Is Honey Better Than Sugar?
So you've decided to eat more healthily and cut back on sugar ...but once you have removed the refined sugar from your tea/coffee and started buying unsweetened yoghurt, you are wondering if it is healthy to add some honey into these things instead. Surely it must be better for you - it is "natural" right? ...
A lot of people decide to cut back on their refined sugar consumption in order to improve their health but then end up turning to sugar substitutes such as honey, agave, maple syrup or fruit juice/syrup - however the metabolic effect of all of these things in the body is very similar to refined sugar. Refined sugar is a type of sugar called sucrose which is made up of two types of smaller sugar molecules: glucose and fructose. Sugar substitutes such as honey, maple syrup, agave or coconut nectar are also made up of both glucose and fructose (albeit in slightly different proportions)- and therefore the metabolic effect that they have on the body is pretty similar to refined sugar. Yes it is true that things such as honey may have traces of minerals/vitamins in it - however these are only very small amounts and you are effectively eating a spoon of sugar when you eat a spoon of honey.
Now you may be thinking - so honey and refined sugar are a mix of glucose and fructose but doesn't our body run off glucose? You would be right there - our body does run off glucose - in fact glucose is what carbs including things like rice, quinoa and even veggies break down to. Even protein that we consume will be converted into glucose if we don't have enough glucose around - because our body runs off it (unless you are in a state known as ketosis where your body runs off fat). Yet when it comes to glucose it is much better for our body to get a slow-release form of it - this is where glucose packaged up in high fibre wholegrains, veggies or legumes (that releases slowly into our body) tends to serve our body much better than the glucose packaged up in white bread or a doughnut (that releases quickly into our blood). You may also be thinking - what about the fructose part - isn't that the sugar in fruit? You would be right that fructose is the sugar in fruit - however it is this sugar, when consumed in excess, that can be very harmful for our body. It has a different metabolic pathway to glucose and travels first to our liver to be processed before it can be used by our cells as fuel. Eating an excess of fructose has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, other chronic diseases and metabolic issues... and yet this excess of fructose can come from refined sugar.. but also honey, granola, muesli, maple syrup, agave, fruit juice, fruit yoghurts and coconut nectar. When fructose is packaged up in a piece of whole fruit with lots of fibre, vitamins and minerals - the benefits of eating the food far outweigh the negatives. However, things like fruit juice, cakes made with lots of honey/agave/maple syrup and granola sweetened with lots of honey - should not be considered "health foods".
Lot of people decide to be "healthier" but then find themselves eating foods such as this:
- fruit yoghurts - cereal bars - granola - fruit juice (even freshly squeezed) - desserts made with things like maple syrup or agave - honey and yoghurt - cakes/biscuits sweetened with coconut nectar or agave
.... and yet what they are consuming is LOTS of FRUCTOSE and lots of FREE SUGARS.
FREE-SUGARS are the sugars that are not naturally found in a whole food and include the sugars in cakes, biscuits and chocolate but also the sugars found in honey, maple syrup and fruit juice and the sugars added to processed foods or savoury foods. They do not include the sugars found in whole fruit or unsweetened dairy products. WHO recommends that we eat no more than 6 teaspoons of free-sugars a day.
Does this mean that we should never eat honey or other sweeteners like agave or maple syrup because they are the same as sugar? - NO of course not. Yet if you are choosing honey/agave/maple syrup because you are thinking you are making a "healthy" choice - then perhaps going for something unsweetened or sweetened with a piece of fruit is a better bet.
Does this then mean that we should eat tons of refined sugar because it is the same as honey? NO - it doesn't mean this either. Of course having some sugar is completely fine - it is about figuring out how much sugar you feel comfortable consuming daily, which is a very personal thing.
Now this post is NOT designed to demonise sugar or honey for that matter. The goal is just to provide information that can allow you to make informed decisions about what you put into your body. Often people designing recipe books or new food products are not qualified nutritionists or dieticians and will market foods packed full of "free-sugars" as "health-foods" or "healthy options". When metabolically the effect of these foods is very similar to foods containing refined sugar. These foods can also be quite habit-forming just like refined sugar - our taste buds become accustomed to the sweet taste and so we just want more and more. Of course though - eating some honey or some refined sugar - in amounts that feel good and comfortable for you, is completely fine.
If you would like to rebuild your relationship with sugar (including free-sugars), I have created an online 8-week Sugar Re-Set Programme, that you can find out more about here: www.thefoodtherapyclinic.com/sugar-reset-challenge . This contains practical tools, hypnotherapy recordings, animated videos and lots more to help you to rebuild your relationship with sugar for good.
"Information is power only if you can take action with it. Then, and only then, does it represent knowledge and, consequently, power." - Daniel Burrus