Is Honey better for you than Sugar?

As a parent now, I'm generous with the honey I use when making meals for my family.  Growing up, we always had lots of Honey in our kitchen. On long family road trips, we loved taking in the local horticulture and would bring home honey from local farm stands along our route. 

My mom would slice raw onions and raw garlic in a cup, and fill it to the top with local honey. After letting it sit overnight or sometimes even longer, she would bottle it up and save it for when we had colds/coughs.  I remember vividly I would hold my nose tight to not whiff the teaspoon or two I was given. However gross this might sound, it worked! 

My parents never talked about the benefits of honey, but it was evident by how much we consumed it. Warm 'Avena' (Oat), a traditional Colombian drink my mom would make for breakfast, was a favorite. It is composed of warm stewed oats with milk, cloves, and cinnamon and in our home always had a dollop of honey. Whether in our coffee, tea, dessert, or smoothie, it was a favorite sweetener. 

Recently, I’ve decided to investigate not only the benefits of honey but how it differs from other types of sugars. Both honey and sugar are composed of primary water and both fructose and glucose, but honey contains trace amounts of:

  • Enzymes
  • Amino Acids
  • Vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6
  • Minerals like potassium, calcium, and zinc
  • Antioxidants

The antioxidants found in honey are classified as Flavanoids. These have anti-inflammatory properties that provide health benefits that sugar does not contain. 

Both are also carbohydrate, calorie-dense sweeteners. However, the biggest difference is in how our bodies digest honey compared to sugar. This is due to the composition of enzymes in each of these products. Sucrose (table sugar) passes through the stomach without any digestion happening because of its disaccharide composition (a sugar composed of two monosaccharides). This means that the enzymes in the stomach cannot break down the glucose-fructose structure of table sugar until it reaches the small intestine. Then the liver utilizes a few enzymes to convert the molecules into glucose that can enter the bloodstream for further use. 

Honey is different because of the enzymes that are added to the nectar by bees that divide the sucrose into two simple sugars, fructose, and glucose. These sugars are directly absorbed by our bodies and are easier to digest. Because of this, Honey has a lower GI (Glycemic Index) value than sugar meaning it does not raise blood sugar levels as quickly.  

Bottomline, while honey comes with more calories, carbs, and grams of sugar per serving, it contains nutrients and health properties that table sugar simply doesn’t have. What’s more, it also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that make it a better option when looking for a sweetener for that morning cup of coffee!

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