You may have noticed that buzzwords like ‘superfood’, ‘antioxidant’ and ‘free radicals’ seem to be having a surge of use right now. It can be annoyingly trendy to hear these terms thrown around haphazardly, and you probably want to know what foods are genuinely beneficial and nutrient-rich, and which ones are just full of hype. Some claim that honey is a superfood, while others say it is no healthier than refined sugar. Does it actually offer the myriad of health benefits that its proponents tout, or is it basically just white sugar in disguise? To answer these questions and determine if honey should have a place in your diet, we’ve compiled the benefits, and dangers, of this sweet and natural ingredient.
What Exactly is Honey?
You might be surprised to learn that honey has been historically used by cultures around the world for both its nutritional and medicinal benefits. It’s true that honey is high in fructose, which could be concerning for those with insulin resistance, diabetes, or other metabolic conditions, although it is far less damaging than regular sugar.
While there’s no arguing that honey contains sugar, it also contains an impressive amount of nutrients and health-promoting compounds that make it a far better choice than refined sugar and most other sugar substitutes.
What Exactly is Refined Sugar?
On the flip side, refined sugar (often referred to as white or table sugar), has zero health benefits, meaning no vitamins, minerals or other nutrients whatsoever. This sort of sugar is mainly sucrose, which the body breaks down into fructose and glucose after it is consumed. Sucrose is made in a lab and usually derived from cane or beet sugar, and is put through a refining process that involves crystallization and bleaching.
A diet high in refined sugar can make you fat. This has to do with the body’s primary fat storage hormones, cortisol and insulin, which are directly affected by sugar consumption. Multiple studies have linked refined sugar to being the leading cause of obesity in the SAD (Standard American Diet).
Also, unlike honey, which offers at least some nutritional benefit, sugar is an anti-nutrient. This means that not only does it offer no health benefits, but it actually depletes your nutrient stores because you use up more nutrients processing sugar than it provides.
Health Benefits of Honey
Simply put, honey is not just sugar and by quick comparison, offers far more nutritional benefits than its refined sugar counterpart.
High in antioxidants
There’s that buzzword; but it’s popular for a reason. Antioxidants fight free radical damage in the body, which is linked to serious diseases such as cancer. Studies show that honey is high in phenols, enzymes, and flavonoids that work to fight free radical damage and prevent the onset of degenerative diseases.
Supports heart health
Those same antioxidants also work to support healthy blood pressure. High blood sugar is linked to a higher risk for heart disease , as are high triglycerides and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. One study of diabetic patients showed that using honey as an alternative to white sugar could help lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels in the blood by up to 11%.
Honey is also a potent anti-microbial and anti-bacterial agent, and has been used historically to treat infections. Studies show that honey is most effective at healing infections related to partial thickness burns and to surgery, while medical grade honey is commonly used by Naturopathic Doctors and other healthcare practitioners to treat eczema, psoriasis, herpes, and diabetic foot ulcers.
Makes a great sugar substitute
Honey is one of, if not the best alternative to white sugar. It raises blood sugar levels far less as it provides nutrients and fiber that help to mitigate the body’s insulin response. Like any form of sugar, natural or not, honey should still be used in moderation.
While honey might not be a miracle food, it certainly is far better than refined sugar. Not only does it offer some excellent nutritional benefits, but it can also act medicinally in treating certain conditions. It still should be consumed in moderation due to its insulin spiking effects, but it by no means reeks the same havoc that refined sugar does on the body.