Looking to still enjoy sweets but cut back on refined sugar? Learn why honey may be a better option and step by step instruction on how to substitute honey for sugar.
When you make a cup of hot tea or baked goods, do you reach for table sugar or another natural sweetener like honey? Both honey and sugar will add sweetness, but one may offer more nutrition than the other.
Consuming too much refined sugar can result in adverse health implications. Plus, honey provides some nutritional benefits that refined sugar doesn’t. That’s why some health-conscious folks prefer substituting honey for sugar. Keep reading to learn why using honey instead of sugar is a good idea, and learn how to make the swap.
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Health implications of too much refined sugar
There are many different types of sugar, from natural to refined. Refined sugar starts from a natural source, but it is processed so sugar is the only thing that remains, like granulated sugar from sugar cane or sugar beet, or corn syrup from corn.
Added sugars are found in many of the foods you find at the grocery store, from peanut butter to salad dressings to pasta sauce. Since many people in the United States rely on convenience foods, consumption of added sugar is much higher than most are aware of.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 10% of your daily calorie intake from added sugars. Sugar consumption in the US surpasses this recommendation, making up 17% of the total calorie intake of adults and up to 14% for children.
The good thing is that you can make some of these household staples at home using natural sweeteners in place of sugar.
There is significant research that suggests excess sugar intake increases the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems.
Eating too much added sugar, particularly from sugar-sweetened beverages, is related to having a higher BMI and accumulation of visceral fat. People who have visceral fat are more likely to have cardiovascular health issues.
One study showed that people who consumed 17–21% of calories from added sugar were 38% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, compared to participants that consumed only 8% of calories from added sugar.
Consuming too much sugar may affect the health of your skin as well. People with a higher intake of refined carbohydrates, including added sugars, have a higher risk of developing acne.
High glycemic index (GI) foods cause your blood sugar to spike more rapidly than lower GI value foods. When blood sugar spikes, insulin levels increase which causes increased androgen secretion, oil production, and inflammation, all of which are associated with acne.
A healthy diet can promote better brain health and better mood. However, a diet with too much added sugar might increase your chances of developing depression.
Researchers have found that consuming many highly processed foods, often high in refined sugar, is associated with an increased risk of depression. Experts believe that blood sugar highs and lows, abnormal neurotransmitter regulation, and inflammation may all contribute to sugar’s negative impact on mental health.
Eating too much refined sugar can accelerate the signs of aging and promote wrinkle formation. Foods that are high in added sugars can increase the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs are believed to play a significant role in the visible signs of aging.
Researchers suggest that consuming a diet that is lower in carbohydrates may slow the aging process and promote healthier, more youthful-looking skin.
Additionally, too much refined sugar can cause cellular aging. Telomeres are a region of repetitive DNA sequences at the end of a chromosome. They protect chromosomes and prevent them from deteriorating or linking together. With age, telomeres naturally shorten, which causes cellular aging and promotes breakdown.
Eating too much sugar has been shown to hasten the shortening of telomeres, which progresses cellular aging.
In addition to the health conditions discussed above, excess sugar intake can negatively impact your health in other ways.
Research suggests that too much refined sugar may:
- Increase the risk for kidney disease: Over time, elevated blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys.
- Cause poor dental health: Consuming too much sugar may cause dental caries (cavities). Bacteria in your mouth thrive on sugar and release acid byproducts, causing tooth decay.
- Increase the risk of gout: An inflammatory condition characterized by pain in the joints. Too much added sugar causes elevated uric acid levels in the blood, which may increase the risk of developing or worsening gout.
- Promote cognitive decline: Excess sugar intake may lead to impaired memory and might be linked to an increased risk of dementia.
It’s important to note that these health implications are associated with excess refined sugar intake. Consuming sugar in moderation shouldn’t increase your risk of developing these health conditions.
Honey has some additional nutritional benefits that refined sugar does not. Honey is made of mostly water and two sugars: fructose and glucose. It also provides small amounts of:
- amino acids
- B vitamins
- vitamin C
Most of the antioxidants contained in honey are flavonoids. Flavonoids are known to have anti-inflammatory properties, which may provide some health benefits.
The nutritional composition of honey varies based on the type and origin. More than 300 types of honey exist, including alfalfa, wildflower, tupelo, golden blossom, and manuka honey.
The many varieties of honey offer unique flavors and color. For instance, buckwheat honey is a dark honey with a malt-like taste. Fireweed honey is a lighter variety that is almost translucent and tastes very tea-like.
Although honey provides more nutrition than refined sugar, it still behaves similarly in the body. Honey spikes blood sugar just like sugar does, however when substituting honey for sugar, you can use less honey without decreasing the sweetness.
How to substitute honey and other natural sweeteners for sugar
There is a science to food preparation, particularly baking, so acidity and percent water are important to consider when using alternative sweeteners in place of sugar. Additionally, different sweeteners add different levels of sweetness to recipes, so it’s important to know what ratio you should use to make the swap when making your favorite recipes.
