I am a 61-year-old runner. I eat healthy, I am slim and train six days a week. I keep bees and therefore love honey. I eat about three dessert spoons full a day! As I am sure you are aware honey contains 1.5% sucrose, 38% fructose, 31% glucose and 7.5% maltose. My last check up was in June 2007 and my cholesterol level was 4.6. However I was not eating honey at that time! My question to you is will the consumption of so much honey effect my blood sugar and insulin levels and subsequently my cholesterol? Would you recommend honey in place of corn syrup during races? – Richard Acheson, Hout Bay
Honey is an interesting carbohydrate food. Honey, like sugar, is a simple carbohydrate. The final composition of mature honey varies but a typical analysis is given as glucose 34%, fructose 41%, sucrose 2.4% and water 18.3%. The unique feature of honey is however that it is high in fructose. Fructose, unlike glucose, in the blood is converted primarily to glycogen in the liver, a process that does not require insulin. Corn syrup has similar levels of fructose as honey.
Studies using high-fructose corn syrup have shown that although fructose does not cause a raise in blood glucose levels it causes an increase in undesirable triglyceride levels in the blood, and therefore increased cardiovascular risk.
Chronic fructose consumption has also been shown to substantially increases lipogenesis (fat molecule formation), resulting in increases in triglycerides compared to consumption of equal amounts of glucose. These studies have however been done using corn syrup and not honey.
Honey also contains small amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are not available in refined sugar. It used to be thought that the amounts of vitamins and minerals were inconsequential in terms of any protective benefits, but recent studies have shown that there may be mildly cardio-protective benefits to consuming honey over sugar.
In terms of your cholesterol I think it is more important to focus on an overall balanced healthy cholesterol-lowering/maintaining diet, and use your 3 table spoons honey as 3 servings of your total carbs per day. You would however then need to avoid any other refined carbs, especially high-fructose corn syrup products, throughout the day. These 3 servings of honey should be ideally spread throughout the day (in small quantities) to avoid a high glycemic load at one time in your blood and thereby avoid any potential spikes in blood sugar levels.
Modern Athlete Expert
Dietician at Sunninghill Medical Centre, Johannesburg. Member of Morningside Country Club with eight years running experience, including two finishes in the Two Oceans Marathon.