Is Honey Just Sugar in Sweet Disguise?
What Sugar is in Honey, and is it bad for you?
Many of us use honey in place of sugar as it carries a healthier connotation than table sugar (and is just as sweet and tasty) - but is it?
Many of us use honey in place of sugar as it carries a healthier connotation than table sugar (and is just as sweet and tasty) - but is it? Everyone loves honey - it’s sweet, it tastes good. But what sugar exactly is in honey? Does this sweetener break down just like table sugar, glucose, and fructose? And does it actually contain healthy minerals? Well, the answer to both is yes - but it gets complicated. In this post we’ll evaluating all of the pros and cons of honey in terms of sugar, as well as going in depth to honey’s health pros and cons.
Let’s take a look!
With the popularity of low-sugar and sugar-free diets (thanks all of the scary research and facts constantly coming out about sugar) many of us - including me - have been searching for sweet AND healthy alternatives to table sugar, and one of those sweet substitutes also gaining popularity is honey.
Honey is a super yummy and flavourful classic sweetener, and it’s OLD - when I mean old, I mean old:
Honey has been a staple sugar since it was first recorded in the country Georgia around some 5,500 years ago, and the pharaohs of Egypt (around 3,000-years-ago) savored honey as a delicacy, and used it as a sacred offering! WOW.🤯
Made with a blend of trace enzymes, minerals, vitamins, amino acids and of course sugar (through a crazy amazing process), honey is a truly unique sweetener - there’s literally nothing like it out there!🍯
When nectar is collected by a bee, that bee will store it in its extra stomach, and while there the nectar will mix with enzymes and pass through regurgitation into another bee's mouth.
This is repeated until the nectar is mostly digested, and then it’s deposited it into honeycomb. The honeybees will then fan this digested nectar, creating a thick and sticky substance; honey!
Amazing right?! But as awesome as it is, what exactly is the sugar in honey, and is it healthy?
Well, honey is quite high in fructose, but it also has some pretty cool health benefits for healthy people if used in the right moderation.
What is the sugar in honey, and is it good for you?
Okay… we know that honey has some pretty cool healthful benefits (more on that in a mo’), but isn’t honey still high in fructose (a hexose sugar found especially in honey and fruit)? Yep.
Although honey is packed with health boosting benefits, it is still HIGH in fructose, with it averaging around 53 percent of its overall content.
One teaspoon of honey has nearly four grams of fructose.
Fructose is seriously dangerous if eaten in excess, leading to health issues like insulin resistance, which is not only an underlying factor of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, but also many cancers, and that is exactly why I even suggest moderating your fruit intake because of the high fructose levels found in 🍎 fruit - but more on that here.
You see, the problem with honey and other high fructose foods and sweeteners is that when you look at them, the sources of the sugar are different, but your body can't fully tell the difference.
Whether it’s white sugar, honey, agave, or corn syrup, they're all processed in a similar way.
The fructose in honey will still metabolize into fat in your liver, and of course eating large amounts may lead to many other negative effects and chronic health issues.
Meaning, if you like to consume large amounts of honey, or large amounts of processed sugary foods and drinks, you’ll possibly be increasing your risk of insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and the list goes on.
Honey is especially bad for people with high insulin levels.
Anyone can find out their fasting insulin level my getting it measured, but you are quite prone to insulin resistance syndrome if you are: overweight, taking drugs for high blood pressure or have either high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, yeast Infections.
But there’s more to consider when looking at honey as a whole. Let’s evaluate.
Not all honey is created equally.
Just because a honey label says "natural" doesn't mean that all kinds of honey are healthy and good to use. Not true.
What I want you to remember is that honey is not always created equal. Some honey can have antibacterial activity that is 100 times stronger than another honey, and processed refined honey will sometimes have zero beneficial properties. ZERO. NIL. NADA. Seriously? No-one likes an empty sugary calorie!
The problem is that the average "Grade A" honey found in a supermarket will likely still be SUPER processed. That is, more than 70% of supermarket honey. Nasty!🤮
To make things even worse, most of it is basically fake honey is smuggled into the country with fake papers, with nearly every one of these "fake" honeys coming from in China.
So, what honey is actually healthy?
However, unprocessed honey has many health benefits - from healing wounds, improving itchy scalp, to acting as a dextromethorphan (an ingredient found in some cough medications for soothing a cough).
This is why, if you buy honey and want the health benefits, you’re going to need to opt for raw, unfiltered honey, because (as usual) you can’t trust the general food market.
