There is one quick change you can make in your diet today which may have positive payoffs for years to come: replacing sugar with honey. The United States of America reached peak cane and corn sugar consumption in 1999 when the average daily consumption was a whopping 111 grams a day. That works out to roughly 423 calories out of 2000 suggested daily for women, and 2500 daily recommended for men. The average has since declined by approximately 15 percent, but there is still much work to do.
Part of the significant hurdle people face as they try to cut back on sugar is that refined sugars are in almost all pre-packaged foods. Companies know that if they increase the sugar, salt and fat contents of their frozen dinners and processed foods, anything will taste more delicious. Humans are pre-programmed to seek out these tastes, which were difficult to find as hunter-gatherers. Today, sugar is one of the cheapest and tastiest food additives out there, and therefore, it’s everywhere.
Sugar Is Part of a Balanced Diet: A Challenging Balance
Sugar, when found in whole foods like fruits and vegetables, is an important food source. Natural glucose is the body’s energy reservoir, powering everything we do. Unlike refined sources of sugar, natural sugars come wrapped up with fibers and various proteins which slow down the digestion process. Refined sugars are digested almost immediately, like a shot directly into the bloodstream, leading to spikes in blood sugar levels, and subsequent valleys. Constant ups and downs in blood glucose levels are a precursor to diabetes.
Common names for refined sugars you may not know about:
Artificial Sweeteners: Know the Risks
Just as the media started to demonize refined sugar (and rightfully so), many Americans were merely reprogrammed to believe that artificial sweeteners like Splenda and Twinrix were better for you. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What are artificial sweeteners’ side effects? First, the body responds to artificial sweeteners much as it does to refined sugar; through increased insulin production. Over time this can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. There is also a suggestion in the research that artificial sweeteners may negatively affect metabolism.
There is much more to learn about the inherent risks of artificial sweeteners, including about increased risk of stroke and effects to insulin levels. However, we have time to explore healthy sources of sugar in a complete and balanced diet.
Healthy Alternatives to Refined Sugar: Whole Foods, and of course, Honey
There are many healthy alternatives to sugar, most notably those found in whole fruits and vegetables. It’s also found in honey. Honey, is a challenging food source to quantify because it contains so many beneficial compounds.
For example, did you know honey actually contains 25 different types of sugars? Raw honey, especially, is chock full of literally hundreds of compounds like macronutrients, micronutrients, enzymes, and prebiotics. The ever-pervasive white table sugar, spooned into our coffee every morning, contains virtually none of these benefits.
The Many Benefits of Honey
What’s the difference when it comes down to sugar versus honey calories? Honey contains more calories than refined white sugar: 23 calories compared to 16 calories found in one teaspoon. However, we should consider the calorie count alongside the many additional nutrients and health benefits of most honey.
1. Weight Management
There is research suggesting that unlike refined sugars which trigger weight gain, honey could help protect against it. According to a 2010 study of honey versus sucrose found that honey had none of the associated issues with obesity and weight gain tied to sucrose.
2. Blood Sugar Management
A study from 2004, which compared the blood sugar influence of honey, dextrose, and sucrose, found honey to be the best regulator of the three.
Honey has a long history of use as an antibacterial agent. Manuka honey in particular, as demonstrated in a study from the University of Wales Institute, has an inhibitory effect on resistant strains of the Staphylococcus bacteria.
What Types of Honey Are Best?
Just like there are different types of sugar, there are also different types of honey. Not all honey was created equal. Mass-produced honey found on most grocery store shelves, while marginally better than refined sugars, is still highly processed. Sourcing local, raw honey is usually a good bet. Without the additional processing, it typically maintains the beneficial nutrients. Better still than raw honey is raw Manuka honey.
Manuka honey, as bees source from the antiseptic Manuka bush grown in New Zealand, is an especially potent antibacterial, killing off more than 250 different bacterial strains in study after study. Read more reasons why Manuka honey is Nothing Short of Magic here.
Sugar, no matter the source, is best enjoyed in moderation. Brown sugar vs. honey sugar, even fruit juices vs. coconut sugars; too much sugar is never a good thing. Just because honey is a notably superior ingredient to all other refined sources of sugar does not mean it’s healthy to pour over every meal. But, when used wisely in moderation honey contains beneficial and complex compounds not found in any other food.