Preference for honey over table sugar appears unfounded — Study

Sweeteners including honey and table sugar have always been used to enhance the taste of food and palatability. But these “extra” calories have generated serious concerns amongst health scientists and consumers on the choice and preference of sweeteners, particularly the most commonly used, honey and table sugar.

In the recent past, reports suggest the blood-sugar-lowering (hypoglycaemic) effect of honey, which led to the recommendation of honey as a substitute to table sugar for diabetics. But contrary, a recent scientific report forewarns Type 2 diabetics against the use of honey in preference to table sugar, because of its propensity to raise body fat levels.

Additionally, a study in Iran showed that 8-week honey consumption in diabetics increased glycated haemoglobin (haemoglobin to which glucose is bound) in diabetic subjects, indicating the severity of complications.

Previously too, a strong positive correlation between obesity and excess calorie intake via consumption of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages including aerated soft/energy drinks and other synthetic fruit juices were shown

These emerging facts and findings have heightened a medical debate as to which of the two sweeteners is healthier and safer, given the widespread daily use of these sweeteners and the alarming rate of the global obesity epidemic.

Now, in a new study, researchers compared the effect of the Obudu natural honey-sweetened diet with table sugar diet on biochemical biomarkers of energy storage regulation in male and female Wistar rats at the University of Calabar. Obudu natural honey is widely distributed in the South-South Region and other parts of Nigeria.

They found that at higher per cent sweetener incorporation, both honey and sugar sweetened diets caused significantly successive increases in body weight gain compared with the control, suggesting a direct relationship between body weight gain and amount of sweetener in the diet.

The 2020 study in the journal, British Medical Communications, nutrition, involved Item Justin Atangwho, Chidimma Emmanuel Ibeneme, Godwin Eneji Egbung, Emmanuel Ibeneme, and Margaret Akpan Eno at the College of Medical Sciences, University of Calabar in collaboration with Promise Nwankpa at the Imo State University, Owerri.

According to the study, although sugar and honey did not significantly affect diet intake, in moderate incorporation honey-based diet (10per cent) significantly reduced body weight compared to a sucrose-based diet (7.9 per cent) when fed for 52 weeks.

But the white adipose tissue weights of test groups fed eight and 16 per cent sugar-sweetened diets were found to increase by 19.6 and 29.3 per cent compared to the 10 and 20 per cent honey-sweetened diets respectively.

Within the study period, there was no disparity of effect of sugar and honey-based diets on blood glucose and therefore suggested that the preference of sweetening the diet with honey over table sugar appears unfounded.

In addition, there was no significant difference in relative heart, liver and brain weight in test groups compared to normal control. Also, the insulin level was significantly high in animals fed sugar-sweetened diets compared to the corresponding honey-fed groups and normal control in both the male and female rats. The increase in insulin may also be as a result of insulin resistance.

Although the exact mechanism by which honey decreases weight gain is not fully understood, they suggested based on other previous studies that honey might reduce weight gain by modulation of appetite-regulating hormones such as leptin, ghrelin and peptide YY.

For the study, the table sugar and honey were incorporated in the rats’ diets in proportions that simulate average sugar composition of common sweetened foods and beverage. The diets included control diets, diets containing eight and 16 per cent sugar, 10 and 20 per cent honey.

The feeding of the experimental rats with diets lasted for 29 weeks. Within this period, the rats’ body weights and fasting blood sugar were determined. The percentage change in body weights was calculated based on these measurements. Similarly, internal organs of the animal such as liver, heart, kidneys and white adipose tissues were also tested.


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