What is the difference between honey and regular sugar, really?
Honey is often promoted as a healthful alternative to refined sugar. Although white table sugar is a source of empty calories and ultimately poisonous to the body, honey, its proponents say, is much more nutritious and even healing to the body. Since honey can be a good substitute for sugar as both a general sweetener and an ingredient in recipes, this seems like a win-win.
In reality, there is little nutritional difference between honey and refined white sugar. Honey certainly is not different enough from sugar to make any difference to your health.
Honey is a sweet syrup produced from the nectar of flowers by bees, and is meant as a food source for the hive. While table sugar is sucrose, which is half glucose and half fructose, honey is a mixture of glucose, fructose, and a small amount of sucrose.
A typical batch of honey contains around 40% fructose, 35% glucose, and 1 to 2% sucrose. The fructose in honey is sometimes referred to as levulose by the honey industry.
Fructose actually tastes sweeter than glucose. Since honey does contain a bit more fructose than sugar, it tastes sweeter than sugar, so this may mean that you can use less of it. This is one true advantage for honey.
Honey also contains trace amounts of other types of sugars, some minerals, some vitamins, impurities, ash, and beeswax. There are also some enzymes and volatile oils, which give impart much of honey’s unique flavor. These additional components have no real impact on nutrition..or health!
The exact composition of any batch of honey will vary depending on the flowers the bees used to produce the honey.
Examining Honey Nutrition
Let’s examine the nutrients in an average batch of honey, using one tablespoon or 3 teaspoons of honey, a typical amount that might be used to sweeten a beverage such as tea, in place of sugar.
In terms of its micronutrient content, honey contains more minerals than vitamins. It contains only trace amounts of vitamins such as a tiny amount of vitamin C and some trace B vitamins. The vitamin content is so small it is negligible and easily ignored.
Honey does contain calcium. Assuming you need from 1,000 to 1300 mg of calcium a day, however, you’d need to consume 300 tablespoons or almost 19 cups of honey a day to get just a quarter of your daily calcium needs. To get an eighth of your calcium for the day, you need 150 tablespoons of honey, over nine cups. Honey does not impact your calcium status in any meaningful way.
Honey is actually a better source of potassium than calcium. A tablespoon may contain up to 11 mg. There is no agreed upon intake level for potassium but a reasonable estimate is around 1600 to 2000 mg a day. However, to get a quarter of your potassium you’d need about 36 tablespoons of honey. On the other hand, a single tablespoon of orange juice contains about 31 mg of potassium. An 8oz glass has almost 500 mg of potassium. Would you drink an 8 oz glass of honey? Or several?
A tablespoon of yogurt has twice as much potassium.
As for other minerals in honey, there are only paultry amounts.
There is a halo effect associated with “natural” sweeteners like honey, but as far as your body is concerned, there just is no real significant difference between honey and white sugar. Sure, some nutrients are better than no nutrients, but if you consume a whole lot of honey in hopes that its magical nutritional properties will enhance your health, it will be just as if you consumed the same amount of plain sugar.