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Diet and Nutrition

Honey vs sugar

04/07/2009

Question:

Is honey a better substitute for sugar healthwise. Which one has more calories. Is there a way I can know whether the honey that I am buying is pure?

Answer:

Honey and sugar are both natural, simple carbohydrates. Aside from taste and cost differences (which is personal preference), both give us calories with very little nutrient content and cause blood sugar to rise about the same (having similar glycemic index rankings). Common table sugar, also known as sucrose, is made up of the two sugars glucose and fructose. Honey is made up of a combination of these two sugars too, but also contains a small amount of the sugar galactose. Sugars provide 4 calories for every gram (by weight). So they provide the same number of calories if you were to weigh out equal amounts. However, if you compare one measured tablespoon of each, the honey weighs more. One tablespoon of honey is 64 calories vs. 49 calories from sugar. Because honey is made up of more fructose, which is sweeter to the taste than sucrose, you can use smaller amounts for the sweetness you are looking for.

Even though many people claim that honey is more "nutritious" than sugar, the differences in protein, vitamin and mineral contents are extremely small and do not contribute significant nutrition to a healthy diet. For example, one tablespoon of each provides the following [data from the USDA]: Nutrient Honey Sugar Vitamin C 0.1 mg 0 Riboflavin 0.0008 mg 0.002 mg. Niacin 0.025 mg 0 Vitamin B6 0.014 mg 0 Folate 0.0005 mg 0 Calcium 1 mg 0 Iron 0.09 mg 0 Potassium 11 mg 0 Zinc 0.05 mg 0 Fluoride 1.5 mcg 0.1 mcg Selenium 0.2 mcg 0.1 mcg Protein 0.6 g 0

In addition to enjoying the taste of honey, there is some research showing that honey may serve as a minor antioxidant and contains prebiotics (which can help with the growth of good bacteria in the gut for better digestion).

As for knowing whether honey is pure or not, reading the label should help. If the only ingredient is honey, you should have a pure product. If it contains any additives, including added water, it is not. Shop familiar brands. In my reading, I found agreement that crystallized honey is always pure. One website that has more detailed information that may help you is: http://www.benefits-of-honey.com/pure-honey.html. You can also call the cooperative extension service for some further advice. I hope this is helpful to you.

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Response by:

Jane   Korsberg, MS, RD, LD Jane Korsberg, MS, RD, LD
Senior Instructor of Nutrition
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University