Researchers at the University of Toronto have found that honey improves key measures of cardiometabolic health, including blood sugar and cholesterol levels -; especially if the honey is raw and from a single floral source.
Researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials on honey and found that it lowers fasting blood sugar, total and LDL or “bad” cholesterol, triglycerides and a marker for fatty liver disease; also increases HDL or “good” cholesterol and some markers of inflammation.
These results are surprising since honey is about 80 percent sugar. But honey is also a complex composition of simple and rare sugars, proteins, organic acids and other bioactive compounds that very likely have health benefits.”
Tauzef Khan, senior investigator on the study and a research associate in nutritional sciences at U of T’s Temerti School of Medicine
Previous research has shown that honey can improve cardiometabolic health, especially in in vitro and animal studies. The present study is the most comprehensive review to date of clinical trials and includes the most detailed processing and floral source data.
The diary Nutrition reviews published the findings this week.
“The word among public health and nutrition experts has long been that ‘sugar is sugar,'” said John Sievenpiper, principal investigator and associate professor of nutritional science and medicine at U of T, who is also a clinician-scientist at Unity Health Toronto. These results show that this is not the case and the designation of honey as a free or added sugar in dietary guidelines should be stopped.”
Sievenpiper and Khan stress that the context of the findings is critical: clinical trials in which participants followed healthy dietary patterns, with added sugars accounting for 10 percent or less of daily caloric intake.
“We’re not saying you should start taking honey if you’re currently avoiding sugar,” Hahn said. “The bottom line is more about substitution—if you use table sugar, syrup, or another sweetener, replacing those sugars with honey may reduce cardiometabolic risks.”
The researchers included 18 controlled trials and over 1,100 participants in their analysis. They assessed the quality of these trials using the GRADE system and found that there was low certainty of evidence for most of the studies, but that honey consistently produced either neutral or beneficial effects, depending on treatment, floral source and amount.
The average daily dose of honey in the trials was 40 grams, or about two tablespoons. The average duration of the trial is eight weeks. Raw honey has produced many of the beneficial effects in studies, as has honey from monofloral sources such as Robinia (also sold as acacia honey) -; honey from false acacia or acacia -; and clover, which is common in North America.
Hahn said that although processed honey apparently loses many of its health effects after pasteurization -; usually 65 degrees Celsius for at least 10 minutes -; the effect of a hot drink on raw honey depends on several factors and will probably not destroy all its beneficial properties.
He noted other ways to consume unheated honey, such as with yogurt, as a spread, and in salad dressings.
Future studies should focus on unprocessed honey, Hahn said, and from a single floral source. The aim would be a higher quality of evidence and a better understanding of the many compounds in honey that can work wonders for health. “We need a consistent product that can provide consistent health benefits,” Khan said. “Then the market will follow.”
Ahmed, A., et al. (2022) Effect of honey on cardiometabolic risk factors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition reviews. doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuac086.