Professor Jennie Brand-Miller answers your questions
From the perspective of blood glucose, is honey better than sugar?
Up until recently, we would have said honey is not different from table sugar. After all, honey doesn’t contribute much in the way of micronutrients, and we thought it had a similar effect on blood glucose as table sugar.
In fact, while most commercial varieties have the same or greater effect than table sugar, recent evidence suggests that some forms of honey have only a minor effect on blood glucose. These are the pure floral honeys – (in Australia) red gum, yellow box, ironbark and others – that have been produced by allowing bees access only to some types of gum trees (eucalypts). It’s possible that all pure floral honeys have only modest glycemic effects, but it is too early to say as there hasn’t been sufficient testing around the world. Romanian locust honey appears to have the lowest effect of all the honeys.
Why would one honey be different from another? Well, most commercial honeys are made from a mixture of honeys derived from different hives and different floral sources. To maintain a consistent flavour, some of the more pungent characteristics are removed. We suspect that the components that are removed are physiologically active and work to slow down absorption. For example, Australian floral honeys might contain alpha-glucosidase inhibitors that bees have extracted from the eucalypt flowers. We know that these potent inhibitors exist in many plants and, indeed, some diabetic medications (e.g. Acarbose) are based on pure forms of these inhibitors.
In addition, a recent study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that five German honeys have a low GI. The researchers found that the ‘glycaemic index and insulinaemic index correlated significantly with the fructose content of honey varieties’.
GI testing by an accredited laboratory
Dr Alexandra Jenkins
Glycemic Index Laboratories
20 Victoria Street, Suite 300
Toronto, Ontario M5C 298 Canada
Phone +1 416 861 0506
Research Manager, Sydney University Glycemic Index Research Service (SUGiRS)
Human Nutrition Unit, School of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences
NSW 2006 Australia
Phone + 61 2 9351 6018
Fax: + 61 2 9351 6022
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