It’s been dubbed as a superfood, and often, a healthier alternative to packets of white sugar. But some experts will tell you that when it comes to honey, it’s not the “healthiest” sugar substitute.
“Having said that, they’re both sugar and are processed by the body virtually the same, so both should really be enjoyed in moderation.”
Jessica Tong, a registered dietitian based in Calgary, agrees, and adds honey is sweeter than sugar, so arguably you should be using less.
“Honey is also lower on the glycemic index, meaning that it doesn’t spike your blood sugar as rapidly. However, a teaspoon of honey contains more calories than a teaspoon of sugar,” she explained. “Although honey contains trace vitamins and minerals, the effects in our bodies are likely negligible because of the small amount.”
But this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the sweet stuff from time to time. Sharp recommends trying to limit all added sugars overall (and yes, this includes honey), adding the World Health Organization recommends added sugar should be less than 10 per cent of your total energy intake.
“In other words, in a 2,000 calorie diet, that would be 200 calories or 50 grams of added sugar. One tablespoon of honey has about 17 grams of sugar, and those grams can quickly add up.”
Tong says with added sugar in general, we also need to realize how much of what we eat already has added sugar — including everything from granola bars to sauces to cereal.
“Honey, like all sugar-containing foods, becomes unhealthy when consumed in excess,” she continued.
Shopping for the sweet stuff
Unfortunately, a lot of honey in the market is also cut with cheaper sweeteners like sugar or corn syrup, Sharpe says, so it’s important to know the source of the product.
“You also want to ideally look for honey with the pollen visible, which we know is what carries a lot of the health properties.”
She recommends honey from a farmers’ market where you can speak to the producers to make sure you’re getting a high-quality product. “I also prefer to use raw honey, which means the honey hasn’t been heated or filtered and the pollen is often visible in the jar.”
Tong adds the risk of raw honey is it can contain bacteria that causes botulism, which can lead to weakness or blurred vision.
“Raw honey should not be consumed by babies, infants, pregnant women, or anyone who is immuno-compromised,” she said. “Regular honey, on the other hand, has undergone pasteurization. However, due to this heating process, it does not contain as many health benefits as raw honey.”
When to use it
And if you do prefer using honey over white sugar, Sharp says it works well as a sweetener in drinks and baking because it has more moisture than white sugar.
“For every cup of honey you’re using in baking in place of white sugar, subtract 1/4 cup of the other liquids,” she notes. “Honey does add a lot more flavour, however you may be able to get away with using less in your cooking, baking and drinks.”
Tony says it can be used in salad dressings or marinade as well.
“Again, portion control is key.”