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Is Honey Better Than Sugar?

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
DIfferent types of sugar

Because honey is a natural sweetener and table sugar is refined, it would seem logical that honey is the better option. However, both types of sweeteners are rich in sugar and calories, which might make you wonder if honey is really better than sugar. The answer to that question depends on what you mean by "better."

Calorie and Sugar Content

Believe it or not, honey is actually higher in calories and sugar content than white table sugar. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one tablespoon of granulated sugar contains 48 calories and 13 grams of sugar, and one tablespoon of honey provides 64 calories and 17 grams of sugar. However, a 2012 review published in AYU reports honey is sweeter than sugar, so you'll need less of it.

Additional Nutrients in Honey

Because white sugar is a refined food, it doesn't contain beneficial nutrients other than carbohydrates (from sugar) and energy. Honey, however, does provide small amounts of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, potassium, iron, calcium, phosphorous, and zinc. However, keep in mind these micronutrients found in honey are present in small amounts and don't significantly contribute to your daily nutrient requirements.

Considerations for Digestion

According to the University of Arizona, honey is easier for your body to digest than sugar. This has to do with special enzymes found in honey not present in table sugar, as well as the molecular make-up of honey.

Glycemic Index Comparisons

Honey has a lower glycemic index (GI) than table sugar, meaning it affects your blood sugar less drastically, causing a lower blood sugar spike when you consume it. The University of Arizona reports that while sugar has an average GI of 68, the average GI for honey is 55. Lower GI foods may help reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Health Benefits of Honey

Several studies show honey provides additional health benefits over table sugar. A 2013 review published in Maylaysian Journal of Medical Sciences reports honey is a source of antioxidants, promotes wound healing, and has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antimutagenic, antitumor, and antidiabetic properties. This means honey may help reduce your risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Honey Concerns for Infants

While honey may help you reap several health benefits, it shouldn't be given to infants under one year of age. This is because there are bacteria spores in honey that can cause infant botulism, a foodborne illness that can be very dangerous. A baby's digestive system isn't developed enough to combat toxins formed by such bacteria.

Bottom Line

Honey is slightly higher in total grams of sugar and calories than table sugar. However, honey is sweeter so you may need less of it, it contains more vitamins and minerals than sugar, and appears to provide you with numerous potential health benefits.

Is Honey Better Than Sugar?