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Brown sugar vs Honey - Health, Nutrition and Baking Comparison

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Brown sugar
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Honey

Introduction

Brown sugar can be natural brown or dyed brown. The natural brown sugar comes from sugarcane juices that are crystallized and turned into sugars with minor refining methods. Whereas, dyed brown sugar which is usually marketed as “brown sugar”, is white refined sugar with added sugarcane molasses or beetroot molasses. If it’s specified as “natural brown sugar” it means it's the one that directly comes from processing sugar cane juice without adding additional molasses. Sugar is a vegetable byproduct.

Honey on the other hand is harvested from beehives. They are animal byproducts. This information is necessary for people who follow vegan diets. Honey comes from the processing of bees of flower nectars and collected in beehives. Honey has an interesting property as it doesn’t spoil, this is due to the fact that microorganisms cannot grow on honey.
Based on archeological remains, it is believed that honey was harvested in Spain in around 6000BC. 

In this article, the nutritional content, vitamin content, mineral content, health impacts, and variations and usages of both brown sugar and honey will be discussed. 

Nutritional content comparison

The nutritional content compared between both brown sugar and honey are considered per 100g. In this section, the glycemic index, calories, carbohydrate, sugar, protein, and fat contents of both are compared.

Glycemic index 

Brown sugar has a glycemic index of 65, which is considered a medium glycemic index food. On the other hand, honey has a glycemic index of 55, which in turn is considered to be a low glycemic index food. 

Honey has a lower glycemic index compared to brown sugar.

Calories

Brown sugar contains 380 calories whereas honey contains 304 calories (per 100g). Although both values are close, honey contains fewer calories compared to brown sugar. 

Carbohydrates / Sugars

Both brown sugar and honey are mostly composed of carbohydrates, as a matter of fact, 100g of brown sugar contains 98.1g of carbohydrates, of which 97g are sugars. On the other hand, honey is made of 82.4g of carbohydrates, of which 84.1g are sugars. 

Both are high in carbohydrates given the fact that they are mostly sugars, however, brown sugar is higher in both carbohydrates and sugar.

Proteins

The protein content of both brown sugar and honey is negligible. 

Fat

The fat content of both brown sugar and honey is negligible.

Vitamin content comparison

Brown sugar is mostly deprived of vitamin although trace amounts of vitamin B complex can be measured. However, this amount is close to negligible.

Honey, on the other hand, has 0.5mg of vitamin C per 100g, as a matter of fact, relative to the quantity consumed this amount of vitamin C is not very remarkable but also not negligible. 

Mineral content comparison

Brown sugar contains 83mg of calcium and the daily requirement for calcium is on average 1000mg. Brown sugar also contains some amounts of manganese, iron, and potassium.

Honey contains more manganese compared to brown sugar, however, both these amounts are not remarkable. Honey has negligible amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, and other minerals included. 

Health impacts

Diabetes

Brown sugar is composed of pure carbohydrates of which mainly are sugars, this is the main factor in increasing blood sugar levels, therefore, during diabetes it is best to avoid it. 

Honey in moderate amounts has proven to provide glycemic control and protection against diabetes complications on the body organs in patients suffering from diabetes type 2. (1)
A study showed that mixing low amounts of honey with metformin, which is the most prescribed drug for diabetes, has proven to enhance its effects. (2) 

These are due to active compounds present in honey, however, the amount of sugar causes an increase in blood sugar levels, this is why lower amounts of honey are recommended so that the levels of sugar do not exceed red mark levels. 

Hypertension

High intake of sugars, including brown sugar, results in blood hypertension if not controlled and mostly if other chronic diseases are associated, like diabetes and other metabolic disorders. (3)

Honey, on the other hand, has proven that if consumed in low to moderate amounts lowers the risks of developing hypertension. This is due to the antioxidants present in honey that balance all physiological aspects of the body that if malfunctioning ends up causing hypertension. Basically acting as a housekeeping agent in the body. (4)

Obesity

Consumption of high sugars, including brown sugar, increases the risk of obesity. This is mainly due to developing leptin resistance, which is resistance to the hunger hormone. Thus making the individual more hungry and feel full less often. 

