Common sugars as sucrose are not regarded as healthy and smart food. But what about honey? Honey and refined sugar consist of the same monosaccharides. However, most people think that honey is the better choice. We will see at the end of this article if they are right.
But first we are going into some broad physiology.
What is the problem with sugars?
Common refined sugars belong to the group of carbohydrates and consist of the easily digestable monosaccharides glucose and fructose. They quickly get into the blood flow and lead to a sudden raise in blood glucose levels. The pancreas then excrets the hormone insulin to remove these high amounts of glucose from the blood and transports them to the body cells. Excess blood glucose is brought to the liver and muscles where it is stored as glycogen. But also these tissues are not capable to take endless amounts of glucose. As this glucose must be stored somewhere it is transformed into body fat.
This means, a constantly excess intake of sugar will make us fat!
Another point is the glycemic index of sugar. The glycemic index is a measure for the capability of a substance to increase blood glucose levels. The intake of refined sugar leads to sudden increases of blood glucose levels which also fall again quickly. This fact makes us hungry again quite soon after eating something sugar-rich.
Is honey the better choice?
Honey consists mainly of the same monosaccharides as sucrose does. However, the fructose:glucose-ratio is different. The amount of fructose in honey is much higher than in sucrose. This is an interesting fact:
- The taste of fructose is much sweeter than the taste of glucose. This means that 10g of honey are sweeter than 10g of refined sugar. And what does this tells us? It tells us that we will not need to take as much honey as sugar in our recipes. Though the calory count of honey is slightly higher than in refined sugar, the sweetening agent-driven calory count in the whole recipe will probably be lower.
- Again the glycemic index. Honey is not capable to increase the blood glucose levels as much as refined sugar is. The reson is that honey contains more fructose than glucose while the ration for refined sugar is 1:1.
The healthy aspects of honey
Honey doesn’t affect blood glucose levels as much as refined sugar does. This is an advantage. But there are additional facts that make honey a very attractive choice for sweetening our food:
- Honey consists of more than just monosaccharides. There are multiple substances in honey, e.g. enzymes, some vitamins and veritable polyphenols that act as antioxidants. Antioxidants have beneficial effects to our cardiovascular system and are even thought to prevent cancer development. Other sources of polyphenols are different fruits, vegetables, olive oil and teas.
- Honey contains substances that have antibiotic effects. Honey had been used already long ago for the treatment of skin inflammation and wounds.
- Depending of the nectar source, honey may provide additional taste. Depending on what taste or spice is desired for a particular recipe it might be helpful to use some special honey that supports this taste.
Interestingly there has been a study conducted which aimed at investigating the effects of sucrose, honey and sugar-free diets on weight gain, behaviour and biochemical measures in rats over a period of one year. The outcomes were as follows:
Compared to the sucrose diet the honey diet showed:
- reduced percentage of body fat
- decreased anxiety
- better spacial recognition memory
- improved HDL cholesterol measures
- improved long term blood sugar levels
- reduced oxidative damage
Natural honey versus industrial honey
Of course, we cannot easily start producing our own honey with a beehive. However, when buying honey we should consider that most of the industrial honey products which we find in the supermarkets may have lost lots of their beneficial components. The reason is that through industrial processing the honey is heated for centrifugation. But most health-promoting components cannot resist temperatures above 40°C. Thus, industrial honey is not much better than refined sugar.
Natural honey, in contrast, is not heated during processing and still contains their beneficial components. So, I’d recommend to buy your honey from local beekeepers instead of a supermarket.