Honey: The Ideal Sweetener for People of All Ages
By Renate Frank, Bahnhofstrasse 42, D-21514 Roseburg
Translated from the Schweizerische Bienen Zeitung 10/2004,pp 19 - 22
By A.E. McArthur MIL
It is becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to differentiate between truth and advertising and to recognise the health value of food and its additives. Honey is not only an old and accepted, but also an ideal, sweetener for people of all ages.
Experts have disputed for years about the best method which should be used for sweetening the food for health conscious people. Honey and sugar have over the years gained the reputation of causing overweight, this idea was then overturned and fat was made the culprit for overweight. Recently it has been postulated that a carbohydrate rich diet not only inhibits weight loss but moreover is damaging to health. Especially vogue today are the sweeteners and sugar substitutes which are used in food and drinks and touted as ‘healthy sweeteners’.
Nibbling causes Hunger
The number of overweight people in the industrial countries has doubled in the past eight years, despite the countless ‘weight loss’ diets published and any amount of diet foods on offer. Within the EU today 50% of its citizens are overweight. Especially worrying is the number of overweight children: in 2003 in Europe some 20% of all children were too heavy. Whether fat, protein or carbohydrate in foodstuffs are the guilty factors in the present widespread obesity or not; the truth is that body weight is a question of balance: if more calories are consumed than the body requires, the extra calories will deposit as fat somewhere on the body. Sugar rich foods have a further hidden effect: they actually stimulate the need for more food.
Who does not know the phenomenon of the sweet dessert after a satisfying meal? Although actually full up and having the feeling of being unable to eat any more, down goes the dessert and suddenly there is room again in the stomach. Also there are few people who can be satisfied with one piece of chocolate or one piece of chewing gum: once the packet is open most people will not stop eating until the source is finished. “Now the soul is at peace” to quote an old proverb and that quietens the conscience. With the body now of course it is once again all over.
Household sugar which is used in our desserts is also called Saccharose and consists of two interconnected components. These are quickly separated from each other in the human digestive tract and after only a few minutes are transported into the blood stream through the stomach wall. The pancreas reacts to this rapid blood sugar increase by releasing a large volume of insulin. Insulin is a hormone which acts like a key and opens the body cells to the sugar and diverts the sugar out of the bloodstream. The quicker and higher the blood sugar increase is the more insulin is released and the appetite for sweet foods rises: the sweet dessert is eaten until it is finished. Due to the large quantity of insulin released the blood sugar level drops rapidly. When the blood sugar value drops too low the body again signals that it is hungry and the need to consume the second snack is pre-programmed. If the second snack is eaten the vicious circle is completed: sweet foods do not satisfy, they lead to frequent eating and constantly create new hunger pangs.
For people who wish to lose weight, there is the added problem that a high blood insulin concentration inhibits fat loss.
The more sweet food there is available the less healthy foods like vegetables, fruit and whole-wheat products will be eaten. Children especially not only substitute their ‘play piece’ for sweets but also lunch and dinner. A deficiency of fibre, calcium and vitamins
in the diet of children and young people is quite common. Vitamin and mineral deficiency can lead to poor concentration, nervousness and tiredness and leads to the need for more sweet foods.
Honey Helps to Hold the ‘Thin’ Line
If foodstuffs and drinks were to be sweetened with honey different reactions would occur in the body than those produced by the consumption of sugary foods. Honey is a unique sweetener which contains a multitude of different carbohydrates with a variety of different effects. Honey is a concentrated sugar solution which contains mainly grape sugar (glucose) and fruit sugar (fructose) but also around thirty other different carbohydrates.
Among these additional sugars are found the oligosaccharides. These hydrocarbons consist of many sugar components. The different types of sugar flow through the stomach wall at different rates. Saccharose (household sugar) and glucose are the most rapidly absorbed sugars by the blood. These produce a real ‘sugar kick’. They are however used up in a very short space of time.
The largest carbohydrate in honey is fructose, which is transported very slowly in the bloodstream and does not stimulated the secretion of insulin. The oligosaccharides leave the body still later since they have to be reduced to their basic constituents by the digestive system. After honey is consumed the blood sugar level rises steadily but remains constant over a long period and then reduces slowly. Due to the lower insulin secretion no acute hunger sensation arises during the meal and a feeling of food satisfaction occurs sooner. The moderate blood sugar level also results in a food satisfaction feeling of prolonged duration. Honey undoubtedly has a sweet taste but does not generate a lust for food.
By making a conscious effort to eat honey, not only are hunger pangs less frequent, but the intake of calories can be reduced, without making great sacrifices in the diet. One hundred grams of honey delivers circa 75k calories less than the same amount of household sugar. The sweetening capability of honey is governed by its level of fructose and is around 30% higher than household sugar. The fructose rich honeydew honeys obtained in Germany and Central Europe are especially sweet. Seventy grams of honey correspond to 100 grams household sugar but contain 172k calories less. This equates to the number of calories in 17 pieces of ‘cube’ sugar.
Honey Saves on the Metabolism of Sugar
Over a long period of time the suspicion that frequent sugar and insulin deviations in the bloodstream especially with people who are overweight can encourage the onset of diabetes. The more frequently the body produces insulin on demand, the less sensitive the body cells which respond to the hormone become. This ultimately leads to Diabetes mellitus Type 2. This form of diabetes differs from Diabetes mellitus Type 1 in that too much insulin is produced. Despite this the hormone is unable to cause the blood sugar level to sink, because it is no longer recognised by the body cells. This type of diabetes was once called ‘Aged Diabetes’. However today this definition has become obsolete, since increasing numbers of children are also exhibiting these symptoms. Worldwide diabetes is now classed as one of the most significant health problems of our time. In Germany alone six million people suffer from diabetes.