If you’re using honey in baking or cooking, it’s important to consider color, flavor, and acidity of the honey. You wouldn’t use brown sugar in place of granulated sugar, so you may not want to use a dark and strong-flavored honey like buckwheat honey, which would darken the color of the batter and overpower the flavor of the final product.
For everyday recipes, clover or alfalfa honey works nicely. Darker honeys might work well in certain quick breads like banana or zucchini bread.
Because honey is sweeter than sugar, you might not want to substitute at a 1:1 ratio, even though you can up to one cup. We recommend experimenting with a ratio of 1/2 – 2/3 cups honey to 1 cup sugar.
When using liquid sweeteners like honey, measurements of other liquid ingredients need to be adjusted. Subtract 1/4 total from your liquid ingredients for every cup of honey. Try to do this precisely, as baking is very much like chemistry and changes to the original recipe can affect the final product.
Keep in mind that honey burns at a lower temperature than sugar, so you’ll need to adjust the oven temperature that’s recommended in the original recipe. A good rule of thumb is lowering the oven temperature by 25 degrees to keep your baked good from getting too dark before it’s finished baking completely. Keep a close eye as it bakes to ensure it doesn’t burn.
When baking with honey, add extra baking soda, even if the original recipe already calls for it.
Adding an extra 1/4 tsp of baking soda for every cup of honey will help balance the flavor and help your baked good to rise nicely.
Agave nectar and maple syrup
If you follow a vegan diet, you’ll need to find vegan alternatives to sweeten your recipes in place of honey.
The best honey substitute for vegans is agave nectar. Coming in close second is maple syrup. These liquid sweeteners can substitute honey at a 1:1 ratio.
If you’re replacing sugar with agave nectar or maple syrup, you’ll need to adjust the liquid measurements and oven temperature of the original recipe. You can follow the above recommendations for baking with honey.
The above-mentioned natural sweeteners are popular amongst health-conscious people and are often eaten instead of white or brown sugar, but really these aren’t that different from sugar.
They may contain slightly smaller amounts of fructose and a trace amount of nutrients, but your body still responds to these sweeteners in the same way as when you consume sugar.
Most people who are generally healthy can eat sugar in small amounts without any adverse health consequence. While sugar adds calories without much nutritional value and may cause dental caries, small amounts of these natural sugars can be included in a well-rounded diet.
If you’re someone who eats sweets and baked goods frequently, you may want to consider natural low-calorie alternatives to honey, agave nectar, and the like.
Stevia can be used to sweeten coffee, tea, and salad dressings, and to replace sugar in baked goods. You cannot substitute stevia for sugar at a 1:1 ratio because stevia is significantly sweeter than regular sugar.
The sweetness of one stevia packet is similar to 2 teaspoons of sugar. Twenty-four packets equal 1 cup of sugar. If you are using bulk stevia, 1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons are equal to 1 cup of sugar. For baked goods, using bagged stevia is much more convenient and practical than using individual packets.
If you’re using stevia to bake cookies, it works best for crisp cookies like shortbread. If you desire your final product to be chewy, it is best to add bulk and moisture in the form of pumpkin, applesauce, uncooked oatmeal or nut butter. Otherwise, your cookies could end up dry and crumbly.
If you are making a cake, you should separate the egg whites and whip them to stiff peaks to help maintain the volume of the cake batter. When finished baking, invert the cake to maintain volume and prevent the cake from collapsing.
Yeast breads need real sugar to rise. Replace only half of the sugar and increase the baking soda or baking powder to make up for the small amount of sugar available to feed the yeast.
Monk fruit sweetener
Monk fruit is a fruit grown that originated in Southeast Asia. It is used to make a natural sweetener called monk fruit extract.
Monk fruit sweetener is calorie-free and has no carbohydrates, plus some research suggests it may help support healthy blood sugar levels. Classic monk fruit sweetener can substitute sugar at a 1:1 ratio. Golden monk fruit sweetener can be used to substitute brown sugar at the same ratio.
It’s understandable that you may concerned about your sugar intake when you consider all of the possible adverse health consequences of consuming too much refined sugar. However, to support good health and prevent health conditions, the main thing you should focus on is the overall quality of your diet.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying your favorite sweet foods occasionally, and you can do so without much impact on your health. As long as your diet mostly consists mostly of nutrient-dense, whole foods.
You can use honey and other natural sweeteners in place of sugar for many different recipes. Keep in mind, many of these natural sugars behave in the body like refined sugar. If you consume sweeteners frequently, consider non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit instead.
Start substituting honey or other natural sweeteners for sugar today to get added health benefits. This raw honey is a great choice.
Recipes on Wellness Trickle don’t include refined sugar and all recipes including a sweetener will include a natural sweetener.