Honey or sugar: Which is better?

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Dr. Sylvester Ikhisemojie

Honey has in recent years convinced many people that it is potentially less harmful and more nutritious than sugar. That belief may be lacking in any objective comparison but certain facts are now known to science which we shall try to address here today. Honey is higher in fructose than glucose but it has less of both compounds than sugar. While being so, it has more calories than sugar. Some people therefore derisively say that sugar is well, sugar and honey being mostly sugar, is not necessarily safer to consume than sugar itself. Such people are dead wrong; and some comparative reasons will show why that may be the case in the following paragraphs. However, honey is considered by many people as the world’s oldest sweetener and you are likely to hear the phrase; “as sweet as honey” fairly often. The health benefits of honey have therefore been written about for many centuries. And even the ancient philosopher, Aristotle wrote about its many nutritional and medicinal benefits.

While honey is noted mainly as a natural product, many people have also dismissed sugar as a man-made, artificial product. On this same page about a year ago, we explored reasons why sugar is a deadly condiment.

The process of manufacturing sugar involves processes that serve to remove many of its healthy components such as the proteins, vitamins and organic elements. Honey is able to preserve all of these and more because the bees which produce it simply put together so many different components that make it so unique. As far as the body is concerned, there is no difference between honey and sugar. Both of them contain glucose and fructose. In sugar, both these components are bonded together as a compound known as sucrose, while they are actually separate in honey in their individual form. Refined fructose found in both food additives and increasingly also in sweeteners are metabolised in the liver and associated with obesity and fatty liver as previously discussed on this page about two years ago.

Consequently, honey does become quite an amazing natural product containing energy-producing substances such as glucose and fructose but also many minerals like Chlorine, Potassium, Phosphate, Sulphur and Iron. None of these additional properties are found in sugar. Honey also contains Choline, an important component of cellular membrane growth which our body is unable to produce on its own. Honey is also believed to contain some poisons because of the nature of its accumulation but those potentially harmful substances become useful products when they are mixed with many other components that make honey the unique product that it is. While the specific composition of any specimen of honey will vary from one place to the other depending on where it has been compounded, certain vitamins are also found in most types and these are vitamins B1; B2; B3; B5; B6 and Ascorbic acid, which is vitamin C.

In the end, both honey and sugar are sweeteners. The sweeter party is the fructose, and that is why it is commonly placed in the processed foods that we consume. However, it is less easily convertible to energy than glucose. As a result of this particular quality, foods that contain fructose are easier to convert to fat than glucose. So that if weight loss is your desire for choosing honey, it may actually be counterproductive as the fructose in it and which is of a higher percentage than glucose ends up more as fat than energy. The result is weight gain. However, such weight gain is unlikely to result from the use of honey because the amount of honey added to food or beverages is usually much less than the amount of sugar that can be added to these foods. In other words, the same level of sweetness is achievable with less honey with the result that less calories will ultimately be gained.

In the end, sugar is made up only of glucose and fructose. Honey, on the other hand contains more fructose than you have in sugar but less glucose in addition to many beneficial components that have antibiotic properties and antioxidant qualities. Such latter properties are not found at all in sugar. As said earlier, the larger proportion of fructose found in honey makes it sweeter than sugar so that less of it is necessary to sweeten a beverage. One teaspoon of honey contains 22 calories which dramatically rises to 64 calories in one tablespoon. A teaspoon of sugar, on the other hand, contains 16 calories which also rises to 49 calories per tablespoon. Honey has a glycemic index that is less than that of sugar, which means its ability to cause a spike in the blood sugar level is less than what sugar is able to do. It is more slowly absorbed into the system and is therefore of a better benefit to diabetics.

The result is that while honey has found many uses outside of food and drinks, sugar is found only in them. Honey today is used in the treatment of coughs, sore throat, in the dressing of wounds due to burns and other injuries essentially because of its antibiotic properties and its ability to deodorise wounds. It takes away some of the unpleasant smell found in fetid wounds and protects them from further attack by micro-organisms. In addition, it contains certain growth factors that serve to promote wound healing. Sugar, on the other hand is unable to do any of these.

Besides, sugar must be swallowed or eaten before the body is able to digest it but that is not necessarily true of honey which usually has enzymes added to it by the bees. This makes the components easier to digest because they are already partially broken down.

Despite these advantages, it is potentially injurious to give honey to infants who are less than one year old. Honey has bacterial spores because it is minimally heated in the harvesting stage thus largely leaving the various bacteria intact. These bacterial spores can cause infant botulism, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition. Those same spores are harmless in children older than one year and also in adults. Some of these features are constipation; a weak cry and generalised weakness.

Finally, it must be emphasised that even though honey has a much less potential than sugar for raising blood sugar, it eventually would do the same thing but at a slower pace. Too much of it can just like sugar cause undue weight gain, heart disease and diabetes.

