Is honey better than sugar? A dietitian shares why she loves its health benefits—and her favorite ways to use it
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As a dietitian, I’m often asked if honey is healthier than other sugars and other added sweeteners.
The answer? Honey and sugar are both carbohydrates, consisting of the two types of sugar: Glucose and fructose, both of which are broken down quickly by the body and can cause spikes in blood sugar levels.
Overeating added sugars, including honey, can pose other health risks. Sugars have been linked to multiple health problems, including obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and cognitive issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
But in my opinion, the upside of choosing honey as your sweetener of choice is that it contains certain health properties other sugars don’t have. The USDA and HHS guidelines recommend eating less than 10% of your total daily calories in added sugars.
Benefits of honey
Honey has a lower GI value than sugar, meaning that it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels as quickly. It’s also sweeter than sugar, so you may need less of it, but it does have slightly more calories per teaspoon, so I always keep a close eye on portion sizes.
According to a 2018 study, honey can contain trace amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, like potassium, calcium, zinc and vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6.
Most recently, a 2021 review found that when honey was given for upper respiratory infections, certain symptoms — including cough frequency and cough severity — improved compared to usual care.
Using honey can also help to heal wounds, burns, and other topical conditions, according to the peer-reviewed book, “Honey Analysis: New Advances and Challenges.”
How to shop for honey
Do not purchase honey that is blended with other Honey from other countries (BC Editor)
There are three main types of honey you can purchase:
- Regular honeyis the one you’ll typically find in most grocery stores, sometimes in a bear-shaped bottle. It has been pasteurized, which allows for a long shelf life and helps prevent crystallization.
- Raw honeycomes straight from the beehive and isn’t pasteurized. Because it doesn’t go through pasteurization, the beneficial compounds in honey are preserved in the final product. You may not be able to find raw honey in every grocery store, so if you’re buying it online or at a farmer’s market, you’ll want to do research and make sure it’s from a reputable source.
- Manuka honeyis produced from flowers of the Manuka tree, which is native to New Zealand. It has similar compounds as raw honey, but what makes it unique is that it contains high levels of properties that can promote antibacterial activity.
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