Honey has a reputation as a health food. It’s fat-free, cholesterol-free and sodium-free. It has trace amounts of vitamins, trace amounts of phytochemicals and small amounts of minerals (11 mg potassium and small amounts of calcium, fluoride and phosphorus).
One study concluded that honey reduces C-Reative Protein, an inflammation marker, but this has not been duplicated by other studies. Some people claim that honey is a natural antibiotic, but again, the healing properties of honey have not been proven. That said, many people use honey as a cough suppressant and as a treatment for colds or the flu. Except for people with a weakened immune system and for infants who are 12 months old or younger, honey is generally perceived as a natural, beneficial substance. But is it?
It’s useful to consider that honey is 100% a caloric sweetener. One tablespoon of honey, for example, has 64 sugar calories, with no contributing calories from any other type of food. Compare this to one tablespoon of table sugar, which has only 48 calories. Honey is denser, which is why it has more calories than sugar.
Another factor to consider is that honey is predominantly fructose, a type of sugar associated with corn and fruits. The composition is 38% fructose, 31% glucose, 7% maltose as well as other types of sugars. There’s a rumor floating around on the internet that because of the high percentage of fructose, honey more closely resembles HFCS/high fructose corn syrup than a health food. Depending on the HFCS recipe being used, the percentage of fructose in HFCS is between 42%-55%.
In the past, fructose was incorrectly believed to be healthier than glucose. This is because the presence of fructose lowers the glycemic index (GI). Unfortunately, however, the glycemic index doesn’t measure the effect of fructose. We now know that fructose metabolizes differently than glucose. It goes to the liver where it’s converted to triglycerides (fat modules in the blood). It’s suspected that fructose is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic.
Bottom line: a caloric sweetener is a caloric sweetener, and fructose is just as problematic as glucose. The US Food and Drug Administration says “We are not aware of any evidence…that there is a difference in safety” between caloric sweeteners.