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Is honey better than sugar?

by Tobias 5 minutes read

Last updated: 11 Oct, 2022

Historically, for most of the world the only solution to add a bit of sweetness into their diet was honey, painfully harvested from a beehive. Since the beginning of the industrial age honey has been almost entirely replaced by sugar, particularly processed granulated sugar. But is this new crop an improvement or is it at least partly responsible for the surge in obesity in the western world.

Today we investigate the differences between sugar and honey and how you can include them in a healthy and balanced diet.

How is honey made?

Honey is made by bees from nectar that they collect from flowers. When the bee extracts the nectar it's mixed with an enzyme in its mouth which changes the nectar into honey. This honey would then normally be used to feed the bees in the hive. Our sweet toothed ancestors discovered this approximately 6,000 years ago and we have been stealing from bees ever since.

How is sugar made?

Sugar was originally made from sugar cane but can also created from sugar beets, sugar beets can be grown in a much cooler environment than sugar canes, which require a hot and humid climate to grow, so have been grown much more prevalently throughout the US where more than half of added sugars come from sugar beets.

The process of creating sugar is fairly similar for both sources, the ingredients are mashed up and boiled and then the resultant sugar syrup is filtered and crystallised into raw sugar. This product is then processed further and mixed with chemicals which attach to impurities in the sugar, this is then filtered further into the pure "table sugar" we all know.

Benefits of Honey

Honey is sweeter than sugar so you can use less at a time although honey does have slightly more calories per teaspoon than the equivalent amount of sugar but as you can use less for the same effect, it is more or less the same.

Honey adds an extra flavour to dishes. Whilst regular white sugar tastes "sweet", Honey can add a distinct taste, depending on the variety of honey that is used, the flavour can vary between floral, burnt sugar, toasted and even woody.

Honey has been used for medicinal reasons going to back all the way to the time of the pharaohs, having been used to treat everything from minor burns and cuts to sore throats, you can continue this tradition yourself by creating these soothing cough drops from a mixture of honey, lemon and ginger tea. Honey has even been shown to include anti-inflammatory properties alongside a myriad of other potential benefits.

Honey has an extremely long shelf life, regardless of the supposed health benefits from honey it will certainly outlive you. In fact, honey that has been excavated from King Tut's tomb would still be edible today, not that we are recommending that!

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Benefits of Sugar

Cost, honey is considerably more expensive than sugar so when it comes to using large quantities of these products, for example for jam and jelly making, then sugar is by far the most effective solution.

Whilst all forms of sugar should be minimised in the diet of a child, there is a risk of honey contain spores that could cause botulism, which can be deadly to babies. For that reason it is recommended that honey should be restricted from the diet of any child under the age of one.

Warning: Do not feed babies honey


Both honey and sugar are carbohydrates, consisting of two types of sugar: Glucose and Fructose. Carbohydrates are very energy dense and contain lots of calories in a fairly small amount. For that reason we suggest to moderate your intake of both honey and sugar otherwise it could lead to medical issues such as weight gain and obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

For diabetics, or those trying to manage their blood sugar levels, there is no real advantage to substituting sugar for honey as both will strongly affect blood sugar levels.

The main benefit to honey, when compared to sugar, is that it contains additional vitamins and minerals that sugar does not. So whilst they both could justifiably be called "empty calories" there are more benefits to eating honey than sugar.

As always, please seek medical advice before making any adjustments to your diet.

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