Is Honey Healthier Than Sugar? Nutritional Facts, GI Index, and Calorie Count

Lauren-Ann

Medical reviewed by Lauren Ann Teeter, CNS, LCSW

Functional & Integrative Approach To Mental Health, Functional Nutrition, Functional & Integrative Medicine, Psychotherapy, Mental Health

 

Do you typically prefer honey or sugar for your perfect cup of coffee? We came across a USDA 2022 report that noted honey consumption soared to a new record in 2021, with 23 to 28 percent production in top states. As a result, most honey is imported from other countries to keep up with increasing demand. 

The US didn’t produce enough honey domestically, causing this issue. Honey has surpassed the expectations of Americans due to its natural and unprocessed nature (1)

But does this study truly justify that honey is better for you than sugar? Does scientific research support the health benefits of honey and sugar? We’ve got you covered. This article will provide an honest and unbiased review of the nutritional profile, GI index, and caloric count of honey and sugar to assist the user in making an informed decision.

Is honey a healthy sweetener?

While sugar and honey are carbohydrates, their healthiness lies in the method used for processing. Sugar undergoes extensive processing before becoming the final product, while honey is typically in its purest form, sourced directly from nature. 

To assess the health factor, let’s break down the amount of sugar in honey and its impact on our health. 

Sugar content in honey

Honey has 80 percent simple sugars, with fructose (40 percent) and glucose (30 percent). The honey has larger moisture levels than table sugar (18 percent). Hence, honey is sweeter than sugar and responsible for imparting energy to individuals. 

Honey digests rapidly due to the enzymes that break down sugars easily, which is lacking in the latter (2). Honey is also beneficial in managing blood sugar levels. Studies published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity found that having honey with meals or snacks can help reduce blood sugar levels compared to the intake of other sugars due to the secretion of insulin and sensitivity (3). 

Nutritional facts of honey

For the 1 tbsp (21 grams) of honey, USDA has given nutritional facts as follows (4):

Is Honey Healthier Than Sugar Nutritional Facts GI Index and Calorie Count 01

In addition to this, honey also contains vitamins, carotenes, folic acids, fatty acids, and amino acids. This table shows that honey’s sweetness is imparted due to the sugars and carbohydrates. 

Benefits of honey 

Numerous benefits show that honey is better than sugar. However, because honey contains high sugar,  the daily amount may vary from what was used initially to evaluate the benefits. 

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Improves reproductive health

Royal Jelly is a well-known form of honey that improves women’s chances of fertility. Research published in the International Journal of Fertility and Sterility concluded that royal jelly stimulates the production of ovarian follicles and steroid hormones that may contribute to fertility after conducting the study on female rats (5). 

Healing of injuries 

Honey contains a crucial antimicrobial component called propolis that aids in wound healing. According to scientific research, propolis accelerates the healing process by stimulating type 1 collagen expression, which helps stop inflammation and block the activity of metalloproteinases in the matrix (6). 

Soothes cough problems 

Honey helps relieve cough problems. It contains antioxidants that slow down throat inflammation and restrict the production of mucus (7). Thus, honey may prevent coughs from occurring. 

Eases digestive problems 

Honey can help in treating gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea (8). A review published by Saeed Samarghandian et.al. found that honey contains essential antioxidants that protect the lining of the stomach and induce healing in cases like gastritis and acid reflux (9). 

Prevents cancer 

Honey may help in preventing cancer, in addition to other lifestyle factors. An article published by Monash University found that eating honey in moderation combined with other treatments can support blocking cancer initiation due to the presence of flavonoids and phenolic compounds (10).

Is honey a healthy substitute for sugar?

Although honey has a higher health value than sugar, it can impact blood sugar levels. One way to assess the nutritional profile of honey and sugar is to analyze the glycemic index, which measures the rise in blood sugar levels caused by a specific food.

Glycemic index of honey (per teaspoon)

The comparative study was conducted on the glycemic index of 1 teaspoon of honey, sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, and corn syrup based on the Glycemic Index report as follows (11):

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Both honey and cane sugar belong to the medium range with GI (60). On the other hand, brown sugar belongs to a higher GI range (70). Corn Syrup belongs to the lowest GI range (15). This tabular data provides a clear picture of how these sweeteners impact blood sugar levels. This can help diabetic individuals to keep a check on their daily sugar intake.

Is it ok to eat honey every day?

Suppose one teaspoon of honey is consumed at moderate levels. In that case, it provides multiple benefits, such as keeping the heart healthy, improving athletic performance, easing digestive problems, managing seasonal allergies, and lastly, keeping skin and hair healthy. 

Diabetic individuals should consume honey after consultation with the healthcare practitioner because it can cause an increase in glycated hemoglobin associated with high blood sugar levels (12). 

Does honey have side effects?

Children under 12 months should not be allowed to consume honey due to the chances of botulism, a severe form of food poisoning that can result from digestive factors (13). Sensitive individuals may be allergic to honey due to the pollen content.

The honey produced from Rhododendron flowers should be avoided due to possible associated health issues like lower blood pressure levels, heart problems, and pain in the chest. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should consume honey at moderate levels after consultation with a doctor. In case you are taking any medications such as antidepressants or steroids, limit the use of honey as it may cause side effects. 

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Is honey better than sugar for weight loss?

It is a matter of fact that sugar is harmful to health. But is honey the same as sugar in terms of calories? While people consider honey a healthier option than white sugar, it is important to avoid the latter as it lacks essential vitamins and minerals necessary for efficient bodily functions.

