Go ahead and choose your sweetener according to your own preferences because you're not likely to gain a nutritional advantage from picking honey over sugar. Even though honey seems more nutritious, it retains such a small amount of vitamins and minerals that you would have to consume an unhealthy quantity to reap the benefits. When 1-teaspoon portions are compared, it turns out that neither honey nor sugar provide nutrients.
Minerals in Trace Amounts
Granulated sugar goes through more processing to remove all remnants of the original plant. As a result, it doesn’t retain any nutrients. Honey and brown sugar contain a range of nutrients, but only in a large serving. For example, they both have about 8 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of iron and at least 10 percent of the RDA for copper in a 1-cup portion. By the time you reduce the serving down to 1 teaspoon, no measurable amount of nutrients remains.
Honey has the most calories, with 1 teaspoon containing 21 calories. The same portion of granulated sugar has 16 calories, while brown sugar is in the same range with 17 calories. Depending on how strictly you’re watching calories, the 4- or 5-calorie difference between the sugars and honey may seem insignificant. But the important factor is the total amount of sugar you get in one day from all sources. Remember that honey, as well as both types of sugar, are nothing more than empty calories that quickly accumulate, whether you put them into a cup of tea or they're added to your breakfast cereal.
Carbohydrates for Energy
The only potential benefit you can expect from honey, granulated sugar or brown sugar comes from carbohydrates because your body may use them for energy. All of their calories come from carbohydrates, and the carbs in 1 teaspoon consist entirely of simple sugars. They all consist of the same two sugars: glucose and fructose. The only difference is that granulated and brown sugars are made from sucrose, which is glucose and fructose attached together. In honey, the two sugars remain separate. One teaspoon of honey has 6 grams of total carbs, granulated sugar has 4 grams, and you’ll get 4.5 grams from brown sugar.
Added Sugar Recommendations
In spite of its reputation as a healthier sweetener, honey falls into the same category as granulated and brown sugar: They’re all added sugars. Just like their name implies, these sugars are added to food during processing, preparation or at the table. The only way to tell if the foods you buy contain added sugar is to check the ingredients. The nutrition facts label shows the amount of total sugar, but that number includes added sugar plus the sugar naturally found in food. Women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily, while men should limit their daily intake to under 9 teaspoons, according to the American Heart Association.
- USDA Nutrient Database: Honey
- USDA Nutrient Database: Sugars, Granulated
- USDA Nutrient Database: Sugars, Brown
- Colorado State University: Sugar and Sweeteners
- North Dakota State University: Honey or Sugar
- American Heart Association: Sugars and Carbohydrates
- The Sugar Association: About Sugar
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes