They're often advertised as healthier swaps. But is it true?
If you're looking to satisfy your sweet tooth without consuming loads of refined sugar, you might be tempted to turn to honey or maple syrup, often touted for being naturally sweeter than refined sugar and thus a seemingly more nutritious choice. But are they actually healthier options? Let’s look at the facts.
White sugar is made up of two different kinds of sugars: fructose and glucose. Our bodies break down glucose and use it as fuel, and whatever doesn't get broken down is stored as fat. At roughly 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose, our bodies break down white sugar very quickly, which explains the “sugar high” you experience after enjoying something sweet—and the crash that occurs later on.
Honey is primarily composed of water, fructose, and glucose, with trace amounts of about 20 other sugars, starchy fibers, and flavonoids. This is why honey tastes sweeter—and why you can use less of it and have something taste just as sweet.
Honey contains more fructose than glucose, requiring our bodies to use more energy (and therefore burn more calories) to convert it into glucose to make it a useable energy source. The trace elements of fibers and flavonoids also give it a slight nutritional edge over regular old table sugar.
Pure maple syrup (the kind tapped from a tree) is an even better option, because it undergoes less processing than refined sugars. It also contains antioxidants and minerals like zinc and potassium, and has a lower glycemic index than refined sugars, meaning it won’t lead to spikes of blood sugar that can give you the jitters.
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All sugars, refined or natural, should be consumed in moderation, but honey and maple syrup at least contain some slight nutritional value, so while they're still sugar, they are a better choice from a health perspective.