Diet and Recipes

Is Honey a Healthier Alternative to Sugar?

Honey is often touted as a better alternative than sugar because it is a natural sweetener.

Many people assume it must be healthier than processed sugars like table sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

The answer is not as clear cut as you may think. Honey does have some advantages over regular sugar, but it is not the health food many believe it to be.

Here is the truth about honey and it’s effect on your body.

What is honey?

Honey is made by bees who gather the nectar of plants and bring it back to their hive. While the nectar is stored in the bee’s stomach, it mixes with enzymes that change the chemical makeup of the nectar.

Once back at the hive, the bee regurgitates the nectar into another bee’s mouth. (Yes, honey is bee vomit).

This process of swallowing and regurgitating the nectar goes on between the bees until it is stored and sealed into the honeycomb.

Honey consists mostly of sugar from nectar but also contains vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from the enzymes in the bees’ stomachs. This gives honey some surprising health benefits.

Benefits of Honey

Antioxidants: Honey contains many different antioxidants. The types found in honey will vary because of the different plants whose nectar are used. This also accounts for the difference in color and composition of different kinds of honey.

Dark honey tends to have more antioxidants than lighter honey.

Honey contains phytochemicals that have high phenolic and flavonoid content. These antioxidants have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer.

Honey’s anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties would make it an ideal vaccine against cancer.

While there is no conclusive evidence yet, research is showing that honey can actually fight some cancer cell lines.

Prevent Heart Disease

Honey can help prevent heart disease because of its antioxidant properties. Honey also contains amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals.

These can help lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol. Honey may even protect your heart from oxidative stress.

Coughs/ Sore throats

Honey can be used as a natural remedy for coughs and sore throats. Buckwheat honey has specifically been shown as an excellent cough suppressant.

One study even showed that honey was more helpful than cough syrup in relieving children’s nighttime coughs.

Allergy Relief

Honey can also provide allergy relief. Honey is a natural immune booster, but it often contains the pollen of the plant it was made from.

Some experts believe that eating small amounts of pollen helps the body build immunity against it, much like how a vaccine works.

Honey is also anti-inflammatory, and this, along with is antioxidants, can help provide relief from allergies and reduce the use of antihistamines.

Honey is also useful beyond eating. Honey has antimicrobial, antibacterial and antifungal qualities. Studies have shown that honey can be used topically to treat wounds, ulcers, boils, and burns effectively.

Honey can also be used on the scalp to reduce itchiness and flakiness.

Disadvantages of Honey

High in Sugar

Even though honey can benefit the body, it is still mostly made of sugar, and excessive sugar consumption can have detrimental effects. Honey is made of two types of sugar, fructose, and glucose.

This combination of sugars does not spike blood sugar as much as table sugar, but it still can raise blood sugar.

In fact, honey, high fructose corn syrup, and cane sugar have the same effects on your blood sugar, insulin, and weight.

If you overeat honey, your body will react as if you have had too much regular sugar.

You can gain weight, develop type 2 diabetes and heart disease even though honey has other benefits for the body.

High in Calories

Honey is also high in calories. A single tablespoon of honey contains 64 calories. Many people put more than just a tablespoon in their coffee or tea throughout the day.

Recipes that replace sugar with honey, often use a large amount, significantly increasing the calorie count of the dish.

Dangerous for Young Children

Honey can also be deadly for young children. Children under the age of one should never be given honey because of the risk of infant botulism. While no babies should consume sugar, a small amount of table sugar would not result in deadly poisoning.

Is Honey Really Better?

Honey has a very similar effect on the body that white sugar has. Your blood sugar will increase, causing an insulin response.

If you are overweight, pre-diabetic or already diabetic, then avoiding honey is imperative. It is no better than sugar.

A study looked at the effects of natural honey on blood glucose control and markers of cardiovascular health in participants, not a high risk of heart disease.

70 healthy young males in Pakistan were randomly allocated to receive a diet with 70g of honey, and the control group received the same diet but without with honey for four weeks.

LDL cholesterol and triglycerides reduced the natural honey group but increased in the control group.

HDL cholesterol also increased significantly in the natural honey group but not in the control group. Blood sugar levels increased in both groups, but the increase was significantly higher in the control group.

However, another study found that 70g of honey lowered glucose levels in young, healthy males (Rasad 2014).

The effects of honey on blood glucose may depend on overall dietary composition. Furthermore, several studies have found that glucose levels reduce after the consumption of honey (Al-Waili 2013).

However, if you are not at risk for diabetes, then substituting honey for sugar, especially as a baking ingredient, can be useful because of the flavor and health benefits. Just be sure not to, or you will gain weight.

Many studies have demonstrated that honey has potential anti-diabetic effects. However, consuming too much would negate these particular benefits. When shopping for honey, always choose the darker versions like buckwheat and manuka honey.

Raw honey, such as manuka honey, is always best and if you can find locally sourced honey, you are in luck. This will provide you with the freshest, tastiest and healthiest sweetener you can get.

Honey is a healthier alternative to table sugar due to its nutritional composition. Many studies have demonstrated that honey has potential anti-diabetic effects.

However, consuming too much would negate these particular benefits. Studies have shown that honey helps with cardiovascular diseases and reduces the risk of heart disease.

Nutrition plays an essential role in diabetes management and paying attention to your diet can help to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

Aside from honey, other sugar alternatives that can help combat sugar cravings include stevia, saccharin, yacon syrup from the yacon plant, and xylitol.

Xylitol can be a good alternative to table sugar. It has minimal effects on glucose and insulin levels after consumption. Therefore, it is a sweetener that is safe for people with diabetes. Also, xylitol is beneficial for fighting against dental cavities.

It is not entirely calorie-free but does have about 40% fewer calories than table sugar. If you are buying a product containing xylitol, still check the calories content, as the manufactures may put in extra amounts of fat to
improve flavor.

Sources

  1. Othman NH. Does honey have the characteristics of natural cancer vaccine?. J Tradit Complement Med. 2012;2(4):276–283. doi:10.1016/s2225-4110(16)30113-4
  2. Khalil MI, Sulaiman SA. The potential role of honey and its polyphenols in preventing heart diseases: a review. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. ;7(4):315–321.
  3. Al-Waili NS1, Salom K, Butler G, Al Ghamdi AA.. (2011). Honey and microbial infections: a review supporting the use of honey for microbial control.. Journal of Medicinal Food. 14 (10), p1079-96.
  4. Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, Shaffer ML, Duda L, Berlin CM. Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and No Treatment on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality for Coughing Children and Their Parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161(12):1140–1146. doi:10.1001/archpedi.161.12.1140
  5. Al-Waili N. (2001). Therapeutic and prophylactic effects of crude honey on chronic seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff.. European Journal of Medical Research. 6 (7), p1140-6.
  6. Al-Waili N, Salom K, Al-Ghamdi AA. Honey for wound healing, ulcers, and burns; data supporting its use in clinical practice. ScientificWorldJournal. 2011;11:766–787. Published 2011 Apr 5. doi:10.1100/tsw.2011.78

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