With most honeys being highly processed (some containing additives like the dreaded corn syrup), being chemically refined, and having most of the wonderful benefits be stripped or reduced, you have to be really careful. 🛍️
So, let’s talk about how to find the best honey.
Sorry, if you're one of those people who love clear and shiny honey, your honey has definitely had its health benefits stripped from it.
The only way to get a sparkling honey is for the manufacturers to heat the honey by processing, and this excessive heating process destroys honey’s most important natural enzymes, vitamins, and minerals.
If you’re confused about the difference between raw, pure and regular honey, that is totally okay - there are a howl ton of honey labels out there to confuse us! Understanding the differences between these, however, will help you find the healthiest honey so let’s talk a bit more about that.
• Raw Honey –
Looks opaque, comes in liquid or solid form, ranges in color from white, yellow to brown. It sometimes has granules, and is not heated, filtered or pasteurized. It’s composed of bee pollen and bee propolis, is strained and is super nutrient dense.
• Pure Honey –
Made without added additives like corn syrup and artificial flavoring. Does not foam, is thick, soft in texture, doesn't separate into layers, and is sometimes labeled as raspberry or clover honey depending on the plant that the nectar comes from.
• Regular Honey –
Uniform in color and smooth, contains little to no pollen, is pasteurized to kill any present yeast (to stop fermentation), may contain toxins and antibiotics, usually has added high-fructose corn syrup as the main ingredient, and can contain no or just a few nutrients and/or enzymes after pasteurization.
So I think we got this; raw honey is the BEST option.
Now onto the benefits you’ll be getting from honey and then I'll explain what you should do about the sugar content.
Health benefits of honey.
Honey has fantastic anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties because of its phenolic and flavonoid compounds, which has been shown to actually help decrease chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is one of the main causes of chronic diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, diabetes and most amazingly, Alzheimer's. Yep.
Particularly when 🍯 honey is raw form, it offers some really unique health benefits.
For some really cool examples:
Because of honey’s antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidants activities, raw honey has been shown to relieve irritation in your throat, treat wounds, fight infections and help beat skin infections.
When diluted with warm water, raw honey can also improve seborrheic dermatitis (a skin condition that causes scaly patches and red skin, mainly on the scalp).
Yep, honey can reduce allergies.
Furthermore, raw honey has been shown to perhaps reduce allergy symptoms.
When you eat locally grown honey it will contain pollen spores from local plants, allowing a small amount of allergen to enter your system.
Theoretically, this activates the immune system, helping to build a natural immunity against that allergen.
Honey from other areas in the world won’t have any effect here; this only works with local produced honey, because the pollen will be from local plants you may be allergic to.
The research is still new and conflicting, but pretty exciting.
One particular study found that, during birch pollen season, patients who used birch pollen honey had a 60% reduction in allergy symptoms, 70% fewer days with affected by those symptoms, and a 50% decrease in the use of antihistamines, when compared to the non-honey control group.
Pretty cool huh?
The only conflicting fact here is that there was only a small difference between the two honey groups (the people who consumed honey compared with those who consumed birch pollen honey). However, the birch pollen honey group did use fewer antihistamines than the normal honey users.
In any case, raw honey is basically liquid gold.
Depending on the honey, it can contain super-awesome natural antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids (which are a building block of protein), vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, chromium, manganese, selenium, and other nice minerals.
These minerals are really important for many biological processes in your body, and can give you an amazing health boost!
Plus, honeys organic acids are super rich in antioxidant, giving honey a slim acidic pH which is fab for the body. And, antioxidant flavonoid, pinostrobinhelps found in honey, help support healthy enzyme activity.
Don’t you just love lil’health boosts? 💪
Other key nutrients found in honey are nutraceuticals – they’re involved with normalizing metabolic activity which assists in neutralizing free radical activity in the body.
Finally, honey may also help lower the risk for some scary health issues.
• Honey fights Cancer:
Studies have shown that honey may have anticancer effects. According to the journal Pharmacognosy Research, the mechanism by which honey helps reduce the risk for cancer lies in its ability to help hinder cancer cell proliferation, induce apoptosis and inhibit tumor growth. It's been shown to lower the risk for cancer of the skin, cervix, colon, prostate and breast, among others.
