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Honey has been renowned as a source of energy and nutrition since humans discovered bees. The Romans regarded honey as "nectar of the gods," and Greek athletes energized themselves with honey before entering the arena. Egyptians put honey in tombs as food for the afterlife. In fact, honey was used as a sweetener centuries before humans learned how to extract sugar from sugarcane or beet. The biblical Promised Land "flowed with milk and honey," and Hippocrates in his writings on the care and cure of the patient extolled the nutritional virtues of honey. In short, history regards honey as man's original and most natural sweetener.
Is honey more nutritious than table sugar? Possibly. One reason that honey is touted over table sugar is the "extra nutrition" in the form of proteins, minerals, and vitamins that honey is supposed to contain. The fact is that the trace amount of these nutrients in honey is so insignificant that honey may not be so superior.
Whether or not the sugars in honey are more nutritious than those in table sugar is controversial. Nutritionists say no. