Honey vs Sugar – Is Honey Better?
The two most common sweetener choices available to you today are honey and sugar. Of the two, honey is typically seen as the more healthy option, but many aren’t sure if that is actually the case. We’ll compare the benefits and drawbacks of both so you can draw your own conclusion.
Before we dive into each sweetener, remember that honey is still a sugar. However, it is important to know where honey comes from and how it is made. So if you haven’t read our post on “How is Honey Made” take a few minutes and read it now – we’ll wait for you.
Ok so you know how honey is made, let’s get into some more details. Honey is made of 18%-20% water, and the rest is roughly equal parts fructose(39%) and glucose(31%). Honey also contains 180 other compounds (which we’ll discuss in more detail) including vitamin, minerals and antioxidants. Sugar is 100% sucrose which is a compound made up of equal parts glucose and fructose. Your body must breakdown sucrose into the two simple sugars – glucose and fructose in order to use it.
From a caloric standpoint, honey has 22 calories per teaspoon versus sugars 16 calories. However, honey is sweeter than sugar so you may use less of it to achieve the same sweetness. It is difficult to eat more then a tablespoon or two of straight honey before the sweetness is too much.
As mentioned above honey is equal parts glucose and fructose along with other compounds including:
- 18 Amino Acids
- 6 Vitamins
- 12 Minerals
- 18 Antioxidants (bioflavonoids)
- 5 Enzymes
- 17 Trace Elements
In order to capitalize on the benefits of honey it must be raw. Much of the honey in stores sees high heat (145F or higher) during bottling to prevent crystallization on the shelf. This heating process drastically reduces the benefits of these compounds. Raw honey has not been heated above 110F and maintains all of the wellness benefits of honey taken directly from the comb.
The addition of these components makes honey more similar to a fruit then table sugar. These powerful antioxidants and the anti-inflammatory nature of honey are benefits not found in sugar. Antioxidants prohibit the oxidation of other molecules in our body. Oxidation causes free radicals which can damage cells and lead to illness and disease. By ingesting antioxidants we help bolster our defense against this damage.
Another beneficial aspect of honey is that it provides the most rapid source of liver glycogen. Glucose is the brains chosen source of energy. The liver will use glucose to create liver glycogen which is important because it is the primary reserve fuel for the brain. As your brain runs out of fuel it can induce metabolic stress which releases stress hormones into your blood stream like Cortisol. These stress hormones can negatively impact sleep, cause hunger, slow metabolism and increase insulin resistance.
We also should touch on honey and its impact on blood sugar levels. This is a bit of a slippery slope as there are supporters on both sides of the issue. And we should also clarify we are not doctors, hence the reason we sell honey and hive products! There is evidence that honey has a slightly lower glycemic index and is metabolized differently then sugar. Studies are also out there that show a decrease in blood sugar when consuming honey in controlled quantities. Here are a links to check out if you’re interested and would like to investigate:
Effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients: an 8-week randomized clinical trial. Bahrami, et al. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. November 2009, Vol. 60, No. 7 , Pages 618-626
The Honey Revolution. Written by Dr. Ron Fessenden, MD, MPH. We have read this book and find it all quite informative regarding honey and its benefits. There is a complete section devoted to honey and diabetics.
Honey – A Novel Antidiabetic Agent.Erejuwa, O. O., Sulaiman, S. A., & Wahab, M. S. A. (2012). International Journal of Biological Sciences, 8(6), 913–934.
In this area of discussion we can’t add much anecdotal evidence as we don’t suffer from diabetes nor do we know any diabetic on a honey regimen. We are often approached by people and told that while they cannot consume sugar for medical reasons, they do ingest honey without issue.
Drawbacks of Honey
Again, honey is still sugar and should be treated as such. Meaning try your best to limit its consumption as you would any sugar or carbohydrate for that matter. Though we have listed many great benefits, this doesn’t mean you can eat a cup a day without the same consequences of eating excess sugar.
Honey can be messy. It is thick, sticky and must be cleaned up as opposed to just wiped from a surface. It is also a favorite of those tiny house ants, so if you leave a sticky mess on the counter during the summer, expect some visitors. There are ways around this messy aspect though. One option is creamed honey. This is honey that has been crystallized on purpose to provide a creamy spreadable treat. Creamed honey is still pure honey, it just had a very small crystal introduced into it to promote fine crystal growth and a smooth peanut butter like texture. It’s great for biscuits, sandwiches, cheese plates, etc. Creamed honey is also nice if you have kids. It makes honey eating a lot cleaner.
Another option is a dispenser that doesn’t drip and allows controlled honey delivery like a honey pump. We use these to provide samples to customers at markets and its how we dispense honey in our home. They are easy, quick and clean. Lastly, if you use a honey jar or pot and have a problem with ants you can set it in a dish or bowl of water. Ants won’t cross the water to get to it.
The only other drawback to honey is the fact that it will eventually crystallize. This does not mean the honey has gone bad however. All that you need to do is set you honey jar is a pot or bowl full of hot water from the tap and let it sit. You may need to change the water a few times but eventually the honey will liquefy. The optimal temperature at which honey crystallizes is 55˚F. So store honey either in a warm area of your home or even in the freezer if you don’t mind it being stiff.
Benefits of sugar
Sugar is highly refined so it does not have any additional nutritional benefits over providing a source of carbohydrates. Even sugar in the raw or turbinado sugar which maintain some of their original molasses contain only traces of calcium, potassium and iron. Its slightly lower calorie content and long shelf life are the only other benefits one could glean from sugar.
Drawbacks of Sugar
The biggest drawback of sugar is that it is highly refined which takes what little benefit there may have been and removes it. Sugar can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, fatty liver disease, and high cholesterol. It has no health or wellness benefits and has a higher glycemic index than honey. And last but not least it is addictive.
While we love honey bees and teaching people about them and their positive impact on their community we don’t advocate that people consume large amounts of honey as a sweetener. If we could convince people to give up all refined sugar and take merely a few teaspoons a day of honey for the wellness benefits we would do it in a heartbeat. Sugar is bad for you and honey in any quantity more than a tablespoon or two a day isn’t beneficial. With that being said, it is hard to completely remove sugar or sweeteners from your diet. However, instead of reaching for that highly refined, zero nutritive benefit sugar, capitalize on the beneficial compounds in honey whenever possible. There is no time like the present to make a change. Hide your sugar and try using only honey as your sweetener for a few days or a week. Or make little changes like buying unsweetened yogurt and using honey to sweeten it instead. Give it a try!