Honey – The Better Sweetener
Beyond artificial sweeteners most people think about only one option when they want to sweeten their coffee or dessert: table sugar. Learning a bit from the Romans provides a healthier alternative.
While Romans were aware of the existence of crystallized sugar – the Roman geographer Strabo described a “reed in India that brings honey without the help of bees” – they preferred honey and used it to sweeten wine (“mulsum”) and added it to cakes (“libum”) as well as various other sweets (“dulcia”).
And right they were: While, just like table sugar, honey mainly consists of two simple carbohydrates, fructose and glucose, and has the same caloric worth, it also comes with added health benefits that table sugar can’t provide.
What Makes Honey Healthy
Honey is created through bees collecting nectar from flowers, which they turn into honey with the help of enzymes in their saliva. These enzymes, together with the minerals and phytonutrients that were in the nectar, have various health benefits that range from clearing infections in wounds to aiding the immune system in the form of antioxidants.
As long as honey is kept in a closed jar and isn’t exposed to moisture, it can be stored for decades, if not centuries. It may crystalize after a while, but this actually can be an indicator for a honey of good quality – some manufacturers will heat honey during production, which keeps it liquid for longer, but this can destroy the enzymes contained in it, making the honey less healthy. In the worst case you might be left with nothing more than sugar that looks like honey.
If your honey has crystallized, all that has to be done to liquify it again is putting the closed jar into warm water for a while – don’t use a microwave, as the same would happen as to industrially heated honey.
Honey and Babies
While its health benefits indeed are numerous, honey should not be fed to children younger than one year, as it can contain botulinum spores, which are bacteria that can cause paralyzation. In older children and adults these spores are destroyed by their more developed digestive systems.
Try It Out
If you are now ready to give it a try, start your experiment with a cup of coffee and roughly the same amount of honey as you would use of sugar, while also keeping an eye on the quality of honey you are using. Beyond being heated, cheaper honeys also sometimes have molasses, corn or sugar syrup added, which deteriorates a honey’s quality further. Usually you find the best and least processed honeys on farmer’s markets, where you can also talk with the producer in person.
To test a freshly bought honey for purity, try the following: At room temperature dip a knife into the jar and let the honey flow down from it. If it does so without breaking into separate drops and forms layers that quickly disappear, your honey should be of high quality.
Keep in mind that honey will taste a bit different than sugar when used as a sweetener. If you want to minimize this effect, stay with lighter colored honeys, as their flavor isn’t as strong as the one found in darker honeys. Generally speaking, the darker a honey is, the stronger its taste.
Picture courtesy of US Department of Agriculture.
Well… It’s still sugar, and I feel like all this bussiness about it having some minor health benefits is just an excuse for the really completely unnecessary habit of consuming any sugar (except a fruit or two now an then). Sugar is really really harmful for weight loss, the liver, psychological health (some doctors would even classify it as a mild drug) and really in any other way.
Honey is certainly better than regular sugar but just remember that whatever kind of sugar or sweetener it is, it is something your body just does not need. I’ve been without sugar for few days now, and I’m actually having small withdrawls. Make foods taste good with good fats or with real low-sugar fruit.
Well, sugar is carbohydrates and especially when you demanding activities like weightlifting or heavy cardio, carbohydrates allows you to perform better.
I was expecting this article to be accompanied by a picture of a woman with relatively little clothing, oh well.
If I always did that, the surprise factor would be lost, wouldn’t it? 😉
One of the most wise ancient greek phrases is “?????? ???????”. It is pronounced “Metron ariston” and can be translated as “Moderation is excellence” or “Moderation is the optimum way”.
The Roman philosopher Plato said, perhaps referring to a Greek source, “modus omnibus in rebu”, translated “everything in moderation”.
We should learn from the wisdom of our forefathers.
I agree but I’d rather have my moderate amount of sugar from vitamin rich fruit than from something that is just or almost just sugar. Also, Plato was a Greek.
Oh yes, of course! My love for the Romans got the better of me and I only looked at Latin texts! How shameful of me!
‘??? ?????? ???????’ is the phrase and it means everything is good in moderation in ancient greek.
Just to let you know 😉
The Greek will never forgive me that! 😉
Great post EC; sugars get a bad rap for some reason, but we have to have glucose. I have always downed a few spoonfulls of honey during my workouts to help keep my energy up; I definitely notice a marked ability to keep my energy up and thus push my max throughout my routine.
Yep, I know a similar effect.
Great post! I always mix honey in with my oats mmmmmmmm 🙂
Perhaps you were Roman in an earlier life! 😉
Also i dont get why people down on sugar and fruits even while losing weight. Ive been doing fine with allot of fruit and honeey so stop giving glucose a bad name people
Sugar is about half glucose and half fructose. Glucose is great, fructose is bad.
Why do you say fructose is bad?
It prevents the brain of seeing that you’re full, so you might want to eat more, it’s very hard for the liver since unlike all other carbs, it must be complitely metabolized in the liver, and it raises LDL-cholesterol. Also once again it’s something your body just doesn’t need. I’m saying yay for glucose so if you want fast carbs for workouts, eat a potato or something. That is if you don’t want to have your heart and liver explode.
Very informative! Thankyou sir 😉
I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me some fruit simply cannot be a substitute of honey or a piece of dark chocolate. In the same way that honey or a piece of d.ch. cannot be a substitute when I feel like having a fruit. As for what is better for us, don’t bet on it. Researches and opinions come and go and change completely through the decades.. So i.m.o. just avoid artificial and overprocessed and eat everything consciously, in other words not compulsively. And by the way, I find honey to be rather filling and not appetite enhancing.
ps. Read recently that in the thirties weight workouts were considered bad for the health from the vast majority of doctors (linked with heart and erection issues).
ps2. Plato was indeed greek, student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle. Born in Athens or nearby, spent most of his life in Athens and some part in southern Italy.
Aris, yes, Plato was of course Greek! What a fauxpas by me! All I can say in my defence is Hèn oîda hóti oudèn oîda. Argh, Greek characters won’t work!
And another yes to weight workouts being considered bad in the 30s – I conincidentally just wrote about it in my obituary for Jack LaLanne.
One problem with honey is that the ph is highly acidic, so those with ulcers or other gastro problems should use table sugar instead.
i love honey(: unfortunately im not very good at moderation and so far today(which is my cheat meal day) ive had like 5 slices of toast with honey and raisins .. haha i went alittle overboard today but nothing i cant fix in a couple days 😉
Heah, it was your cheat day, after all 😉
I have coffee with low fat milk with 2 ts of sugar once in morning and 1 in evening. I have once or rarely twice just black coffee and sugar between morning and evening. I am 224 lbs trying to cut a few pounds. I just cant live without a coffee 😉 Any advice ? Is it too bad ? any alternatives to stay awake doing an IT job ? Is coffee bad for weight loss ?
AFAIK, coffee plays no role in weight loss, it’s only the sugar you use to sweeten it that calories.
As for weight management, it’s always in vs. out:
BTW, being the informal tech support department for my family, I can’t understand how much stress a real full-on IT job must be! 🙂