The probability of being affected by ‘metabolic’ health problems increases proportionally with age. The human body changes over time. We tend to lose fat free body mass as we age. The muscles are the main losers in this loss of tissue, as are the vital organs and the skeleton. The fat free body mass of young people constitutes around 61% of the total body weight, while in people over the age of 85 this proportion amounts on average to only 54%. The lower muscle mass results in lower storage capacity being available for carbohydrate and a constant high blood sugar level can result from this. In most cases reduced metabolic efficiency can be inhibited by sensible food intake.
In order to reduce the possibility of contracting diabetes mellitus it is recommended that foodstuffs which contain sugar molecules which are released slowly into the bloodstream are consumed. The effects of diet on the blood sugar level can be measured by the Glycolic Index: this indicates the effect on the blood sugar level of 50g of carbohydrate in a foodstuff two hours after the food has been eaten. Glucose increases the blood sugar the most rapidly and has a value of 100. Carbohydrates with a value between 70 and 100 cause a steep sugar rise. This is the case with household sugar, maltose and industrial sugar compounds such as dextrin, dextrose and maltose dextrin.
If the Glycolic Index lies between 50 and 61 this is considered to be average, Indices under 50 are considered to be low. Honey has an Index value of 61.
An almost optimum situation is achieved if honey is consumed with a fibre rich diet. The more fibre the diet contains the slower carbohydrate is released. Two recently published studies from the Harvard School of Public Health in the US indicate that the risk of becoming diabetic is reduced on average by some 30% if the fibre in the daily diet is the equivalent of a bowl of porridge and two slices of wholemeal bread. If honey is consumed with fruit, vegetables, cereal products or nuts, there is no risk of overeating nor is there any risk of the blood sugar value rising to a serious level.
The Nutritional Factors in Honey Appreciate in their Effect
In contrast with most of the other sweeteners honey contains not only carbohydrates but also components which are required for the utilisation of sugar. Chromium is a trace element of honey which possesses a blood sugar reducing characteristic as well as an insulin regulation factor. Chromium also has a Glucose Tolerance Factor which heightens the sensitivity of the insulin receptors and thus improves the effect of insulin. It is also believed that chromium has a direct influence on the pancreas. Honeys such as Acacia honey, which are high in fructose has a controlling effect on the production of insulin.
The body requires sufficient vitamin B1 in the diet to enable the body cells to process the carbohydrates. Honey contains this important metabolic constituent. As a constituent of the enzymes, vitamin B1 assists in the ‘reduction’ of the carbohydrates and the absorption of the energy which is then available to the brain, nerve and muscle cells.
It is constantly argued that the quantity of the vitamins and minerals in honey are too small to have a significant effect on human health. Comparisons, for example which state that four kilos of honey would be required to be eaten in order to meet the daily requirement of vitamin B1 are not only unrealistic they have little substance. Since honey is not the only food in the human diet, it is unnecessary to obtain the total or even partial vitamin and mineral requirement from honey. The beneficial effect of a foodstuff on health and well being is not totally dependent on the amount of its nutritious content but on it total composition. In an organic foodstuff the nutritious constituents could combine in a refined interaction which would result in a mutual complement of their individual effect.
Sugar reducing enzymes require the trace element manganese as well as vitamin B1. Manganese is also present in honey. Honey contains flavonoids, which belong to the widely occurring group of colour, bitter and tannin substances in the plant world, as well as vitamins and minerals. These substances cause vitamins to remain in the bloodstream for a longer period of time making them available to the body for longer. The vitamin exploitation from nutrition due to this phenomenon is 20 – 50 time higher than with nutrition which contains few flavonoids. The immune system of the body is also stimulated by these plant substances.
Honey is Beneficial
Honey is one of the most beneficial of foodstuffs in the human diet. People with sensitive digestive systems tolerate honey generally as well as patients recovering from illness and who as a result suffer from a deficient digestive system. Similar to a special diet with which seriously ill patients are able to be artificially fed, most of the nutrition in honey is already ‘pre-digested’ and is present in the form of an aqueous solution.
Neither the amino acids which are the building blocks of protein, nor glucose, fructose, vitamins, minerals and enzymes require to be reduced for the passage through the stomach wall. This reduces the strain on the digestive organs. The many reports about old and even very weak individuals who after being fed honey return rapidly to strength, may be explained by the fact that the nutrients in honey, due to their ease of digestion, are able to be utilised in high amounts by the body.
Ideal as a Sweetener
In a healthy diet the method of intake of the sugar combinations is more important than the quantity. Ideally carbohydrate release into the blood stream should be a slow process, by influencing the moderate secretion of insulin and encouraging the absorption of energy over many hours. Vitamins, trace elements and flavonoids are important catalysts in the metabolic process and must be present in nutrition in sufficient quantity. Honey is the ideal sweetener for people of all ages, because:
There is a 32 page brochure titled “Lifelong Health with Honey – Honey in Nutrition in different Lifestyles” costing six Euros, which can be purchased from the author of this article. The next issue of the magazine will have a follow-up on the theme of Honey.