Honey might seem like just another kind of sweetener amid the dozens of sugars, nectars and substitutes out there, but it has far more going on under the hive. Raw and unfiltered honey is a functional food, also known as a nutraceutical: a natural food with specific health benefits.

Raw, natural foods like tea, almonds, brown rice, and dark chocolate have become immensely popular because they keep the nutrients that processed foods like refined sugar lose. These nutrients benefit the body by reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, fighting cancers, improving one’s immune system and controlling blood sugar, just to mention a few ways. So how, then, does all-natural honey stack up to processed sugar? Our very one Honey Doctor, Ron Fessenden is here to help guide you in the right direction.

Vicarious Veggies

Honey allows you to get a plant’s best nutrients through its pollen, without having to eat the seeds, skin, stalks or other less delicious parts. When bees make honey in the hive, they convert pollen into fructose (fruit sugar) and glucose (starch sugar). In the process, they add a small amount of other sugars, amino acids, plant nutrients, flavonoids, antioxidants, plus a few enzymes, and the result is our favorite sweet, sticky stuff.

In Perfect Balance

Honey usually has a 50:50 ratio of fructose to glucose, which is ideal for your liver. (The exact levels of each vary depending on the varietal because bees choose from different pollen sources in each region.) After eating honey, your liver converts glucose into glycogen and stores it for later use by the brain, the heart, kidneys and red blood cells while your body rests and recovers. But when you eat lots of glucose without much fructose, your body responds by building up glucose in your cells and storing it as fat.

Stress-Free Sweetness

Eating honey, with its ideal combination of fructose and glucose, does not produce the dreaded insulin spike – commonly known as a “sugar crash” – that comes after eating simple sugars alone. These insulin spikes tax the metabolism, releasing stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol. Over time, metabolic stress can pile on and lead to a number of cognitive and physical ailments.

Sugar Crush

Sweeteners with lots of fructose, like high fructose corn syrup, present the body with a different set of challenges. While every cell in the body can metabolize glucose, the liver alone metabolizes most fructose. This means high fructose corn syrup and refined sugar can strain the liver while throwing blood sugar and insulin levels out of whack, potentially leading to insulin resistance, obesity and increased cholesterol.

Simply put, raw and unfiltered honey can provide all the sweetness of other sweeteners – and plenty of health benefits to boot.

And, as always, Local Hive’s one and only Honey Doctor and author of The Honey Revolution, Dr. Ron Fessenden is here to help answer any questions you may have at honeydoctor@localhivehoney.com.