The Claim: Honey is More Healthful than Sugar
Honey is composed mainly of fructose and glucose, the same ingredients in table sugar (also known as sucrose). Some claim that our bodies respond more favorably to honey than to sugar, but there's little solid evidence for this.
On the glycemic index, which is a measure of how foods affect blood sugar levels, some types of honey cause less of a spike than sucrose, but generally both score about the same. Honey has come out ahead of sucrose in a few short-term studies comparing their effects on blood sugar, insulin levels, and cholesterol. However, the studies are too small and preliminary to tell whether these advantages are real or whether they translate into any lasting impact on people's health.
Another frequently cited advantage of honey is its higher levels of nutrients. Indeed, it does contain a number of vitamins and minerals not found in table sugar, including calcium, potassium, zinc, vitamin C, and niacin. However, the amounts are minuscule. To meet your daily requirement of calcium, for example, you would need 1,000 tablespoons of honey. While antioxidant levels in honey vary depending on the plant source of the bees' nectar, one study found that overall, the antioxidant content of honey is higher than that of white sugar but lower than that of brown sugar. Whether these differences affect our risk of heart disease, cancer, or other conditions is unknown.
As for calories, honey actually has more than sugar -- 64 vs. 49 per tablespoon. But because honey is sweeter, you may need to use less. Some people choose honey over sugar because they believe honey is less processed. In fact, typical store brands are processed with heat and filtration to remove wax, pollen, and other impurities. The alternative is raw honey, which enthusiasts swear is more healthful than processed honey. But here too the evidence is skimpy.
On a less sour note, honey isn't any worse for you than table sugar, and it can be a great addition to many foods and beverages. Just watch your intake as you would with sugar.
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Reprinted from Coffee Is Good for You by Robert J. Davis, PhD, by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2012 by Robert J. Davis, PhD, MPH