The issue of honey vs sugar is one that comes up often. It’s not surprising, since many people are trying to reduce their sugar intake and are looking for a sugar alternative.
And since most people consider sugar to be -- if not unhealthy -- then at least not particularly good for you, that naturally leads to the question of ‘is honey good for you?’
So let’s examine several head-to-head comparisons of honey versus sugar. Let’s consider nutrients, calories, and the effect that both sugar and honey have upon the body and see if we can come up with a clear winner.
And as you can probably guess given the subject of this website, I’m a bit biased.
But I’ll try to examine and present the evidence analytically and objectively. I promise! (No, my fingers weren’t crossed when I made that promise. How could they have been? I was typing!)
Honey vs Sugar: Nutrients
There’s not much room for debate here. Honey is the clear winner. In fact, it’s not even close. Although honey is used (and thought of) primarily as a sweetener, it’s actually a fairly nutrient-dense food.
If you’d like, you can read more detail about the nutrients in honey, and you’ll see that there’s quite an impressive list of nutrients present in a teaspoon of honey. Things like vitamins, minerals and amino acids that make honey much more than ‘just’ a sweetener.
But what about the nutrients in sugar?
Here’s what you’ll get in a teaspoon of sugar (according to the USDA National Nutritional Database): sucrose (which is sugar) and .001 milligrams of riboflavin.
Umm, Yeah -- not much of a contest nutritionally.
Score so far: Honey 1 – Sugar 0.
Honey vs Sugar: Calories
At first glance, it might appear that sugar holds the edge in this category. Sugar contains 16 calories per teaspoon, and honey contains 22 calories per teaspoon.
But that’s not an accurate comparison, since honey is actually sweeter than sugar. Measure for measure, honey offers considerably more ‘sweetening power’ than sugar.
In fact, when substituting honey for sugar in a recipe (and there are many great reasons to cook or bake with honey), the general recommendation is to use honey at a rate of one-half to two-thirds the amount of sugar it’s replacing.
So let’s do the arithmetic…
Let’s use the high end of the recommendation, and say that two-thirds of a teaspoon of honey contains the equivalent sweetening power of 1 teaspoon of sugar. That means that in real terms, the amount of calories you’ll consume with honey is .66 * 22 = 14.5 calories (slightly rounded). That compares to 16 calories for the sugar.
So if you’re sweetening your recipes (or your coffee, or tea, or whatever) with honey, you’ll actually consume fewer calories than you would using sugar.
Hmm, seems we might have a bit of a rout developing in this contest!
Score: Honey 2 – Sugar 0.
Honey vs Sugar: The Effect Upon the Body
Have you heard of the Glycemic Index?
It’s just a way of measuring the impact that carbohydrate-rich foods have upon the body. The faster a food is absorbed into your bloodstream, the greater the fluctuation of your blood sugar level.
In general, it’s considered that gradual rises in your blood sugar level are better for your health. (Read more about the reasons for that if you wish at this website.)
The way the Glycemic Index works is that it’s a scale from 0 to 100. The higher on the scale a food ranks, the greater the fluctuation it causes in your blood sugar level. So all else being equal, lower on the scale is healthier.
You’re already ahead of me, aren’t you?
That’s right, sugar ranks higher on the Glycemic Index than honey, indicating that it’s less healthy (in this respect, at least) than honey. The difference is due to the molecular structure of the different types of sugars.
Game, set, match – honey!
But is Honey Actually Good For You?
Though honey is ‘better’ than table sugar in several important categories, it’s important to remember that it is primarily a sugar, and it’s a very calorically-dense food.
Honey does offer some very real health benefits. But if you’re a diabetic, or trying to lose weight – or at least not gain it – you’ll want to be careful about the amount of honey you eat.
As with most things, moderation is important.
And though I’ve had a bit of fun with this page, certainly the differences between honey and sugar aren’t really so dramatic that you should instantly stop using sugar and only use honey instead.
If you prefer the taste of sugar in your tea, there’s no reason to switch to honey only because it might be a bit healthier. On the other hand, if you’ve never tried honey in your tea (or in some of your favorite recipes), why not give it a try?