Should I swap sugar for honey?

June 7, 2024
Should I swap sugar for honey?

As we’re advised to reduce the amount of free sugars in our diet, many people have taken to using honey (or other substitutes, such as agave nectar) instead of sugar. But is this swap better for you, or is honey just sugar in another form? Our nutritionist has the answers…

Whether you’re looking for sweet substitutes, sugar-free baking guides or simply want to find out your recommended daily amounts find all the answers in our sugar hub. Plus, find out the health benefits of manuka honey

How to use honey in cooking

Honey is a popular, versatile sweetener that can be used instead of white cane sugar in baking, sauces and hot drinks. Honey works well in moist, dense, full-flavoured bakes. It is sweeter than sugar, so you’ll need to use less and because honey is liquid, you’ll need less fluid in the recipe too. Honey caramelises quicker than normal sugar and gives a darker finish to your bake.

Honey is most often sold pasteurised, although you can find raw honey, available from local bee-keepers. As a rule, the darker the colour, the stronger the flavour. Honey may solidify at room temperature, but you can remedy this by gently heating the jar in warm water.

For tips on using honey in cooking take a look at our sugar-free baking guide.

Does honey contain more nutrients than sugar?

Honey is a high-carb food made up of fructose (40%), glucose (30%), water and, in its raw form, additional vitamins and minerals as well as enzymes and amino acids – however, the amounts of these are negligible.

Honey is sweeter than table sugar and because it has relatively high levels of fructose, it has a moderate Glycaemic index (GI) of about 55. Some varieties of honey have a lower GI due to variations in fructose levels (the more fructose, the lower the GI). However, honey is still high in calories and when eaten will influence blood sugar levels, causing them to rise.

In its raw form, honey contains amino acids, antioxidants and some micronutrients. However, the honey we buy in the supermarket undergoes a filtration process and is heat-treated to both prevent the sugars from crystallising and kill microbes, including yeasts. This extends the shelf life and makes the honey look more attractive in the jar, but will negatively impact the honey’s beneficial content.

1 tablespoon (20g) honey provides:

  • 58kcal / 246KJ
  • 15.3g carbohydrate
  • 0.1 protein
  • 0g fat

Is honey good for you?

The health benefits of honey depend on its processing as well as the quality of the flowers the bees collected the pollen from. Raw honey is honey that has not been heated, pasteurised, clarified or filtered in any way, and this form typically retains more of the health-promoting nutrients. If you buy commercial honey, opt for darker varieties because these are a rich source of plant compounds, like flavonoids. These compounds have antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties.

What is manuka honey?

Manuka honey is a specific type produced from the nectar of manuka tree flowers. It is high in a chemical called methylglyoxal, which is claimed to be the source of the beneficial antibacterial properties.

Manuka honey comes with a high price tag so be sure you know exactly what you are buying. It has quite a strong flavour and can be stirred into tea and yogurt or spread on your toast. Remember that even manuka honey is a source of concentrated sugar and should be consumed in moderation.

Is honey better for you than sugar?

Honey has a lower GI value than sugar, meaning that it does not raise blood sugar levels as quickly. Honey is sweeter than sugar, so you may need less of it, but it does have slightly more calories per teaspoon so it’s wise to keep a close eye on your portion sizes. For diabetics, or those trying to manage their blood sugar levels, there is no real advantage to substituting sugar for honey as both will ultimately affect blood sugar levels. It’s also worth remembering that like other syrups, honey is classed as ‘free’ sugars – the type we are advised to cut back on.

Try to choose a raw, dark variety to benefit from the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plant compounds. As with all forms of sugar, it’s best eaten in moderation.

Further reading:

How much sugar in a can of cola? 
Are fizzy drinks bad for you?
Are sweeteners bad for you?
Is honey good for you?
Is honey vegan?

A qualified nutritionist (MBANT), Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

Jo Lewin is a registered nutritionist (RNutr) with the Association for Nutrition with a specialism in public health. Follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Do you use honey instead of table sugar? Have you noticed any health benefits? We’d love to hear your thoughts…

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