Honey is often marketed as a healthy alternative to regular sugar.
This is mainly due to its numerous health benefits and its antioxidant content.
However, while some claim that honey can be a delicious and nutritious way to help satisfy your sweet tooth, others dismiss it as little more than a high-sugar indulgence.
This article tells you whether honey is good or bad for you.
What is honey?
Honey is a sweet, syrup-like substance that bees produce from the nectar of flowering plants.
The bees collect the nectar and then consume, digest, and regurgitate it inside the beehive to produce honey.
Honey is stored in wax-like structures called honeycombs, which humans gather through the practice of beekeeping.
Many types of honey are available, differing based on the plant source, the extraction method, and whether it’s raw or pasteurized.
Common types include:
- Clover honey
- Avocado honey
- Buckwheat honey
- Blueberry honey
- Sage honey
- Eucalyptus honey
- Orange blossom honey
- Alfalfa honey
Although the nutrition profile varies depending on the type, a single tablespoon (21 grams) of honey typically has 64 calories and 17 grams of carbs with little to no fat, fiber, and protein.
It also contains several micronutrients, such as potassium, iron, and zinc — but less than 1% of the recommended daily intake in trace amounts.
Summary: Honey is a sweet substance made by bees from the nectar of flowering plants. There are many different types, but it’s generally high in calories and carbs with only trace amounts of micronutrients.
Honey is high in antioxidants
High-quality honey is rich in essential antioxidants — such as phenolic acids and flavonoids — that may support better health.
Antioxidants are compounds that help fight disease-causing free radicals, thereby reducing your risk of oxidative cell damage.
These compounds play a central role in health and disease — some research suggests that they may protect against chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
What’s more, several studies have found that eating certain types of honey — such as the buckwheat variety — may increase the antioxidant status of your blood.
Summary: Honey is high in antioxidants — such as phenolic acids and flavonoids — and eating it may increase the antioxidant status of your blood.
Honey may improve heart health
Swapping out regular sugar for high-quality honey in your diet may improve different aspects of heart health, as it has been shown to reduce several risk factors for heart disease.
For example, one 30-day study comparing the effects of table sugar and honey in 55 people found that honey helped decrease levels of total and “bad” LDL cholesterol while increasing “good” HDL cholesterol.
It was also able to lower triglyceride levels by up to 19%.
Additionally, animal studies have found that supplementing with honey may reduce systolic blood pressure (the top number of a reading), another significant risk factor for heart disease.
Summary: Animal and human studies suggest that trading regular sugar for honey may help reduce cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure.
Honey promotes wound healing
In some forms of traditional medicine, such as Ayurveda, honey is applied directly to the skin to aid wound healing.
This is thought to be due to the antibacterial properties of honey and its ability to decrease the growth of microorganisms that could cause infection.
In one small study, applying manuka honey directly to diabetic foot ulcers was as effective as conventional wound dressings and promoted healing in 97% of ulcers.
Similarly, another study in 30 people showed that adding honey to wound dressings enhanced healing in about 43% of diabetic foot ulcers after three months.
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Meanwhile, other research suggests that it may also be a helpful treatment for skin conditions, such as psoriasis, dermatitis, and herpes.
Summary: Honey has antibacterial properties and may aid in healing ulcers and treating skin conditions, such as psoriasis, dermatitis, and herpes.
Honey is better than refined sugar
Though honey is high in sugar and calories, it’s still a better choice than refined sugar.
While refined sugar brings little to the table regarding nutrition, honey provides antioxidants — including phenolic acids and flavonoids.
One study in 48 people with type 2 diabetes showed that though honey increases blood sugar levels, it may not be to the same extent as sugar.
Studies also suggest that using honey instead of table sugar may decrease triglycerides and total and “bad” LDL cholesterol to support your heart health.
However, while honey may be a better option than refined sugar, it should still be consumed in moderation to prevent adverse effects on your health.
Summary: Honey provides several antioxidants, such as phenolic acids and flavonoids. When used in place of sugar, it may not increase your blood sugar levels as much and may help lower cholesterol and triglycerides.
Honey may contribute to weight gain
Honey is high in sugar and calories — packing approximately 64 calories into a single tablespoon (21 grams).
While this may not seem like much, even a few servings per day can cause the calories to stack up.
Over time, this could lead to weight gain — especially if other dietary modifications are not made to account for these extra calories.
Honey is also high in sugar, which is digested rapidly and can cause your blood sugar levels to spike and crash — resulting in increased hunger and potential long-term weight gain.
Moreover, research consistently associates a higher intake of added sugar with a higher risk of weight gain and obesity.
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Summary: Honey is high in calories and sugar and may contribute to weight gain over time.
Honey is high in sugar
Despite the health benefits associated with honey, it’s high in sugar — which can be detrimental to your health.
Studies show that high-sugar diets may be linked to obesity, inflammation, insulin resistance, liver issues, and heart disease.
Excess sugar intake may also be tied to a higher risk of depression, dementia, and even certain types of cancer.
Therefore, the best way to take advantage of the potential benefits linked to honey is to opt for a high-quality brand and use it to replace unhealthy sweeteners, such as high-fructose corn syrup or refined sugar.
Still, moderate your intake and use it sparingly to minimize your risk of side effects on health.
Summary: Honey is a form of sugar that can adversely affect your health when consumed in high amounts.
How to purchase honey
Not all honey is created equal.
Low-quality brands are often mixed with syrup to cut costs and maximize profit.
While it may be slightly more expensive, opting for a high-quality brand of raw honey is a simple and effective way to guarantee you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
Unlike regular honey, raw versions are not pasteurized, filtered, or processed, allowing them to retain their potential natural health-promoting properties.
Moreover, choosing a raw variety ensures that your honey is free of added syrups or extra ingredients that can diminish possible benefits.
Remember that raw honey should never be given to children under one year of age due to the risk of infant botulism, a severe disease caused by toxins from a specific strain of bacteria called Clostridium botulinum.
After the age of one, the digestive system is typically developed enough to fight off potentially harmful toxins and minimize the risk of disease.
Summary: Regular honey is often pasteurized, filtered, processed, and mixed with syrup to cut costs. Selecting raw versions instead is the best way to maximize potential health benefits.
Honey has been linked to health benefits like improved heart health, wound healing, and blood antioxidant status.
However, consuming too much may cause adverse effects due to its high sugar and calorie content.
Thus, it’s best to use honey to replace other forms of sugar and enjoy it in moderation.
Still, if you limit yourself and choose a high-quality product, honey can be part of a healthy, well-rounded diet.