Honey seems like a healthy alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners, right? It is, in some cases, but there are a few important things to know before using honey as a sweetener.
Honey is indeed a healthy option and can offer many benefits to your diet. It has been used by humans since ancient times and contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes. Local honey can reduce seasonal allergies by exposing you to small amounts of flower pollens that grow in your area. Honey also has the potential to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria like e. coli and salmonella.
So what's the catch?
Heat destroys the beneficial qualities of honey, so you need to make sure you are purchasing raw honey. Most supermarket honey is pasteurized or heated at a high temperature, thus killing off many of the raw enzymes that make it so healthy in the first place.
Whether you buy processed or raw honey, the worst thing you can do is heat it further by baking it at high temperatures for substantial amounts of time. Some minerals will remain, but the living enzymes available in raw honey are all destroyed by heat. Baking can also alter the taste of the honey and produce a bitter aftertaste.
What's worse, any honey that has been heated is actually mucous-forming in the body. That means it can contribute to congestion, weight gain, respiratory problems, skin conditions including acne, and blood glucose imbalances. Ironically, honey is also used to alleviate excess mucous, which is why it is seen in so many natural cold remedies. Again, the key point to remember: make sure your honey is raw, or you will not receive it's benefits!
So what are some alternative sweeteners for baking and cooking?
I use maple syrup for most baking, since it can withstand heat and retains some of it's beneficial minerals in the process. You can also try stevia, or minimally processed cane sugar like sucanat or rapadura. Some recipes use mashed banana or dates as a sweetener, and these will be more wholesome than a granulated sugar. Whatever you choose, I always suggest using half the amount of sweetener and only adding more if needed.
Sweets can still be a part of a clean diet, as long as they are eaten in moderation and we understand the quality of the ingredients we use.