Honey and refined white sugar are, in many respects, very similar.
But they have different calorific values, and are composed of different types of sugar.
Understanding what these differences are can be important for diabetics, and indeed anyone counting their calories and/or watching their sugar intake.
1.1 Honey and Calories
Because honey is 20% water it has less calories or kilojoules than the equivalent amount of sugar. According to nutritionist Catherine Saxleby at food watch.com.au white sugar has 1700kJ/406Cals whereas 100g of honey has 1400kJ/334Cals.
“However few of us eat honey by weight. We’re much more likely to use a teaspoon or tablespoon here and there, so measure for measure, honey has more kilojoules/Calories. That’s because honey is denser and 1 tablespoon weighs 28g, whereas a tablespoon of sugar weighs only 16g.”
So if counting calories is an important part of your health regime, don’t forget that a spoonful of honey has more calories than a spoonful of sugar.
1.2 Honey and Diabetes
Most of the table sugar sold in Australian supermarkets, known as white sugar, is refined from sugar cane juice. But in chemical terms, white sugar is, in fact, a type of complex sugar known as sucrose.
Sucrose, is a complex sugar because in turn, it is actually a combination of two simple sugars – glucose and fructose (other simple sugars include maltose, dextrose, lactose etc)
This is important, because the body needs to break down sucrose into its constituent parts before they can be digested and absorbed.
Honey is like, sucrose, comprised mostly of glucose and fructose.
But whereas white sugar typically breaks down into half glucose and half fructose, most standard honey blends have more glucose than fructose.
Some of the varietal honeys (such as yellow box honey or redgum honey etc) may have higher proportions of fructose.
For diabetics, eating these honeys with a majority of fructose has arguably, lesser health consequences.
Some nutritionists even suggest that it may be OK for diabetics to eat small amounts of high fructose honeys.
However the reality is that both table sugar and honey contain significant amounts of glucose, which is quickly absorbed by the body and both generally not recommended for diabetics.
1.3 Honey and GI
Many diabetics, and others, rely upon the so-called glycaemic index (i.e. GI) ratings to decide what they can safely eat.
GI is essentially an indicator of how readily the human body absorbs particular carbohydrates, and so how quickly they increase natural blood sugar levels.
Ratings less than 55 are generally considered good, and indicate that that particular food or product is relatively safe to consume for diabetics and /or others with blood sugar issues.
The GI index tops out at 100, and surprisingly, table sugar has a GI of only around 60, and only marginally higher than most honeys.
(Quickly digested carbohydrates such as potatoes or white bread have typically higher GI ratings than either sugar or honey)
Unfortunately, there isn’t a single or universally accepted official testing method for determining GI ratings.
So, for example, the University of Sydney’s GI index reports ratings as low as 35 for a yellow box honey with high fructose levels, 58 for a pure honey, and a whopping 78 for an unspecified honey with high glucose levels.
So whilst GI numbers may be useful information for diabetics, they should only form part of the information used to make dietary decisions.