I’ve been trying to cut back on my sugar and simple-carb consumption, and while my palate is changing, I still crave something sweet now and again. So after indulging in some delicious Paleo cookies last week, I got to thinking about sugar and how it's being implicated in everything from heart disease to immune deficiency. Since we know sugar has a lot of drawbacks, what about natural sugars, such as honey or agave? Are they bad, too?
First, a quick review of what happens to sugary substances when we ingest them: Sugar breaks down into two forms, glucose, which our bodies need, and fructose, which we don't. Glucose is the preferred energy source for our bodies. It’s what our cells use for quick energy and comes from carbohydrates. Fructose naturally occurs in ripe fruit but is also added as sweeteners in many processed foods – think high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Fructose is processed by the liver and is not preferred by our bodies for energy. When the liver is overloaded with fructose in the form of added sugars, these sugars are converted into fat. The natural conclusion here is to take it easy on the sweet stuff containing fructose – who wants to risk that extra sugar turning into fat?
So, the trillion-dollar question: Do agave or honey have the same effect on the body?
Sigh, I hate to tell you (us!), these choices aren’t much better than sugar. Agave is really not a great option. Agave nectar is processed, similar to corn syrup, and our bodies convert the agave into fructose – which, again, stresses the liver and typically gets turned into fat.
Honey is less processed than any other sweetener, which does make it a better bet. It has amino acids and enzymes and is more complex to digest than cane sugar or HFCS, but, ultimately, your body reacts to honey in the same way it does to sugar. On a positive note, of all the “sugars,” it's the least processed and the closest to nature making it the best option when we want something sweet.
So there you have it, honey. As with anything sweet, indulge just a little and you’ll be OK.