It’s time for the ultimate sweetener showdown. Honey versus sugar – which one is better for you, and how do they differ from one another? From their composition to their uses, honey and sugar are as similar as they are different. Let’s take a look at how they compare to each other.
The makeup of honey and table sugar differs, despite both being made of carbohydrates, which technically contain sugar units. Table sugar is a sucrose sugar while honey is shaped by glucose and fructose sugars.
Glucose is the preferred energy source for our bodies and is also called the “blood sugar” since it circulates in our bloodstream. The carbohydrates we consume are processed into glucose in our digestive system for either immediate energy or to be stored for later use.
Fructose, in comparison, is a sugar that is found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. It’s also the sugar added to various beverages such as soda and fruit-flavored drinks. Unlike glucose, this is not the body’s preferred energy source because it has a different metabolic pathway. Fructose behaves more like fat in the body than other carbohydrates, especially in contrast to glucose.
In the process of manufacturing table sugar, the organic acids, protein, nitrogen elements, enzymes and vitamins are destroyed. Since honey is a natural sweetener, it only endures minimal heating during processing resulting in less mineral and vitamin loss. When we eat table sugar our stomach has to use its own enzymes to separate the molecules apart before we can use the sugar’s energy.
Honey bees add a special enzyme to the honey nectar that divides the sucrose into glucose and fructose, which makes it easier for our bodies to digest. Honey also has beneficial antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that table sugar does not possess.
For calories, one tablespoon of table sugar contains 46 calories, while honey rings in at 64 calories for the same amount. Compared to honey, table sugar lacks minerals and vitamins, which is the reason it’s often called empty calories.
Digestion of table sugar doesn’t start until it reaches the small bowel, where the appropriate enzyme is located. The enzyme facilitates the sugar breakdown – also known as digestion – of the sucrose into glucose and fructose. Many doctors have even said that excess consumption of table sugar can lead to various health problems, such as Type 2 diabetes.
Since honey is made up of glucose and fructose molecules, which are not linked thanks to the honey bees, honey doesn’t require enzyme digestion like table sugar. The glucose in honey provides an immediate fuel source.
While sugar may have lower calories and carbohydrates, it typically takes more table sugar to reach the same level of sweetness the natural sugariness honey provides. So if you’re consuming honey, you can use less to reach the same taste result.
For lasting energy, instead of a short burst, honey is the natural winner. With honey’s glucose levels, it means the carbohydrates used for energy will last longer. Table sugar’s composition breakdown of digestion gets released quickly in your bloodstream, which is the fast “sugar rush” we often experience, followed by the infamous crash.
(If you’re looking for long-lasting energy, check out our 14 Energy Bites With Honey.)
One of the biggest differences between table sugar and honey is the taste. Even though they are both sweet, honey has a unique flavor. The range of honey floral varieties is vast and can be very useful in many foods and beverages, especially for cooking or baking.
Table sugar is easily found in daily American diets. The average American consumes hundreds of calories per day from added sugars. Table sugar is commonly found in baked goods, ice cream, sugar-sweetened beverages and candy.
Honey supplies many uses outside of consumption. It can be a great healthy additive and substitution for sugar in food and beverages. Honey can also be used for beauty and health remedies.
In this food fight, if you’re looking for the optimal healthy option, honey is the clear winner for sweeteners.