The Sweet Truth: Is Honey a Healthier Alternative to Sugar?

Long-term excess sugar can cause fatty liver, inflammation, and metabolic disorders, increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Honey is a natural sweetener that humans have used for thousands of years, and many believe it has unique health-promoting properties. So is honey healthier than sugar?

The Composition of Honey

The scientific name of the refined sugar we eat daily is sucrose. Sucrose comprises one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule, containing 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose.

Honey is a syrupy liquid made by bees after they’ve extracted the nectar of plants. It is sweet, tasty, and rich in flavor, is loved by people worldwide, and is used in many foods and recipes.

Honey is 80 percent natural sugars, mainly fructose and glucose. Due to its high fructose content, honey is sweeter than table sugar. Honey also contains 18 percent water; the remaining 2 percent comprises minerals, vitamins, pollen, and protein.

The vitamins found in honey are B6, riboflavin (B2), thiamin (B1), niacin (B3), and pantothenic acid (B5). Minerals found in honey include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc.

Honey is rich in phenolic acids and flavonoids, which are natural antioxidants.  (Shutterstock)

The Health Effects of Honey

Good quality honey is minimally processed, unheated, and contains many nutrient-rich bioactive plant compounds and antioxidants such as flavonoids and phenolic acids. Honey may possess many health benefits related to its antioxidant content and other trace components.

Darker-colored honey tends to have more antioxidants than lighter-colored. Antioxidants help neutralize reactive oxygen species and free radicals in the body. These can build up in cells and cause damage, leading to diseases such as premature aging, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Research on Honey

Some studies suggest that honey may help improve heart health and prevent heart disease.

A 2020 review of 25 research papers found that honey may help lower blood pressure, improve blood lipid levels, regulate heart rate, reduce the size of myocardial infarct area, and prevent cell apoptosis attenuation. All of these factors may improve heart function and health.

An observational study that included more than 4,500 people over 40 years old showed that light-to-moderate intake of honey was associated with a lower prevalence of prehypertension in women. In addition, a study using rats showed that honey helps protect the heart from damage caused by oxidative stress.

In addition, raw honey usually contains propolis, a gelatinous substance formed when bees collect plant sap, pollen, or nectar and mix it with their saliva and beeswax. Propolis can improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

However, long-term human studies have not been conducted on honey and heart health. Therefore, more research is needed to better understand the effects of honey on heart health.

Honey has several other health benefits, such as soothing coughs. The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes honey as a natural cough suppressant. Pharmaceutical-grade manuka honey dressings are used clinically to treat burns and pressure ulcers.

Since honey is still sugar, excessive consumption can have the same adverse effects on health as sugar. However, honey’s trace components of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and active enzymes may help lower blood pressure and improve blood lipids. More long-term studies are needed to confirm this, but it is safe to assume honey may be used as a healthy sweetener in moderation.

One study found that honey helps protect the heart from damage caused by oxidative stress. (Shutterstock)


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