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Valentines, is your love sweeter than honey?

10 ways honey is sweeter (better) than sugar

Valentine's Day is a time for expressing love with heart shaped sugar. You may be wondering how bad some of this sugar may be, or if there's a healthier version of this sweet stuff. This matters whether or not you have diabetes, or are trying to lose weight.

However, you may be more concerned if you or your loved one are a few pounds overweight, facing diabetes, or other diseases. You may have wondered whose idea was it to make chocolate the thermometer for romance? If chocolate sales are any indication, Valentine's Day is full of love!

A sweeter (better) way of expressing your love

Chocolates, wine, and an assortment of candy appear to be the most common gift options for Valentine's Day. And diamonds, of course. But this has been a major reason why some people no longer "celebrate" Valentine's Day. They would rather celebrate love the whole year long, and skip the chocolate altogether.

You may be able to celebrate with healthier alternatives, such as honey. Have you considered honey? Is your love sweeter than honey? If your love is sweeter than honey, you may have found a match.

Art and literature are full of expressions of love and honey, including the Bible:

“How sweet are your words to my taste,

sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

Psalm 119:103

A (scientific) spoonful of honey

There's poetry, and then there's science. The poetry sounds better, because science can be more nuanced. Both are equally instructive.

The fact that refined sugar is almost 100% sucrose, and very small amounts of other components compared to honey, makes honey an important sweetener, with almost 80% simple sugars from the total chemical composition (35–40% fructose and 30–35% glucose).

Honey may stimulate the pancreatic beta cells to secrete insulin, which benefits people with diabetes. Fructose is known to stimulate glucokinase in liver cells, which plays an important role in the uptake and storage of glucose as glycogen by the liver, and protecting the liver. The amount of fructose in honey is very important for its hypoglycemic effects.

The effects of honey on control of sugar, and on diabetes is full of controversy due to a lack of rigorous scientific research. You'll see ferocious arguments from both sides, but at the end of the day, if you have diabetes, talk to your doctor about using honey in place of sugar. The missing research that also matters will answer the question: What about the long term benefits of honey on diabetes? This is important because diabetes is about more than just sugar.

When a person has diabetes, they have difficult-to-control sugar that is causing excessive inflammation and oxidation. This inflammation is what sparks heart attacks and strokes. People who reverse diabetes do so by focusing their efforts on reducing excessive inflammation, and the good news is that healthy nutrition is the main strategy.

Honey will fight for you

Honey protects and heals you, which is why honey is a mother's favorite remedy for a child she loves. The antimicrobial properties of honey are so powerful, that honey is used for treating burns and wounds. Honey helps wounds heal faster, and honey reduces life threatening infections when used for severe burns, or diabetic foot ulcers. This benefit is observed with natural (unheated) or "raw" honey.

Honey is good for your heart, as it is known to reduce "bad" cholesterol and increase "good" cholesterol. It has been observed to reduce CRP (C-reactive protein), a blood test that detects inflammation. When consumed by people with diabetes, honey has been observed in studies to stabilize weight, and even cause some weight loss.

Honey is good for your brain. Honey has been shown to increase memory and brain functions in dementia and menopause, and honey supplementation has also been shown to reduce the onset of dementia.

I certainly don't want to cause the people with diabetes to go crazy here with unrestricted honey, but whoever told you "stay away from all sweets" was being a little harsh. Some sweets are quite beneficial, and absolutely essential to brain function and a healthy gut microbiome, which is now emerging as central to good health.

Are all sweets the same?

Have you ever suspected that raspberries may be healthier than raspberry macarons?

There are misleading marketing terms tossed around to make certain foods more appealing. However, not all sugar is the same. "Low sugar" does not mean "healthier" nor safer to consume, and the terms "natural", "organic", or "sugar- free" may be telling only part of the story, as taste may be embellished with other ingredients. There may be no actual raspberries in the macarons after all.

Classifying all sweets under the term "sugar" may be the main barrier to understanding that not all sugar is evil. We must be more specific. When we lump sugars under one category, we seem to suggest that sugar from raw cane sugar is the same as white processed sugar or the same as brown sugar, and that fermented grain sugar (such vodka or beer) is the same as fermented cactus sugar (such as tequila), or that fruit sugar (such as apples and grapes) is the same as fermented sugar from fruit (such as wine), and the same as sugar from honey? These sugars differ in amounts of processing, and nutrition content. Do these details matter? You bet!

Let's consider grapes, which are found in grape juice as well as wine. Grapes that are fermented into (alcohol) wine may injure the liver, making grape juice a safer option for people concerned about their liver.