On the other hand, honey is a simple carbohydrate that contains 55 percent fructose sugar, which can lead to the progression of metabolic diseases like obesity. Studies published in Scientific Reports found that fructose, when consumed even without excess caloric intake, can lead to weight gain due to decreased physical activity. It will not impact cognitive functions (14). These studies suggest that both honey and sugar can have detrimental effects if not consumed moderately. 

Is honey added sugar?

Honey is a natural sweetener but is also considered an added sugar, which may sound unnatural. Even though pure honey is formed from bees and has no sugar content during production, daily intake can add extra sugar to your diet. The rules for how these sugars are listed on honey nutrition labels deal with the complexity. 

The US FDA suggests listing the sugars in pure honey as total sugars instead of added sugars. The symbol “†” next to the daily value indicates a footnote explaining the sugar content in one serving of honey. It also highlights the potential impact on daily sugar intake (15). 

Can the body digest honey?

Honey is mostly comprised of 40 percent fructose, 30 percent glucose, and 17 percent water, along with other sugars, minerals, vitamins, and carbohydrates. Although it is sweeter than regular sugar, it has a similar effect on blood sugar levels. So, how does sugar compare to honey in terms of digestion? 

When we eat honey, the body processes it like any other sugar. Glucose reaches the body cells with the aid of insulin, while the processing of fructose occurs without the need for insulin (16). The digestion of honey is easier than that of white sugar because the bees impart certain enzymes to honey, which allows partial breakdown, leading to faster digestion. The sugar needs to be ingested before breaking down, thus allowing it to digest slowly (17). 

What are the healthiest forms of honey?

There are different varieties of honey, like manuka and clover, but one isn’t necessarily better than another for daily consumption or weight loss. This section will evaluate the weight loss potential of various honey options, considering factors such as calories in a teaspoon of honey.

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How to use honey for optimal benefits

  • Stir the honey in coffee or tea for a sweet flavor 
  • You can pour honey over toast or pancakes as a topping 
  • Mix the honey into your yogurt or oatmeal bowl rather than using sugar.
  • Add honey to salad dressings or marinades.

Foods not to combine with honey

Even though honey provides multiple benefits, certain foods should strictly not be consumed with honey. These include:

Meat and fish 

Avoid consuming honey with foods like meat and fish, as it may lead to gastrointestinal problems. 

Hot milk and water 

When you consume honey with hot milk or water, the nutrients are exhausted, which can be harmful to your health. It is better to avoid consuming honey with tea and coffee.

Ghee 

It should not be taken with ghee, as the nutrient profiles of honey and ghee cross-react, which can cause stomach problems and a severe headache.

In addition, avoid cooking honey because it can disrupt the nutrients and enzymes and reduce its overall quality. 

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Things to consider while buying honey 

There are some key tips that you can consider while buying honey:

Understanding of terminology

Choose raw honey that hasn’t been heated or filtered so it retains more pollen. Labels like “organic honey” or “GMO-free honey” may not guarantee much because bees can’t be controlled to pollinate organic or GMO-free plants. Avoid relying on terms like “pure honey,” as they are only written for the sake of marketing. 

Label reading 

It is always good to be cautious while purchasing honey because it will not always be pure. Some companies mix honey with corn syrup to earn more profits. Even if the label states “Pure Honey,” read the label carefully before you buy the product. 

Identify the origin

Where your honey comes from matters the most, and you should know if the honey comes from a local beekeeper who cares about quality or a business that simply cares about profits. It is good to identify the source of the product as it impacts the taste and smell of the honey due to dependence on plants pollinated by bees. So, do your research.

Select the honey type

Different flowers impart different flavors to honey. It is essential to know the honey grades. Grade A has a dark and strong taste, grade B is intermediate, and grade C is light in color. The honey also varies depending on the consistency, like cream or whipped honey. This can help you select the right one for you. 

Prefer glass jars for storage 

It is best to store honey in glass jars because it won’t affect the taste, unlike some plastic containers that might contain chemicals like BPA. If the honey crystallizes, it can safely be reheated in a glass jar. So, it is better to select a glass jar for honey storage.

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When should you not take honey?

Honey should not be given to infants under 12 months as it can cause a type of food poisoning called botulism. The bacterial spores can multiply and produce a dangerous toxin in a baby’s intestine, so it should be avoided (24).

Is honey inflammatory like sugar?

Honey is a natural sweetener enriched with antioxidants, as well as anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

Is honey in coffee better than sugar?

Honey has a lower glycemic index compared to sugar. Although it increases the sugar content of your drink, honey is a better alternative as it adds sweetness without the addition of any refined sugar.

Is honey bad for fatty liver?

Consuming honey 2 to 6 times a week can be harmful to fatty liver. Studies have shown that honey consumption is linked to lower chances of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). However, eating honey once a day didn’t show any link to NAFLD (25). 

Is honey better for you than stevia?

The glycemic index of honey is higher than that of stevia. However, honey has unique antibacterial properties and more vitamins and minerals, making it a better option for use. On the other hand, stevia can have fillers like maltodextrin or sugar alcohols (26). 

Summary

The increasing popularity of honey over sugar reflects people’s preferences for natural sweeteners. While honey offers multiple benefits, such as improving reproductive health, healing wounds, and cancer prevention, it is crucial to use it in moderation as it can affect blood sugar levels. 

Comparison of honey and sugar shows differences in their nutrition and impact on weight. Understanding the types of honey, its origin, and how to store it effectively helps to make smart choices. Understanding these factors allows one to enjoy honey’s benefits while being mindful of any risks.

How Do You Feel About This Article?

Lauren-Ann

Medical reviewed by Lauren Ann Teeter, CNS, LCSW

Functional & Integrative Approach To Mental Health, Functional Nutrition, Functional & Integrative Medicine, Psychotherapy, Mental Health

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