Honey and sugar are the two most common sweeteners used in America today. Honey is often considered to be the healthier option. Is this true?
Honey and sugar are both carbohydrates, consisting of the two types of sugar: glucose and fructose. Both fructose and glucose are broken down quickly by the body and can cause spikes in blood sugar levels.
Table sugar is sucrose, which is made up of two molecules bonded together. When we eat table sugar, our stomach has to use its own enzymes to separate the molecules apart before we can use the sugar’s energy. Honey is quite different. The bees have added a special enzyme to the nectar that divides the sucrose into glucose and fructose — two simple sugars for our bodies can absorb directly.
The proportions of glucose and fructose in honey and sugar are different:
- sugar is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose
- honey contains 40 percent fructose and 30 percent glucose
The remainder of honey consists of:
- minerals, including magnesium and potassium
- amino acids
These additional components may be responsible for some of the health benefits of honey. Learn more about the benefits of honey here.
Honey is a sweet, viscous food substance produced by bees and some related insects. Bees produce honey from the sugary secretions of plants (floral nectar) or from secretions of other insects (such as honeydew), by regurgitation, enzymatic activity, and water evaporation. Bees store honey in wax structures called honeycombs. The variety of honey produced by honey bees (the genus Apis) is the best-known, due to its worldwide commercial production and human consumption. Honey is collected from wild bee colonies, or from hives of domesticated bees, a practice known as beekeeping.
But honey has slightly more calories than sugar, although it is sweeter, so less may be required. Both sweeteners can lead to weight gain if overused. Also, honey is less processed than sugar as it is usually only pasteurized before use. Raw honey is also edible and contains more antioxidants and enzymes than pasteurized varieties.
Enzymes are biological molecules present in all living things, that serve a purpose of speeding up chemical reactions, like digestion. The following three enzymes are the most commonly found in raw honey: diastase (amylase), invertase, and glucose oxidase.
Diastase speeds up the process of transforming starches into maltose and, ultimately, glucose. With a lack of diastase in your system, you might suffer from partial digestion, which can prohibit your body from extracting all the nutritional value out of consumed food and leave you feeling bloated. As you age, the body begins to slow the natural production of enzymes, therefore the elderly and people who consume a lot of processed foods can greatly benefit from a bump in the amount of diastase in their diet.
Invertase assists in the breakdown of sucrose (table sugar) into its components of glucose and fructose. Invertase is critical to the prevention of toxic fermentation, ulcers, and other digestive diseases by reducing the stomach toxicity by quickly creating pre-digested simple sugars from sucrose which prevents the fermentation process from occurring. Fermentation in your stomach can often result in the fostering of bacteria and disease in the digestive tract.
Glucose oxidase assists in the breakdown of glucose into hydrogen peroxide and gluconolactone. The production of hydrogen peroxide within the body is critical, as hydrogen peroxide is often the first weapon the white blood cells (immune system) in your body will deploy to fight parasite, bacteria, toxins, and viruses.
Raw, unpasteurized honey contains trace amounts of local pollen, which may help desensitize allergic reactions. Honey also provides additional health benefits:
- It may help kill off germs because it has antimicrobial properties.
- When used as a salve in gel form, it may help promote healing in wounds and minor burns.
- It may also help ease coughing and sore throats.
- Alleviates allergies with pollen content.
- Is a strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant
Sugar is the generic name for sweet-tasting, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in food. The various types of sugar are derived from different sources. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose, and galactose. “Table sugar” or “granulated sugar” refers to sucrose, a disaccharide of glucose and fructose. In the body, sucrose is hydrolyzed into fructose and glucose.
Sugar is higher on the glycemic index (GI) than honey, meaning it raises blood sugar levels more quickly. This is due to its higher fructose content, and the absence of trace minerals.
As a carbohydrate, sugar is a potential source of fast fuel. Your brain needs 130 grams of carbohydrate daily to function. This naturally occurring substance is also low in calories, with a teaspoon containing about 16 calories.
Eating too much sugar can increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Sugar is a common ingredient in many processed foods, so you may eat more of it than you realize. This can lead to weight gain and obesity.
Sucrose: It is obtained commercially from sugarcane, sugar beet (beta vulgaris), and other plants and used extensively as a food and a sweetener. Sucrose is derived by crushing and extraction of sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) with water or extraction of the sugar beet (Beta vulgaris) with water, evaporating, and purifying with lime, carbon, and various liquids. Sucrose is also obtainable from sorghum. Sucrose occurs in low percentages in honey and maple syrup.
Sucrose is used as a sweetener in foods and soft drinks, in the manufacture of syrups, in invert sugar, confectionery, preserves and jams, demulcent, pharmaceutical products, and caramel. Sucrose is also a chemical intermediate for detergents, emulsifying agents, and other sucrose derivatives. Sucrose is widespread in seeds, leaves, fruits, flowers and roots of plants, where it functions as an energy store for metabolism and as a carbon source for biosynthesis.
The annual world production of sucrose is in excess of 90 million tons mainly from the juice of sugar cane (20%) and sugar beet (17%). In addition to its use as a sweetener, sucrose is used in food products as a preservative, antioxidant, moisture control agent, stabilizer and thickening agent.
So, as you can see honey is the healthier option because sugar (sucrose) undergoes chemical processing while raw honey is typically only filtered, if that. This provides for a more nourishing and environmentally friendly product for sweetening. Raw honey simply has more micronutrient activity than sugar. And don’t forget, the more honey we collect, the more bees there are out there to make it. Sugar cane does not feed bees and it is always coated in pesticides.