Honey can improve key measures of cardiometabolic health, such as lowered blood sugar and cholesterol levels, according to new research.

University of Toronto researchers conducted a “systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials using the GRADE approach”.

The study discovered that honey, especially raw honey from a single floral source, “reduced fasting glucose, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, fasting triglycerides, and alanine aminotransferase and increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.”

Tauseef Khan, a senior researcher on the study and a research associate in nutritional sciences at University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine, said: “These results are surprising, because honey is about 80 per cent sugar. But honey is also a complex composition of common and rare sugars, proteins, organic acids and other bioactive compounds that very likely have health benefits.”

Research has previously shown that honey can enhance cardiometabolic health. However, this research conducted by University of Toronto researchers is the most thorough and extensive review of clinical trials and the most detailed in regards to data on processing and floral source.

John Sievenpiper, principal investigator, associate professor of nutritional sciences and medicine at University of Toronto and clinician-scientist at Unity Health Toronto, explained: “The word among public health and nutrition experts has long been that ‘a sugar is a sugar’. These results show that’s not the case, and they should give pause to the designation of honey as a free or added sugar in dietary guidelines.”

The researchers highlighted that the context of the results was vital. They evaluated 18 clinical controlled trials which involved over 1,100 individuals who adhered to healthy diets, with added sugars making up only 10 per cent or less of their calorie intake every day.

Khan added: “We’re not saying you should start having honey if you currently avoid sugar. The takeaway is more about replacement – if you’re using table sugar, syrup or another sweetener, switching those sugars for honey might lower cardiometabolic risks.”

Results demonstrate that neutral or beneficial effects were repeatedly produced by consuming honey, depending on its processing, floral source and quantity. The average trial length was eight weeks, with an average honey dose of 40 grams per day, approximately two tablespoons.

The study stated: “Honey, especially robinia, clover, and unprocessed raw honey, may improve glycemic control and lipid levels when consumed within a healthy dietary pattern.”

According to Khan, further research should concentrate on unprocessed honey derived from a single floral source. These studies will result in improved quality of evidence and an improved comprehension of the numerous compounds in honey that can benefit health.

He added: “We need a consistent product that can deliver consistent health benefits. Then the market will follow.”

The study concluded: “More studies focusing on the floral source and the processing of honey are required to increase certainty of the evidence.”

The research was published in the journal Nutrition Reviews.

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