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You may think you’re making a healthy swap when you choose honey or even regular cane sugar over corn syrup. But you’re not. Honey has basically the same effect on the body as high-fructose corn syrup, according to a new article in the Journal of Nutrition. The same goes for cane sugar, meaning all three sweeteners are essentially equal in terms of their effects on health.
“Honey is thought of as more natural whereas white sugar and high fructose corn syrup are processed,” researcher Susan Raatz told The Washington Post. “We wanted to find out if they were different. But chemically, they are very, very similar.” The study provides further proof that our ideas about sweeteners are largely misguided.
Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota asked study participants to eat daily doses of either honey, high-fructose corn syrup or cane sugar for two weeks.
In the end, all three sweeteners had nearly the same effect on health measures including blood sugar, insulin, body weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.
Corn syrup consumption has dropped steadily since 2000, largely due to concerns that it has more negative health effects than other sweeteners. Several big restaurant chains jumped on that train recently: Panera announced a ban on corn syrup in May, and Taco Bell promised to ditch corn syrup completely by the end of 2015.
And that’s certainly still a good idea. The World Health Organization recommends limiting sugar to 10 percent of one’s total caloric intake, but the average American diet is at least 13 percent sugar. In excess, sugar can cause diabetes and cardiovascular disease while impairing your brain’s cognitive function. However, corn syrup isn’t the only source of these ills. As this study corroborates, the question shouldn’t be one of honey vs. corn syrup, per se, but rather how much sugar you’re consuming altogether.