Honey, more than just sugar.
We hear a lot about quitting sugar with many claiming that along with its detrimental affect on gut health, sugar is also contributing to premature ageing of the skin. While we are not sure about the exact scope of these claims we are confident of one thing and that’s the fact that not all sugar is created equally.
If you are on the hunt for a good sugar look no further than honey!
Sugar comes in all shapes and sizes but the body breaks all sugars down to their simplest form – we call these monosaccharaides. On hearing that you might be thinking ‘well if that is the case it doesn’t matter where the sugar comes from, sugar is sugar as far as the body is concerned’ but there is more to it than that as we will find out.
Table sugar or sucrose as it is technically called is a disaccharide – a combination of two simple (mono) sugars joined together. The simple sugars are glucose and fructose in equal measure. The body can’t make use of sucrose as it is too complex and instead sends it off to the liver for processing into its simpler monosaccharaides which the can be metabolized.
The process of splitting sugar is called glycolysis – lies means ‘to split’ and the splitting out of fructose puts quite a strain on the liver. It has been noted that a diet high in the disaccharide sucrose can increase the risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Eating pure glucose OR pure fructose doesn’t require the use of the liver as the split has already been achieved and as such these simple sugars are biologically very different!
As you would expect from a natural super food Honey is quite complex containing a range of sugars, minerals and proteins. This complexity is what makes honey so special and puts it in a different class to simple table sugar:
Honey is predominantly simple sugars (monosaccharaides) with around 40% of those sugars being glucose and just under 30% fructose. These are the same monosaccharaides as seen in sucrose (table sugar) but as we mentioned above, they are in a ready-to-use form and therefore do not need to be processed by the liver.
All honey has the potential to kill microbes for a couple of reasons, firstly it is fairly acidic and most common microbes prefer an environment with a higher pH and secondly it is too high in sugar for growth to occur – the sugar basically binds up any water that is present making the environment too dry for the microbes. In this latter case the microbe can survive in spore state ready to grow when more moisture becomes available.
A further way that honey acts as an antimicrobial substance is due to its hydrogen peroxide producing powers (this is know as the inhibine effect). Peroxide is a natural anti-microbial and its present in natural honey helps to keep it clean. However, this process is affected by heat and as such the pasteurization process that commercial honey has to go through to make it saleable reduces its antimicrobial capability. However, it is important to note that heat treatment doesn’t completely kill honey’s antibacterial properties, as sugar content and acidity remain largely unaffected by pasteurization.
The antimicrobial properties of Manuka Honey are different and not as prone to heat degradation as this type of honey has an extra anti-microbial boost from the Manuka bush and this is unaffected by heat.
Putting this into health terms studies have found that regular ingestion of honey helps to keep our insides microbially healthy reducing the number of pathogens (bad bacteria) internally and making it easier for us to fight off microbe-based disease. In addition honey contains a variety of trace elements including minerals and proteins, lactone that helps to keep the honey acidic (acidity also aids in food digestion which is one reason honey is used to help with digestive complaints and discomfort) and moisture which all work together to provide us with an amazing health-giving dose of sweetness!
As inner health is reflected back at us via our skin I do believe in the power of nutrition, that said I am not a nutritionalist. However, what I am is a chemist and from a chemical perspective it is clear that honey is more than just a sweet little treat both internally and topically. We work with Manuka Honey for Australian brand Nature’s Gold and have found it’s moisturising and anti-microbial properties extremely useful in both every-day skin care and in a therapeutic setting which is really exciting and gives us even more motivation to save the bees!
1) Honey Composition and Properties. By J.W White, JR and Landis W. DOner, research leader and research chemist, respectively, Science and Education Administration, Eastern Regional research Centre, Philadelphia, PA. 19118. October 1980.
2) Antibacterial effect of honey on the in vitro and in vivo growth of Escherichia Coli
Tumkur Ramachandriah Shamala, Yeleswarapu Pattabhiram Shri Jothi and Palle Saibaba. Department of food microbiology, central food technological research institute Myrose. September 2002.
4) Honey Chemistry