Should You Really Be Baking With Honey? Docs & Dietitians Answer
Most recipes today can be found with alternatives to flour, butter, and sugar to accommodate food allergies, intolerances, or dietary preferences. While they may not be as decadent as Grandma’s old recipes, these iterations on classics can be equally satisfying. When it comes to deciding on substitutions, some people opt for honey in place of sugar—but is that the best alternative sweetener?
To learn more about the health benefits of honey and to find out how well it actually holds up in baked goods, mbg reached out to registered dietitians and Ayurvedic experts. Here’s what they have to say about the sticky, sweet syrup.
Health benefits of honey.
Honey is a natural ingredient harvested from honeycombs. It has been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries.
According to registered dietitian Titilayo Ayanwola, MPH, R.D., L.D., “the use of honey in various healing methodologies can be attributed to its antimicrobial, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.” Bonus: it’s also great for the skin.
Nutritionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says 1 teaspoon of honey contains 21.3 calories, 5.77 grams of carbohydrates, and 5.75 grams of sugar. "Raw and dark varieties of honey have a greater concentration of antioxidants," Ayanwola previously told mbg, which can contribute to a healthy immune system.
When compared to refined white sugar, honey is less processed and has a lower glycemic index, making it a better alternative for people with diabetes in particular. However, it’s still an added sugar, culinary and integrative dietitian Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, L.D., once said, so it should still be used sparingly.
Is it ever a bad idea to use honey for baking?
According to Ayurvedic practices, heating honey brings out ‘toxic’ properties and should therefore be avoided. “A substance called 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) occurs naturally in honey and, at low levels, has been shown to have many health-benefits,” says physician and Ayurvedic expert Avanti Kumar-Singh, M.D.
“However, if honey is stored for a long period of time or cooked (heated), HMF is naturally generated, and as it builds up, it can be toxic to the body,” she explains. “In addition, a chemical process called the Maillard Reaction causes amino acids and sugars to react when heated—this is the same reaction that causes “browning” of food.”
Those following a plant-based diet also want to avoid honey since it’s an animal byproduct. Maple syrup, date syrup, and agave are all viable alternatives.
Honey is a natural sweetener with a greater nutritional profile than refined white sugar. If you’re following Ayurvedic practices, however, heating honey is not advised, and those on a plant-based diet would want to avoid the product.
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