The long term safety of non fermented sugar alcohols such as xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, lactitol, isomalt and erythritol "remains to be defined", which means experts haven't decided whether or not they are safe. These alcohol sugars purportedly have established themselves as acceptable for use in diabetes, however they alter the gut microbiome and may cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as flatulence and diarrhea. More research is needed. Although they are desirable for their inability to cause cavities (because your mouth bacteria is unable to use them as food), the FDA warned against possible toxicity with overdoses.

While it's true some sugar alcohols are found in healthy fruits and vegetables, consider that some of the vegetables with the highest levels of natural mannitol are cauliflower and celery, not known for being particularly sweet due to the low content of mannitol in comparison to the amounts found in chewing gum or low calorie soft drinks.

Does this matter if you do not have diabetes? Are there any reasons to consider replacing white sugar? While white table sugar is problematic in many ways, one aspect that gets very little attention is actually what it lacks in content. Due to processing, white table sugar is stripped of the benefits you find in fruit and honey.

Which sugars are safer?

Patients often ask me this question. With so many sugar alternatives on the market today, this question becomes relevant. The other equally important question is: can these alternatives harm me? Consider "diet" soft drinks, which contain aspartame, an artificial sweetener which may cause weight gain, and may also worsen the blood sugar in some people with diabetes. This is the main reason why soft drink consumers tend to be overweight, and remain overweight.

The American Diabetes Association refers to so called non-nutritive sugar and nutritive sugar substitutes. The distinction is key. The sugar substitutes found in pastel pink (Sweet 'n Low), yellow (Splenda), and blue (Equal) packets are considered non-nutritive. That means they offer your body absolutely zero nutrition, in addition to zero calories. Nutrition may prove to be more than counting calories, however. Good nutrition is providing your body with the key ingredients so it can function properly and optimally. Every loving bite should be loaded with nutrition.

In contrast to non-nutritive sweeteners, honey has strong antioxidant and antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, due to the high ellagic, phenolic, flavonoids and polyphenol content. Honey is packed with the nutrition your body needs, consisting of over 200 natural chemicals which enhance the gut microbiome. A well supported and healthy gut microbiome is a pillar of good health. The question has been raised as to whether the non-nutritive sweeteners are causing harm to the gut microbiome, increasing hunger, and causing metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Some non-nutritive sugar replacements, such as Stevia, may be involved and implicated in alterations of the gut microbiome, which may have serious downstream consequences.

Is there an ideal sugar?

There are various! Remember that no matter how ideal, the high rate of obesity and other lifestyle related illnesses stems from an excessive consumption of sugars. These health problems are easily avoided when healthier sugars are selected, and consumed in moderation.

As you can imagine, some raw (unprocessed) plant sugars, such as the kind you find in a bite of raw fruit, raw nuts, and other raw plants are healthier. Equally ideal is the sugar found in honey. So what's so lovable about these sugars?

The main difference between natural sugars found in plants and honey is that they are loaded with over 200 nutritious chemicals that you would never find in white table sugar and other processed sugars. Once it undergoes processing and bleaching, white table sugar's main problem becomes the overwhelming absence of nutrition aside from the one single isolated chemical called sucrose. Plant and honey sugars, on the other hand, offer anticancer, anti-diabetes, antimicrobial, anti-oxidants, anti-inflammation benefits! Who doesn't want a sugar that loves you so much?

What are the ten ways honey is sweeter (better) than sugar?

  1. Antioxidant

  2. Anti-inflammation

  3. Antimicrobial

  4. Anti-diabetes

  5. Anti-cancer

  6. Anti-stroke

  7. Anti-heart attack

  8. Contains over 200 chemicals, including vitamins, minerals, proteins and other complex sugars, as well as polyphenols, ellagic and other organic acids, and flavonoids (and more!)

  9. Positive benefits on weight, and cholesterol (and more!)

  10. Enhances gut microbiome

There isn't a more ideal sugar than honey. Honey is likened to the sweetest love because in addition to actually tasting provocatively, honey's benefits to the body are truly one of a kind. Like true love.

Happy Valentine's Day!

If you need to improve your diabetes care, schedule a consultation with Dr. Long.

Disclaimer: The information here is educational. Nothing on this website represents medical advice, nor replaces it. All health related concerns should be discussed with your personal physician.

About Dr. Marta Long, M.D.

Dr. Marta Long, MD, a Board Certified Internist based in Irvine, California, specializes in complex medical cases and provides attentive, and exceptional holistic internal medicine concierge house calls throughout Orange County.

Dr. Long is Yale-educated and trained, has hospital privileges at Hoag Hospital and Mission Hospital, and has been in practice since 2006. Read more about Dr. Long's house call concierge practice at

Serving Irvine, Tustin, Newport Beach, Santa Ana, Rancho Santa Margarita, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Aliso Viejo, Newport Coast, Costa Mesa, and the surroundings areas.

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