The mind-boggling array of honeys on grocery-store shelves today attests to our growing fondness for this fragrant sweetener. All honey is made by bees from the nectar of flowers, which the bees mix with enzymes in their saliva and then deposit into honeycombs made of wax secreted by female worker bees.
But is honey better for you than table sugar? From a nutritional standpoint it is a draw. Honey is about 80% sugar (the rest is mostly water) and usually contains a little more fructose than glucose. Although honey has about 21 calories per teaspoon versus table sugar’s 15, you are likely to use less honey because it is both denser and sweeter than granulated sugar. The exact sweetness, thickness and fructose-to-glucose ratio can vary dramatically depending on the type of honey you buy and how it is processed.
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Just as not all cane sugars are processed in the same way, neither is all honey. Raw, unpasteurized honey contains vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are removed from refined honey; it may also contain pollen, bits of honeycomb and small insect parts. Refined honey has some surprising ingredients as well, and they can be a lot scarier. In some cases, they may not even be honey at all. According to a 2011 investigation by Food Safety News, much of the honey that comes to the U.S. from China (via India) is actually sugar water or other less-expensive sweeteners mixed with just a small amount of actual honey. Even real honey from China may be tainted with lead, exposure to which can cause neurological damage, as well as an FDA-banned antibiotic that Chinese beekeepers used in the last decade to curtail a honeybee epidemic. (Note for parents: children under 1 should never eat honey because it may contain toxins that cause infant botulism.)
So if you love the taste of honey, but want the healthiest variety possible, opt for a raw honey that is harvested locally. Not only will you know where it comes from, but you’ll also get the extra nutrients that are stripped from refined varieties.
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