Is honey healthier than sugar? Many think it is, though it depends on a few factors. Keep reading to learn more about this sweet and sticky favorite.
Figuring out if your honey is healthier than sugar will involve breaking down sugar a little. Honey is one of a huge variety of foods that contain sugar. It comes in many forms with various tastes, textures, and uses, which is why it is one of the favorite ingredients in the United States. Both honey and sugar elevate blood sugar levels quickly, so it’s important to recognize the different forms.
Most of us think of unhealthy, refined sugar when we think of sugar and organic beehives that are full of health benefits when we think of honey. The answer isn’t that simple though. Finding out if your honey is healthier than sugar will depend on a few factors. We also recommend doing a deep dive into sugar to learn more about the sweetener.
Is Honey Healthier Than Sugar?
The only absolute truth about honey and sugar is that too much of either in any form will negatively impact human health. Our western diet is full of added and naturally occurring sugars. Once sugar is extracted from its primary source, it’s considered an added sugar, because it provides additional calories to foods and beverages that don’t already contain them.
The CDC and Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 advise limiting consumption of these sugars to less than 10 percent (preferably less than 5 percent) of our daily calorie intake. This is intended to reduce the risk of obesity and tooth decay, among other negative issues. Science has repeatedly revealed links between high added sugar intake and other disorders, like:
- Fatty liver disease
- Cardiovascular disease
The majority of added sugars have either been heavily processed or are added to heavily processed foods. Raw, refined, white, brown, and other forms of sugar originate as natural sugars in plants. However, they aren’t the same by the time we eat them because they all go through processing. The body metabolizes processed sugars differently from sugars in their natural state. Therefore, how honey is extracted and processed will determine whether it is healthier than sugars of other forms.
Although it’s extracted from natural beehives, that doesn’t necessarily mean your honey is healthier than sugar. Honey can also be heavily processed, added to many foods, and commercialized. How much this sugar is manipulated correlates to honey’s health benefits.
Regular honey undergoes several processing stages, including pasteurization and filtration. Pasteurization involves applying heat to the honey to extend its shelf life by destroying yeast and other microbes. The heat also results in smoother honey, which consumers like. Filtered honey has been filtered to the extent that all or most of the fine particles, pollen grains, air bubbles, and other materials have been removed and the process helps delay crystallization. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Grading Standards for Extracted Honey awards higher grades for honey that has more clarity.
Raw honey is exactly what it sounds like. It is taken directly from the hive and is often cloudier. The silky sweet syrup is simply strained for debris and poured directly into sealed jars. Research persistently links raw honey to antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects. It also appears to help prevent memory disorders.
The Benefits of Natural Sugars
When we eat sugar from its natural sources in healthy whole foods like fruits and vegetables, the natural sugar content is part of a dense nutrient and molecular matrix. The co-presence of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds, like antioxidants, enzymes, and plant chemicals, all influence how our bodies process and absorb sugars. These natural sugars and nutrients in organically grown, plant-based foods are the foundation of the American Healthy Plate recommendations and the vegan food pyramid. These foods are associated with a wealth of positive health effects, including:
- Lower body mass index
- Improved blood pressure/sugar control
- Improved cholesterol levels
- Reduction in the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases
- Lower rates of heart disease and mortality rates
Honey and Sugar Can Be Healthy
Whether honey is healthier than sugar depends on its sources, how it was harvested, and the extent to which it has been processed. Raw honey and sugar in the form of organic, plant-based foods, are both healthy sources of sugar that can play a valuable role in a healthy, balanced diet.
For vegans or anyone following a plant-based diet, consider trying out some vegan honey alternatives, like dandelion honey. Alternatively, if you want to enjoy the benefits and tastes of raw honey, check out the flexitarian diet and how it can benefit the environment and you. We must all align with the planetary health diet that promotes positive outcomes for us and the planet. Where we source our honey and sugar will play a role in that.
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