Ask the doctor

Dear doctor, Please I have a 16-year-old daughter with very irregular menstrual cycles. In May this year, her period just stopped flowing and didn’t return until August. I took her to our family doctor who thought she could have a hormonal problem and requested some blood tests as well as a scan test for us. The scan did not reveal anything was wrong with my daughter and despite medications she was given Primolut-N, the problem has returned. What are we to do now please? 0803xxxxxxx

Well, in a teenager as young as your daughter, the periods can fail to come as expected based on the age at which she first started to menstruate, her weight and other factors like an ovarian cyst. However, you have indicated that an ultrasound scan has been done which was not really able to demonstrate any abnormality. Consequently, I would advise that you to take her to see a gynaecologist who would examine her further and determine what the next step ought to be or whether in fact, you should stop worrying yourself and simply give her time to be able to regulate the periods naturally. This problem may not even require any treatment.

Dear doctor, please I am having a lump in my breast which was confirmed by my husband. Consequently, I was asked by my office doctor to go for a mammogram and the result came back with a lot of terminology that is not clear to me and which the doctor has not clearly explained to me. I am 51 years old and very concerned. What is the meaning of the following sir? Thank you very much for your help. Mammography. Technique: Digital mammography of both breasts has been performed using low radiation dose. Two standard views (mediolateral oblique and craniocaudal) were done for both breasts Findings: Both breasts are symmetrical in size and show the heterogenous fibroglandular breast pattern. There is an area of asymmetric density in the UOQ of the right breast. A fairly oval shaped macrocalcification is seen in the LIQ of the left breast. Two other calcifications are seen adjacent to it. A focal punctuate microcalcification is aso seen within the same quadrant. A fairly oval shaped intermediate density mass is seen in the UOQ of the left breast. No architectural distortion, suspicious calcifications, skin thickening or nipple retraction seen. The left axilla shows benign looking lymph nodes. Impression:1. Asymmetric density in the UOQ of the right breast. 2. Macrocalcifications in the LIQ of the left breast. 3. Oval shaped intermediate density mass in the UOQ of the left breast : imtramammary lymph node. 4. Left reactive axillary lymphadenopathy. Conclusion: Final BIRADS Assessment is category 0 (Inconclusive) Recommend sonomammography for further evaluation. [email protected]

There is nothing to fear. The term BIRADS stands for Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System which does not really concern you. That is because it represents a technical communication between the radiologist reporting the image that he saw and your doctor. It is an attempt to code with a series of figures what your readings mean and what risk you stand in relation to possibly getting breast cancer. The terms UOQ and LIQ refer to specific areas of the breast where disease commonly begins. And there, he has written the conclusion for you which says that there is no cancer and in fact that nothing is there for you to worry about because of the final assessment reached. However, a breast ultrasound is further recommended for the sake of completeness which will in addition help further to examine the lumps. There is a standard numbering system which the report relies upon to reach that relieving conclusion. So relax and get some good sleep. There is no problem with your breasts as far as this report goes.

Dear Doctor, what can we do about my situation when as a 39-year-old unwed woman, my menses have ceased? I have the SS genotype and have carried on through life thus far by faith and by religiously taking my drugs as prescribed by doctors. What is the important thing I need to do now to ensure that my periods return? Thank you sir and God bless the work of your hands.                                   0909xxxxxxx

You have to get a gynaecologist to assess you and determine why your periods have ceased. Many times, simple causes are responsible for issues like that and drug treatment could avail much. In your case, however, your genotype makes you a somewhat peculiar person whose cells would seem to mature and age quicker than those who have the normal adult haemoglobin. The result could mean that menopause has probably set in and the tests you would have to conduct would be tailored to determine if that is indeed the case. In a fit person, we might say that such an event is due to ovarian failure.

Dear doctor, I have been diagnosed with prostate cancer having recorded a PSA value of more than 100 ng/ml. This made me to see my doctor and he told me that the problem can be solved by removing my testes.  Now, if my testes are removed, can I still have sex? I am just 60 years old and feel strong despite what all these results are saying. Thank you.   0808xxxxxxx

The diagnosis you have is something that no man can do something about. It is established to be present. However, orchidectomy, the name of the operation which your doctor is offering you is only one method of managing this condition. The operation is not compulsory and similar results can be achieved when certain specific drugs are used in the treatment of this disease. The only problem you could have with the use of those medications is the cost.

Dear doctor, I have been married now for six years but have no child yet. I have not even missed my period for once. My husband has done tests to see why we have not been able to get it done because l have carried out many tests that all said I have no problem. What are we to do now? Please help me.                                     0802xxxxxxx

It is now an increasingly common problem, madam, to find couples who are healthy and seemingly have no health challenges being unable to achieve a pregnancy for a range of unclear reasons. Such factors make it difficult to treat and this accounts for nearly 10 per cent of all cases of infertility. You will need to see fertility experts who will advice you on the range of assisted reproduction techniques available starting possibly with the simplest methods. Good luck. Punch

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