Honey has an aura of purity and naturalness. Fresh air, birdsong, forests and meadows.
High-fructose corn sweetener? Not so much.
So you might think that honey is better for you. But a study published this month compared the health effects of honey and the processed sweetener and found no significant differences.
“The effects were essentially the same,” said Susan K. Raatz, a research nutritionist at the USDA who conducted the study with two colleagues.
The belief that corn sweetener may be harmful – linked to obesity or diabetes – has helped sink consumption of it over the last 10 years. Researchers at the USDA decided to put that belief to the test. The honey industry, likely hoping that that honey’s suspected health benefits might be proven, helped fund the effort.
The researchers gave subjects daily doses of each of three sweeteners – honey, cane sugar and high-fructose corn sweetener – for two weeks at a time. They then compared measures of blood sugar, insulin, body weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in the 55 subjects.
The researchers found that the three sweeteners basically have the same impacts. Most measures were unchanged by the sweeteners. One measure of a key blood fat, a marker for heart disease, rose with all three.
“Honey is thought of as more natural whereas white sugar and high fructose corn syrup are processed from the cane or the beet or the corn,” said Raatz, whose paper appears in the Journal of Nutrition. “We wanted to find out if they were different. But chemically, they are very, very similar, and that’s what it seems to break down to.”
When it comes to consumer perceptions, the trouble for corn sweetener arises at least in part from its name – “high fructose” may suggest that it contains much more fructose than the other sweeteners, though it doesn’t. Honey, meanwhile, maintains a halo. It is not for nothing that the Kellogg Company renamed Sugar Smacks to Honey Smacks.
The marketers “made a big mistake when they called it ‘high-fructose corn syrup,’ ” said Raatz. “A sweetener is a sweetener, no matter the source.”
© 2015, The Washington Post