Honey has proven to reduce risks of obesity and mostly fat deposition when was used as an alternative to sugars. (6) 

Addiction

Brown sugar has proven to develop a certain dependency on humans. This was observed on the neurologic levels. To call this behavior addiction has yet to be labeled in the field of science. However, data aggregates and leans over the definition of addiction when it comes to sugar. (7)

Addiction can be debated when it comes to honey, mainly due to its sugar content. However, honey is not as frequently used in the culinary world as much as sugars are.

Variations and usage

Brown sugar varies in taste compared to white sugar by simply having a boost in flavor which is due to the molasses that it contains. 

Both good and bad honey exist in the markets, however, both are honey but a difference exists between them. This difference comes from the initial source which is beekeeping. During winter times, flowers are not available for bees to feed on. In order to keep bees alive, the beekeeper feeds the bees sugar dissolved in water. During spring and summertime, bees carry on normal honey making and use flower nectars for honey-making which would be filled with various flavors. The honey produced from sugar dissolved in water will be sold for cheaper in markets and labeled as “bad honey”. This is the main difference between them. It is recommended to consume the spring product honey as it is the healthiest and filled with aromas and flavors. 

Baking

Brown sugar for baking

Brown sugar has an important feature while used in baking, as it contains molasses which is hygroscopic meaning that it absorbs water compared to classical ingredients of baking like white sugar. This additional property of brown sugar, which is best used for cookies, makes them chewier and less dry.  

Honey for baking

Honey can be used for baking as it contains enzymes that have an effect on flavors. Fruity and spicy flavors will be more exposed as they will be aromatized and extracted. However, the temperature that the cake is baked must be lowered due to the fact that at high temperatures honey gives a bitter taste.

For the baking usage of both brown sugar and honey, both have advantages on the different baking methods that can be used. Brown sugar would be suitable for the preparation of cookies as it would make them chewier and less dry. In comparison to honey which would be suitable for making cakes and pies as it would give more aroma and flavoring to the cake and pie.

Summary

In summary, brown sugar contains higher amounts of carbohydrates, sugars and calcium. On the other hand, honey is richer in vitamin C and manganese relatively. Honey has a lower glycemic index and calorie count. Both brown sugar and honey have negligible amounts of fats and proteins.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5817209/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3399220/
  3. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.110.167429
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6115915/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6959843/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17995819/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2235907
Article author photo Jack  Yacoubian
Profession: Haigazian Medical University
Last updated: November 29, 2020

Infographic

Brown sugar vs Honey infographic
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Mineral Comparison

Mineral comparison score is based on the number of minerals by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
:
2
Honey
Contains more Iron +69%
Contains more Calcium +1283.3%
Contains more Potassium +155.8%
Contains more Magnesium +350%
Contains more Copper +30.6%
Contains more Zinc +633.3%
Contains less Sodium -85.7%
Equal in Phosphorus - 4
Contains more Iron +69%
Contains more Calcium +1283.3%
Contains more Potassium +155.8%
Contains more Magnesium +350%
Contains more Copper +30.6%
Contains more Zinc +633.3%
Contains less Sodium -85.7%
Equal in Phosphorus - 4

Vitamin Comparison

Vitamin comparison score is based on the number of vitamins by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
:
4
Honey
Contains more Vitamin B5 +94.1%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +70.8%
Contains more Vitamin C +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +∞%
Contains more Folate, total +100%
Equal in Vitamin B3 - 0.121
Contains more Vitamin B5 +94.1%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +70.8%
Contains more Vitamin C +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +∞%
Contains more Folate, total +100%
Equal in Vitamin B3 - 0.121

Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores

Summary score is calculated by summing up the daily values contained in 300 grams of the product. Obviously the more the food fulfils human daily needs, the more the summary score is
Vitamin Summary Score
1
Brown sugar
1
Honey
Mineral Summary Score
8
Brown sugar
3
Honey

Macronutrients Comparison

Macronutrient comparison charts compare the amount of protein, total fats and total carbohydrates in 300 grams of the food. The displayed values show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Protein
1%
Brown sugar
2%
Honey
Carbohydrates
98%
Brown sugar
82%
Honey
Fats
0%
Brown sugar
0%
Honey

Comparison summary table

Pay attention at the most right column. It shows the amounts side by side, making it easier to realize the amount of difference.
Brown sugar Honey
Lower in Sugars ok
Lower in Sodium ok
Lower in glycemic index ok
Lower in price ok
Rich in minerals ok
Lower in Cholesterol Equal
Lower in Saturated Fat Equal
Rich in vitamins Equal

Which food is preferable in case of diets?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Brown sugar Honey
Low Calories diet ok
Low Fats diet Equal
Low Carbs diet ok
Low glycemic index diet ok

People also compare

Comparison summary

Which food contains less Sugars?
Honey
Honey contains less Sugars (difference - 14.9g)
Which food contains less Sodium?
Honey
Honey contains less Sodium (difference - 24mg)
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
Honey
Honey is lower in glycemic index (difference - 4)
Which food is cheaper?
Brown sugar
Brown sugar is cheaper (difference - $3)
Which food is richer in minerals?
Brown sugar
Brown sugar is relatively richer in minerals
Which food contains less Cholesterol?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Cholesterol (0 mg)
Which food contains less Saturated Fat?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Saturated Fat (0 g)
Which food is richer in vitamins?
?
It cannot be definitely stated which food is richer in vitamins. See charts below for detailed information.

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

In the column "Opinion" we made some assumptions which could be controversial. For instance we are assuming that less saturated fats is good for you. Please ignore this column if you have your own opinion.We marked the nutrients, comparison of which we considered as not meaningful, as "N/A"
Nutrient Brown sugar Honey Opinion
Calories 380 304 Brown sugar
Protein 0.12 0.3 Honey
Fats 0 0
Vitamin C 0 0.5 Honey
Carbs 98.09 82.4 Brown sugar
Cholesterol 0 0
Vitamin D 0 0
Iron 0.71 0.42 Brown sugar
Calcium 83 6 Brown sugar
Potassium 133 52 Brown sugar
Magnesium 9 2 Brown sugar
Sugars 97.02 82.12 Brown sugar
Fiber 0 0.2 Honey
Copper 0.047 0.036 Brown sugar
Zinc 0.03 0.22 Honey
Starch
Phosphorus 4 4
Sodium 28 4 Honey
Vitamin A 0 0
Vitamin E 0 0
Vitamin D 0 0
Vitamin B1 0 0
Vitamin B2 0 0.038 Honey
Vitamin B3 0.11 0.121 Honey
Vitamin B5 0.132 0.068 Brown sugar
Vitamin B6 0.041 0.024 Brown sugar
Vitamin B12 0 0
Vitamin K 0 0
Folate, total 1 2 Honey
Folic acid (B9) 0 0
Trans Fat
Saturated Fat 0 0
Monounsaturated Fat 0 0
Polyunsaturated fat 0 0
Tryptophan 0.004 Honey
Threonine 0.004 Honey
Isoleucine 0.008 Honey
Leucine 0.01 Honey
Lysine 0.008 Honey
Methionine 0.001 Honey
Phenylalanine 0.011 Honey
Valine 0.009 Honey
Histidine 0.001 Honey
Fructose 1.11 40.94 Honey

References

The source of all the nutrient values on the page (excluding the main article the sources for which are presented seperately if present) is the USDA's FoodCentral. The exact links of the foods presented on this page can be found below.

  1. Brown sugar - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168833/nutrients
  2. Honey - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169640/nutrients

Data provided by FoodStruct.com should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.