February 26, 2024

 Is Honey Really A Good Sugar Alternative?

Dr. Meenakshi Maruwada

Dr. Meenakshi Maruwada

Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS), GMHE (IIM Bangalore)

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 Is Honey Really A Good Sugar Alternative?
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Key Points

FeatureHoneySugar
OriginNatural sweetener produced by bees from the nectar of flowers.Refined product made from sugarcane or sugar beets.
Nutritional ValueContains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and enzymes.Lacks vitamins and minerals; primarily consists of sucrose.
Caloric ContentHigher in calories per teaspoon due to its water content, but sweeter, so less may be used.Lower in calories per teaspoon, but often more is needed to achieve the same sweetness.
Glycemic Index (GI)Generally lower than sugar, which may have a lesser impact on blood sugar levels.Typically has a higher GI, leading to quicker increases in blood sugar levels.
Flavor ProfileVaried flavors depending on the flowers visited by the bees, can add a distinct taste to foods.Has a neutral sweet taste, providing sweetness without altering flavor significantly.

Honey is considered to be a healthy, nutritious food.

This sweet substance, also sometimes referred to as a ‘pot of gold,’ is produced by bees.

Bees collect nectar from the flowers and excretions of plant-sucking insects to transform them into this sweet, golden honey.

Different types of honey are produced worldwide- with varying flavors, colors, and textures.

In fact, over 300 different types of honey have been found! From desserts to savory and breakfast, honey can be used in many dishes. 

clear glass cup filled with honey
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

Speaking of honey in food, it is a common belief globally that honey is a healthier alternative to sugar. But is that true?

In this article, we’ll help you understand more about this liquid gold and whether it really is a better alternative to sugar.

Honey & Its Chemistry

Before we dive deep into the properties and benefits of honey, it is imperative to understand the chemistry of this substance and its nutritional composition.

Natural honey comprises more than 200 substances, such as amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and enzymes. However, it is primarily composed of sugars.

The principal sugars found in honey are fructose and glucose.

It contains slightly more fructose than glucose, whereas sugar contains 100% sucrose.

Since fructose is sweeter than sucrose, honey is slightly sweeter than sugar.

For this reason, one tends to use little honey to achieve the same sweetness as you would with a relatively greater quantity of sugar.

Besides sugars, honey also contains the following nutrients:

  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorous
  • Potassium
  • Fluoride
  • Folate
  • Choline
  • Amino acids
  • Flavonoids (Antioxidants)

While this list may seem impressive, the quantities of these nutrients are low, and honey cannot be considered a source of these nutrients.

Benefits of Honey

Honey contains several plant compounds with strong antioxidant properties that may protect the body from free radical damage.

It is also said to have strong antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Some existing research states that honey has apoptotic properties, which means it causes the death of cancer cells.

Due to its properties mentioned above, here are some proven benefits of honey

  • Helps in wound healing

Honey is probably one of the oldest wound-healing substances used. Some research supports using honey as a wound healer due to its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Some studies have shown that honey activates the body’s immune system and triggers the production of antibodies. This further supports using honey to treat acute wounds, burns, and leg ulcers.

  • It may have anticancer effects.

Studies have shown that honey has apoptotic, antimutagenic, and anti-inflammatory properties, due to which it may help kill cancer cells and prevent their growth. It may be effective in reducing the spread of several cancers, including cancers of the skin, cervix, endometrium, prostate and bladder. However, more studies are needed to understand honey’s anticancer effects better.

  • It may relieve asthma symptoms.

Honey is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, due to this property, honey has been used to treat inflammation, fever, and cough. Some preliminary evidence shows that honey may prevent symptoms of bronchial asthma and chronic bronchitis. However, further studies are needed to understand more about how honey is beneficial for people with asthma.

  • It may reduce cardiovascular failures.

Honey contains strong antioxidants like polyphenols, flavonoids, monophenolic compounds and vitamin C, which may help lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Besides honey’s antioxidant effect, it is also said to have antithrombotic (prevent clot formation), anti-ischaemic (improve blood circulation to the heart), and vasorelaxant (reduce the blood pressure in the vessels) properties that further help keep the heart and the vascular system healthy and prevent failures. However, more trials are required to be performed on humans to prove these effects of honey conclusively.

  • It may help in managing gastrointestinal (GI) issues

Traditional medicine systems like Ayurveda have been using honey to relieve digestive symptoms like acidity and oral and gum ulcers and as part of oral rehydration therapy. There is, however, limited evidence to prove these benefits. 

Honey and Diabetes

When we think of honey as an alternative to sugar, we often compare the pros and cons of the two substances in people with diabetes.

Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder characterized by a rise in blood sugar levels.

There are two primary types of diabetes- type 1 (juvenile diabetes) and type 2 (diabetes mellitus).

While type 1 has autoimmune origins, type 2 occurs due to an unhealthy lifestyle.

Though honey is high in carbohydrates, just like sugar, it contains more fructose than sucrose.

Sugar, on the other hand, is made up of 100% sucrose.

Fructose is a naturally occurring sweetener with a glycemic index (GI) of 19 (considered low GI) compared to sucrose, which has a glycemic index of 100.

So, fructose does not cause a sudden rise in blood sugar levels like sucrose.

It is interesting to note that some studies on animals have shown that fructose may have blood sugar-lowering properties (hypoglycemic effect).

The exact mechanism of this, however, is unclear. 

Honey’s antioxidant effect also helps fight the oxidative stresses responsible for developing diabetes and other chronic health conditions.

The Verdict: Is Honey a Good Sugar Alternative?

If you are living with diabetes or know someone who does, the search for the best sugar alternative almost feels confusing.

Honey, with its nutrient composition and antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunity-boosting properties, is a good alternative to sugar, even for people with diabetes and other chronic conditions.

If you have diabetes, kidney, or liver conditions, you must always consult with your doctor and nutritionist before replacing sugar with honey or any other sweetener.

At the same time, you must consume a healthy, balanced diet comprising all the essential nutrients.

Have questions for Dr. Maruwada? Write to us at [email protected]

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