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Honey can improve cardiometabolic health

A new study led by the University of Toronto (U of T) has found that honey can improve key measures of cardiometabolic health – such as blood sugar and cholesterol levels – particularly if the honey is raw and from a single floral source. By conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials on honey, the experts discovered that it lowers fasting blood glucose, total and LDL or “bad” cholesterol, triglycerides, and a marker of fatty liver disease, while increasing HDL or “good” cholesterol, and some markers of inflammation.

“These results are surprising, because honey is about 80 percent sugar,” said study corresponding author Tauseef Khan, an expert in Nutritional Sciences at U of T. “But honey is also a complex composition of common and rare sugars, proteins, organic acids and other bioactive compounds that very likely have health benefits.”

“The word among public health and nutrition experts has long been that ‘a sugar is a sugar,’” added study senior author John Sievenpiper, an associate professor of Nutritional Sciences and Medicine at the same university. “These results show that’s not the case, and they should give pause to the designation of honey as a free or added sugar in dietary guidelines.”

However, the scientists warned that the context of these findings consisted of clinical trials in which participants followed healthy dietary patterns, with added sugars accounting for less than ten percent of their daily caloric intake. “We’re not saying you should start having honey if you currently avoid sugar,” Khan stressed. “The takeaway is more about replacement — if you’re using table sugar, syrup or another sweetener, switching those sugars for honey might lower cardiometabolic risks.” 

According to the researchers, in order to prove beneficial, the median daily dose of honey should not exceed 40 grams (about two tablespoons), it should preferably be consumed raw and from monofloral sources such as Robinia (often marketed as acacia honey) or clover (which is common in North America). However, although processed honey clearly loses many of its health benefits after pasteurization, the effect of a hot drink on raw honey depends on a variety of factors, and would most likely not destroy all its beneficial properties. Nonetheless, consuming unheated honey, such as with yoghurt or in salad dressings, is probably a better choice.

The study is published in the journal Nutrition Reviews.

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By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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