• Honey fights Neurologic diseases:
Honey has anxiolytic, antidepressant, anticonvulsant and antinociceptive properties, all of which may be useful in the management of neurologic diseases. Plus, it lowers the amount of biological reactive oxygen species (ROS), which may lead to neurotoxicity and aging.
• Honey Fights Cardiovascular diseases:
The antioxidant properties of honey may help improve coronary vasodilation, reduce blood clotting and inhibit LDL (bad) cholesterol from oxidizing, ultimately lowering your risk for cardiovascular diseases.
So, what should you do about the sugar in honey and having honey in your diet?
Make sure you limit your use of even raw honey to less than one TEASPOON per day.
Check that your honey is not highly processed or not poor quality. If you have high insulin levels, I suggest staying away from all sweeteners - including honey - all together. Any type of sweetener may decrease your insulin sensitivity and worsen your condition.
Be careful to add together the total grams of fructose you’ve consumed in a day - even from fruit - try to stay below 25 grams of total fructose per day.
Due to honey’s health benefits, if you are regular healthy person I actually recommend that you eat a teaspoon of honey twice a week for your health. However, I don’t suggest you use this stuff as a sugar replacement, as if you do it’s most likely you’ll be eating or drinking to much fructose.
To sum up:
Again, if you decide to consume honey, make sure it is unprocessed.
Opt for Manuka honey or Raw honey and consume less than one TEASPOON per day - this also leaves you a little room for a serving of fruit, or some of the fructose found in average foods in a normal diet.
If you’re looking for another alternative, your best bet will be getting your sweet fix from your daily servings of fruit, or using a pure natural stevia.
Stevia is the best sweetener out there - Sweetleaf stevia vanilla crème sweetdrops is my favourite type (no, this isn’t sponsored, just my opinion). It has no bitter aftertaste, and because stevia is way sweetener than normal sugar, it only requires a few drops to sweeten whatever you’re eating/drinking (because it tastes so sweet it should be used in moderation too, to avoid sugar cravings).
Let’s talk about sugar.
We’re living in a world in surrounded by sugar-packed foods and drinks - I mean, the average American is consuming THREE times the recommended of 25 grams of fructose per day.
But you’re working to make the difference.
I think that it’s really great that you’re here taking steps to balance your sugar consumption. 🍭 Just by reading this article you’re proving to big food manufactures and companies that we do care about what we eat and the impact it makes on our bodies and environment.
My sugar addiction.
I suffered from a sugar addiction that literally crippled my health.
Because of my bad dieting and sugar binging, I had problems ranging from bad skin to body pains.
When I first made the effort to break that addiction, one of the replacements I tried was honey. I used it in everything, not knowing that in fact I wasn’t helping my health at all. Like many people, I thought that honey was simply a sweet health food that carried none of the effects of sugar.
Because of this, I was baffled when I’d still get cravings and health issues.
It was only later on when I really began researching everything on my diet, nutrition and sugar intake, that I found out what my honey consumption (and that of a few other sugar alternatives) was really doing to me
They were still taking a sugary toll on my body and feeding my sugar obsession, which I’m proud to say I’ve now conquered.
My sugar addiction 🧁 inspired me to want to raise awareness and create a supportive health community - I one I needed when I was going through what I went through.
It’s perfectly doable to crush your sugar cravings for good - I’ve been there, done that - and I’m not special.
If you have trouble with balancing your sugar intake, because of your sugar cravings or sugar obsession, it’s alright - you’re not alone.
To get you started on getting your sugar freedom back, I have actually created an awesome help guide on cutting back sugar cravings for good.
Check out my FREE ‘Ultimate Guide to Crushing Your Sugar Cravings’ Downloadable Guide.
Get my ‘essential’ steps to help you crush that frustrating and annoying sugar craving once and for all. This guide + worksheets will allow you to learn exactly how to live with a positive and not overly restricted sugar balanced diet.
What do YOU think?
Are you going to moderate your honey intake? Do you experience sugar cravings? WHY are you looking for an alternate sweetener? If you decide to let honey remain in your diet, will locally grown, organic, and raw become important when you buy this sweetener?
Let me know in the comments or over at my Instagram @itsisabellem.
Bye for now! 👋
p.s. As you probably know by now, I’m a bit of a fact geek, so I just had to share this crazy bee fun fact with you before you go!
Did you know that it takes around 60,000 bees, traveling together for around 55,000 miles, heading to and visiting around 2 million flowers, just to gather the amount of nectar needed to make one pound of honey? That's a lot of bees! 🐝