Is honey better for you than sugar?



Both honey and sugar add sweetness to meals and snacks. However, they have different tastes, textures, and nutritional profiles.

This article explores the benefits and disadvantages of both honey and sugar for health and diet.


Honey and sugar are both carbohydrates, consisting of the two types of sugar: glucose and fructose.

Refined fructose, which is found in sweeteners, is metabolized by the liver and has been associated with:

Both fructose and glucose are broken down quickly by the body and can cause spikes in blood sugar levels.

The proportions of glucose and fructose in honey and sugar are different:

  • sugar is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose
  • honey contains 40 percent fructose and 30 percent glucose

The remainder of honey consists of:

These additional components may be responsible for some of the health benefits of honey.

Sugar is higher on the glycemic index (GI) than honey, meaning it raises blood sugar levels more quickly. This is due to its higher fructose content, and the absence of trace minerals.

But honey has slightly more calories than sugar, although it is sweeter, so less may be required. Both sweeteners can lead to weight gain if overused.

More nutrients and less processed than sugar

Honey varies in its nutritional composition based on the origin of the nectar used to make it. In general, it contains trace amounts of local pollen along with other substances, such as:

Some research indicates that dark honey has more antioxidants than light honey.

Also, honey is less processed than sugar as it is usually only pasteurized before use. Raw honey is also edible and contains more antioxidants and enzymes than pasteurized varieties.

Cough suppressant

Some research suggests that honey is a natural way to ease a cough in children.

2007 study found that children with bronchitis who were given dark honey experienced greater symptom relief than those taking a placebo. However, the benefits were small.

More recent research suggests that honey is better than no treatment at all for a cough, although some medications provide greater symptom relief.

Allergy relief

Anecdotal reports indicate that locally-produced honey may help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms. However, clinical studies have not demonstrated this consistently.

One study published in 2011, found that people with birch pollen allergy, who took birch pollen honey, experienced:

  • a 60 percent reduction in symptoms
  • 70 percent fewer days with severe symptoms
  • twice as many days without symptoms

They were also able to reduce their antihistamine intake by 50 percent compared to the control group.

These benefits may have been compounded by honey’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Also, one treatment for allergies is to desensitize the body to reactions by repeatedly introducing small amounts of allergens. In line with this, local honey may contain traces of the pollens that cause seasonal allergies.

Topical use

Honey has shown benefits when applied topically, as it has antimicrobial properties:

  • Wound healingResearch suggests that honey offers considerable benefits in the natural and safe treatment of chronic wounds, ulcers, and burns.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: Raw honey was found to markedly improve seborrheic dermatitis, which is an itchy and flaky scalp condition. Weekly application of honey also reduced hair loss associated with the condition and prevented relapses among study participants.

Easier to digest

High calorie count

Risk of infant botulism

It is not safe to give honey to infants younger than 12 months. Honey’s bacterial spores can cause infant botulism, a rare but potentially life-threatening disease.

The spores that cause botulism in infants are harmless in older children and adults. Symptoms of infant botulism include:

Impact on blood sugar and risk of illness

Lower in calories than honey

Low-cost and long shelf life

Higher on the glycemic index than honey

Increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes

More problems for the liver

Cavities

Changes in gut bacteria

More difficult to digest than honey

  • As previously said, sugar does not contain the enzymes that honey does, so is more difficult to digest.

  • Which is best?

  • It is possible to consume too much of both honey and sugar. The risks of overconsumption are the same for both, as well. The main concerns are:

    • weight gain
    • increased risk of illness
    • blood sugar peaks and crashes
    • increased risk of tooth decay

    Therefore, both products should be used in moderation or not at all. While honey does have some health benefits, they are mostly observed when used in response to specific issues, such as a cough or allergies, or when used topically, which does not affect blood sugar levels.

    If opting for honey over sugar, choose dark, raw varieties, which contain more nutrients, enzymes, and antioxidants.

Cutting down

  • The American Heart Association (AHA) suggest that women consume no more than 100 calories a day from sugar (approximately 6 teaspoons) and men have no more than 150 calories per day (9 teaspoons).

    It is important to note these amounts take into account sugars already added to processed and pre-packaged foods, as well as all types of sugars, including honey and syrups.

    Tips for cutting down on sugar and honey intake include:

    • Cut portions in half: Use a half spoon of honey or sugar in drinks and on cereals instead of a full spoon.
    • Reduce sugar in baking by one-third: This reduces intake without having a big impact on flavor or texture.
    • Use extracts or sweet spices: Extracts such as almond or vanilla can provide a sweet flavor to smoothies or baked goods without increasing sugar intake. Gingercinnamon, and nutmeg are examples of sweet spices that can add sweetness without calories.
    • Substitute unsweetened applesauce or mashed banana: These natural fruit purees can be substituted for sugar in equal amounts in baking and other recipes.
    • Satisfy sweet cravings with fruit: Fresh berries, bananasmango, and other fruits can satisfy a sweet tooth without the need to turn to sugar. Fruit canned in water is also a good choice. Avoid fruit canned in syrup.

    Alternative sweeteners are not recommended to reduce sugar intake. These are known as non-nutritive sweeteners.

    Examples include aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. Though the FDA reports these sweeteners are safe to use, recent research reveals they can:

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