By Marsha N. Woolery, Healthy Eating & Diet
Have you ever stopped to think if the body cares about its source of energy? Mmmmmm. Then, why is there so much controversy about which is better?
Sugar (sucrose) is a carbohydrate source that is a product of plants using the energy from the sun to make food, a process known as photosynthesis. Sugar is found in large quantities in sugarcane and beets, hence, sugarcane is the main source of sugar used in the household or in manufacturing. Sugar is made up of the simple sugars, glucose and fructose, and one teaspoon of sugar provides about 16 kilocalories of energy.
Honey is a natural sweetener or sugar made by honeybees using the nectar from flowers. Honey is made up of glucose and fructose also, but the fructose content is higher in honey, which makes it sweeter than sugar from sugarcane. One teaspoon of honey provides 20 to 22 kilocalories of energy.
The calorie difference in sugar and honey is as a result of the fact that honey weighs more than sugar. One teaspoon of honey weighs more than one teaspoon of sugar. It is, therefore, important to know that when honey is being used as a sweetening agent, less should be used to get the same sweetness as sugar. The flavour of the honey depends on the flower from which the bees got the nectar, whereas the flavour of the sugar does not vary.
Honey and sugar contain similar types of minerals such as iron, potassium and calcium, but are not good sources as compared to other foods items in the Caribbean food groups. Beef, dark-green leafy vegetables and dried peas and beans are high in iron; fruits, peas, beans, nuts, vegetables and ground provisions are high in potassium; and the calcium-rich foods are cow's milk or fortified soy or almond milk, dark-green leafy vegetables and the small bones in sardines and mackerel.
In order to get the day's supply of iron from honey, a person would have to drink about 40 cups of honey in one day. It would, therefore, be in one's best interest to use sugar or honey for its caloric content and not as a means of getting the above-mentioned minerals.
Honey should not be given to infants (babies under 12 months old) because honey may contain endospores of a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum, which may be harmful to the undeveloped immune systems of infants. These bacteria that cause infant botulism usually thrive in soil and dust; however, they can also contaminate certain foods, honey in particular. Infant botulism can cause muscle weakness, with signs like poor sucking, a weak cry, constipation, an overall decreased muscle tone (floppiness), droopy eyelids, respiratory arrest, expressionless face, drooling or swallowing difficulty.
Sugar, on the other hand, can be added in small quantities after the child is six months old.
Excess sugar or honey in the diet is stored as fat in the body and causes obesity, which increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Whether sugar or honey, the end product is the same, to provide glucose, which is the main energy source for the body. Sugar and honey should be used in moderation to maintain good health.
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: firstname.lastname@example.org