Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
Honey vs. High Fructose Corn Syrup
“Our family finally kicked the sugar addiction,” Katie proudly exclaimed to me.
I was thrilled for her. She had been battling heart disease for years and had finally kicked the habit.
“How did you do it?” I asked.
“Oh, it was easy” she replied. “We now only use raw honey.”
Is raw honey, or even processed honey, really healthier than other forms of sugar? In this article, I share the latest medical science comparing how raw and processed honey stacks up against high fructose corn syrup and regular table sugar.
Should You Eat Natural or Processed Honey?
If you can remember back to 2011 there was a big report and lawsuits claiming that the honey being sold in grocery stores wasn’t really honey at all. The basis of their argument was that most grocery store honey has no detectable pollen, therefore it couldn’t be real honey.
It is true that grocery store honey is highly processed. They remove most or all of the pollen, from the plants the bees had visited, as well as any tiny bee parts, like bee wings, and it is pasteurized. The end result is that the “honey” is sweeter, creamier, and less likely to crystalize.
Raw or natural honey enthusiasts claim that raw honey contains many more nutrients and has more health benefits, especially when it comes to allergy relief and infection treatment, than processed honey. While the medical literature does not support many of these claims, most of the studies promoting possible cardiovascular benefits of honey only included natural honey in their studies.
On the other hand, processed honey, despite being processed, does have some benefits. For example, by removing most or all of the pollen, people are much less likely to have an allergic reaction to this form of “honey.”
Another benefit of processed honey is in the prevention of botulism for children less than one year of age who still have an undeveloped immune system. Also, in some parts of the world, like the Black Sea area, raw honey includes grayanotoxins that the bees pick up from certain plants and flowers which can cause “Mad Honey Disease.” Mad Honey Disease is a condition that can cause an intoxicated like state which also shuts down the heart’s ability to beat correctly.
Possible Benefits of Honey
Since the Stone Age times, Honey has been considered a health food. Honey has also been used by many cultures to treat gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, inflammatory conditions, and even cancer.
For example, there are some small studies which show a role for honey when it comes to preventing heart disease. In one such well-designed small study, natural honey was shown to reduce cholesterol, markers of inflammation (C-reactive protein blood test), and fasting blood glucose in 60 overweight people, ages 20 to 60, who were at high risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Some studies even report a slight weight loss when natural honey is used instead of other forms of sugar.
Honey vs. High Fructose Corn Syrup
Armed with a number of small studies showing that honey may have a beneficial effect when it comes to cholesterol, inflammation, diabetes, weight loss, and heart disease, the honey industry was eager to continue their wining streak by sponsoring the latest study with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In this very rigorously designed study, 60 men and women from North Dakota, ages 20 to 80, were invited to come into the USDA research center.
I should point out that the honey used in this study was Dutch Gold Honey. Dutch Gold Honey is not a natural honey, rather it is processed. As it states on its website, “Dutch Gold Honey generally removes most of the pollen.” Why was Dutch Gold Honey used? Simply because it is the most commonly used honey in the U.S.
In this study, each participant was randomly fed 50 grams of processed honey, high fructose corn syrup, or table sugar, in addition to their usual diet, for 2 weeks. All of these 60 study participants were “on their honor” not to eat any other form of sugar during this study other than what was fed to them at the USDA office in North Dakota.
After the two weeks were up, there was a 2 to 4 week “wash out period” where they did not eat any sugar at all. Once the washout period was up, they were then randomly assigned to 50 grams of processed honey, high fructose corn syrup, or table sugar for another two weeks and the cycle was completed until everyone had rotated through each of the 3 sugar treatment strategies.
What did they find at the end of the study? In contrast to what I presented earlier in this article, processed honey did not beat out the other forms of sugar. In fact, there was no difference at all when it came to body weight, blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol, blood glucose levels, or diabetes among these 3 different forms of sugar.
Plain and simple, processed honey was just as bad for you as high fructose corn syrup or table sugar. Also, table sugar was no healthier for you than high fructose corn syrup. Their conclusion was that sugar was sugar, regardless of its form or source.
Take Home Message
The take home message of this study is that the processed honey you buy in the grocery store is no better for you than the high fructose corn syrup in a bottle of Coca-Cola. Store bought honey is anything but a health food.
For the raw or natural honey enthusiasts, this study doesn’t apply. Many small studies still argue for a potential cardiovascular benefit of natural honey. Unfortunately, the definitive study has not yet been done so we can’t say that raw honey is a health food.
What should you do? If you have a sweet tooth, like me, then natural honey from reputable suppliers for people over the age of one is probably healthier than high fructose corn syrup or table sugar. However, please keep in mind that even raw honey is mostly sugar and should be eaten in limited quantities for a heathy cardiovascular system.
Have you tried raw or natural honey? What has your experience been? Please leave your comments below for our rapidly growing community
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.