There’s always a lot of hype around honey as a “natural sweetener” and its “health properties”, so with Rosh Hashana coming – which is practically a celebration of honey- let’s take a closer look at this sweetener.
Honey as a sugar substitute
Honey is often used in “healthy” recipes as a “better for you” or “unrefined” sugar substitute. Truthfully, honey is not a “sugar free” sweetener. It is made up of glucose and fructose (along with small amounts of maltose and sucrose), and does have an affect on blood sugar levels. Glycemic Index (GI) is the measurement of how quickly food raises blood sugar after eating, and generally the higher a food’s GI, the faster it raises blood sugar levels. Honey’s GI is an average of 61 (it varies on where it’s from and what it’s made from). In comparison, table sugar is an average of 65. So, not that different. In one study comparing honey to sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), all 3 had similar impact on blood sugar levels, lipid metabolism, inflammation and increased triglyceride levels.
If you prefer the taste and texture honey gives to baked food, go for the swap! When substituting honey for sugar in a recipe, use 3/4 cup honey for each cup, and cut down on all other liquids by 2 tablespoons. Additionally, lower the baking temperature by 25 ℉.
*Important consideration; while honey is a pasteurized food, that is only to make it last longer and be shelf stable. It still may contain botulism, and shouldn’t be given to children under age 1- that includes in baked food.
Honey as complementary medicine & prebiotic
Honey is often touted as a natural miracle healer. It does appear to have antimicrobial activity that is similar to antibiotics against certain bacteria (1) and prevents food spoilage and inhibits specific food-borne pathogens (2). While honey has been demonstrated as having anti-inflammatory capabilities, it kind of depends on what caused the inflammation; for example, there is inconclusive evidence whether honey reduces inflammation caused from smoking (3). There is evidence that it is effective for healing wounds, burns and ulcers, and sterilizing infection, by stimulating tissue growth and minimizing scar formation (4).
Prebiotic foods are those that feed the beneficial bacteria in our gut. (There’s loads of ongoing research on the overall health affects from these bacteria). The fructose and phytochemicals in honey act as a prebiotic by enhancing bifidobacteria in the gut. These prebiotics are also why honey has a laxative effect for those with fructose malabsorption, and is avoided when doing the FODMAP elimination stage.
Honey as an antioxidant
You’ve probably seen loads of varieties of honey- buckwheat, clover, acacia… Basically, these names just tell us which flowers were pollinated to make the honey. The flower variety influences the colour, flavour, and antioxidant level of the honey, resulting in over 300 honey varieties! Generally, the darker the honey, the more antioxidant content. Honey has small amounts of many minerals (calcium, iron and potassium among others), which is a cool bonus when eating something so tasty!
What do you think? Is honey part of your usual intake, or relegated to once a year? Let me know below!