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Not all sugars are created equal: Why honey still reigns supreme

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I came across a staggering fact whilst reading an article last night that really got me thinking.  In 2014 the global alternative sweetener market was worth a whopping £16.2 billion and is expected to grow to £21.8 billion by 2021.  I’m actually astounded by this!  If we were talking about the actual sugar market then that’s kind of acceptable, but to think we’re talking about alternative sugar is somewhat shocking.

Brands such as Truvia and Splendor are relative newcomers on the scene and yet we’re embracing them whole-heartedly in a bid to make healthier choices.

The questions is, are they actually the healthy choice? Or clever marketing preying on our concerns about sugar, often with the handsomely renumerated compliance of well-known celebs endorsing products.

Take agave syrup for example, it became hugely popular throughout America and Europe in 2015, and was marketed as the healthier, exotic alternative to other sweet syrups such as honey or maple; however after much more detailed research, it was found that its calorie count was actually a third higher per table spoon than sugar.  In fact, the only discernible quality was the lower glycemic index, (and the delicious taste when drizzled over your favourite breakfast waffles.

On many a recommendation, I’ve tried products such as truvia to replace sugar in baking and wasted plenty of good ingredients. For me, the taste is just too synthetic, lacking the real depth that naturally sweet products give you, like cane or honey or even maple syrup to a certain extent.  Furthermore they often leave a very strange taste at the end, which completely ruins the intended purpose of a sweet treat.  I also prefer to use ingredients such as figs or dates and regularly use them in lentil dishes or tagines.

Why honey still rules

You all know how I feel about refined and unrefined ingredients, and with sugar it’s no different. If there’s going to be something sweet in your food, then it needs to be of the brown variety.

Wherever possible, honey still gets my vote for taste!

Honey is far better than most people perceive… Far from being the occasional sweetener or breakfast sugar, honey has such enormous benefits and varied tastes, in my opinion it really is hugely underestimated. And I can almost hear you ask the question … but isn’t it full of calories?

Well to a certain extent, yes, but the health benefits it offers significantly outweigh the down side, and my argument is always to reduce the sweetness of any dish as much as possible.

Honey is a great antiseptic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, containing cleansing properties for our body and general well-being.  It has amazing healing properties as a head-to-toe remedy, from conjunctivitis to athlete’s foot. Its powerful healing attributes have been used for thousands of years and are known to promote healing for cuts and cure ailments.

Nutritionally speaking, honey actually has higher anti-oxidant values than jaggery.  Honey also contains good amounts of vitamin B and other nutrients, such as selenium and zinc transported by helpful bees that you won’t find in the average granulated sugar.

The most renowned of course is Manuka honey (albeit a bit pricey) which is not only very tasty but also fights infections, aids tissue healing and helps to reduce inflammation and scarring. It is often used for treating digestive problems such as diarrhoea, indigestion, stomach ulcers, yeast infections, acne and gastroenteritis.

We’ve all been given a soothing mug of hot water, honey and lemon to cure a sore throat (with an occasional dash of something extra for the adults among us) or even a spoonful of local honey to cure hay fever symptoms, if you haven’t tried this, you should!

Honey can also be used topically for your skin and hair leaving both cleansed and super smooth.

When cooking with honey, I accept it’s not very easy to know which honey is most suitable for which kind of foods. Every type of honey has its own distinct flavour and when you begin to experiment with the different types it can be bit of a journey, but definitely a worthy one to find the real amber nectar!

And of course if you’re completely sold then perhaps you could become the latest to join the new suburban hobby of bee keeping.

What this means for your sugar craving

Whilst I could go on about honey until the bees come home, at the end of it all, it’s really not about which sugar you consume, but how much of it you take in on a daily basis.  The phrase “everything in moderation” is quite befitting.  Where sugar is necessary, use a good one, honey, dates, figs, and pomegranate molasses.

Overall I’m going to say reduce your dependency on sweetness in food.   Especially if you’ve been drawn in by the clever ‘sugar free’ marketers, into consuming higher amounts of it under the false pretension that you’re making a healthier choice and therefore it doesn’t matter.

If you have a real sweet tooth but would like to improve your nutrition, I recommend this super nutritious and natural sweet energy bar recipe we posted to The Cooking Academy’s blog.  It’s an oldie but a ‘goodie’ that will leave both your stomach and cravings satisfied.

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