Sugar is public enemy number one right now (well, within the nutrition sphere, at least), which means many people are either looking to cut it from their diet completely or furiously searching for a similarly sweet alternative that isn’t quite so bad for you.
Honey has risen as one candidate that fits the bill. No-one’s going to say that the sugar in honey is any better for you than other forms of the sweet stuff, but if it brings other nutritional benefits to the table, it could claim to be a healthier alternative. To see if that’s the case, we spoke to dietitian Ro Huntriss.
What are the nutritional benefits of honey?
Honey naturally contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can help to prevent damage to the cells in our body, and has been known for its medicinal properties since ancient times. Some experts have suggested that honey exhibits antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and could help to improve gut health due to its prebiotic qualities.
What are the downsides?
Honey is high in sugar and more specifically high in free sugars, which means the sugars that are added to food but also those that are present naturally in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. Consumption of free sugars increases energy (calorie) intake, which could lead to weight gain, and can increase risk of tooth decay. Honey can also raise blood sugar levels, which is an important consideration for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes.
Is honey different to other kinds of sugar? Are there any benefits to switching out white granulated sugar for honey?
Honey offers more potential nutritional benefits than sugar. However, honey still contains sugar and therefore calories, so its consumption could be counterproductive when you’re trying to manage your weight. If your weight is under control and you currently consume sugar, swapping this for a small amount of honey is a viable option – just ensure you are staying within the government’s recommendations of less than 30g of free sugars a day. One tablespoon of honey contains approximately 17g of sugar.
Some nutrition experts recommend manuka honey for its healthy properties. How is it different from other types of honey?
Manuka honey is derived from the manuka bush in New Zealand and its popularity has risen significantly in recent years. It is said to have anti-inflammatory effects, and has also been reported to have a unique antibacterial action which has been likened to the effect of traditional antibiotics. However, more research on this interesting topic is needed.