey may contain small amounts of pollen. Over time, this can help you become less sensitive to pollen allergies by the same mechanism as allergy shots; that is, you build up resistance by exposure to small doses.
The Negatives of Honey
Raw honey contains more antioxidants than sugar, but is not recommended for infants, small children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems, as it may contain spores that cause botulism.²
As a sweetener, it has more calories per volume than sugar, but it is sweeter. Therefore, you can use less to achieve the same sweetness.
Unless it is labeled organic, honey may be adulterated by syrups (high fructose corn syrup), other sweeteners and/or water.
American honey producers struggle to compete against less expensive, imported honey that is frequently diluted. As much as 75% of supermarket honey may be diluted, according to a study conducted by the Food Safety Network.†
Buying raw honey from a source that you can trust (local farmers, markets) is the best way to ensure that you are getting pure honey.
Granulated Brown and White Sugars
Sugars made from beets and sugar cane undergo processing. They contain none of honey’s trace nutrients.³
U.S. produced white sugar is sometimes processed with charred bone (may be listed as “natural charcoal”) to achieve its whiteness. Therefore, it is not considered a “vegan” food unless it is processed by another method.
As we’ve seen many times before, the closer you get to food as nature has packaged it, the more healthful it is.
Keeping to the theme of raw or natural foods, does that mean that “raw sugar” is healthy?
Turbinado sugar (“raw sugar”) is made from the “first pressing” of sugar cane.
It has fewer calories than processed sugar, by volume, but that’s mainly because it contains more moisture (water) in its crystals.
Turbinado sugar does contain the same nutrients as sugar cane; however, it lacks honey’s complexity of sugars.³ That lack of complexity means that glucose enters your blood stream at a faster rate. That’s what we’re trying to avoid in kicking the sugar habit.
Final Score: Honey Wins, under Caution
If you are equally keen on sugar or honey, it’s raw honey that offers the most health benefits.
Remember, though, both honey and sugar are carbohydrates. People with elevated blood sugar levels or who are overweight should limit their daily intake of all carbs, especially simple carbohydrates.
Adding sweetness to foods also increases your desire for more, and decreases your sensitivity to sweetness – the more you eat, the more you want.
That’s why the best choice is to use sweeteners sparingly, no matter the source.
Links to Sources:
¹International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, “Effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients: an 8-week randomized clinical trial.”
²Healthline, “10 Surprising Health Benefits of Honey.”
³Livestrong, “The Nutritional Facts of Turbinado Sugar.”
†Food Safety Network, “Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey.”
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This post is not intended to offer medical advice. Check with your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise plan.
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