There's no shortage of sweeteners on the market today. First, there was sugar, then aspartame, then high-fructose corn syrup, then the swing back toward refined (white) sugar. At the same time, there’s also stevia, raw sugar, coconut sugar, honey, even dates. Making sense of these sweeteners (diet vs regular, honey vs sugar, raw sugar vs refined) can be confusing when so much conflicting information is available.
We chose honey to sweeten our snacks not only because it's tasty, but also because honey comes with a lot of health benefits when compared to refined sugar. Both honey and sugar are relatively high in calories and carbs - in fact, honey has more calories per gram because it's also sweeter than sugar - but the makeup of those calories is what counts.
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Refined sugar is just that: 100% simple carbohydrates from sucrose (50% fructose and 50% glucose). Honey, on the other hand, is made up of approximately 40% fructose and 30% glucose, with the remainder being made up from water, pollen, and other nutrients that refined sugar lacks. That's why honey has these fun bonus health benefits:
Lower Glycemic Index
Because honey is lower in fructose and contains other trace minerals, it's processed and absorbed more slowly by the body than refined sugar. This means longer-lasting energy and slightly less of a spike in blood sugar, which is easier on your body and digestive system. Then, when you combine honey with the healthy fats found in our bars and cookies, you get an even slower release of the sugar in your body.
More Vitamins & Minerals
A serving of honey contains small amounts (around 1% daily value) of Vitamin C, Niacin (Vitamin B3), Folate and Vitamin B5, as well as calcium, potassium, zinc, selenium, iron, and manganese. Sugar offers nada when it comes to extra nutrients!
Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics
Bees themselves have a serious array of beneficial bacteria within their own guts, and these probiotic bacteria can also be found in honey. These may help support lactic acid bacteria found in the human gut, along with various enzymes that may aid in digestion.
We've all heard the advice to drink hot water with honey and lemon for a sore throat or cough, and it turns out there's a good reason. Studies have shown honey can fight a number of strains of bacteria and it also helps draw water out of tissue which can reduce swelling and discomfort if you have a sore throat. Refined sugar, on the other hand, is associated with increased inflammation which can cause infections to proliferate and last longer.
Possible Allergy Benefits
The idea behind using local honey to treat seasonal allergies is similar to the concept of getting allergy shots. By ingesting local honey with pollen from your area, you can help your body become less sensitive to the pollen. While many people report finding relief from using local honey, results of studies on local honey for allergies have been inconclusive. It can't hurt to try, though, especially if it helps ease some of the symptoms.
Honey vs. Sugar: The Bottom Line
While both honey and sugar need to be consumed in moderation, if you're looking for a way to sweeten up a treat or drink (or maybe...a bar or cookie), honey is a clear winner when it comes to a less refined option with added health benefits.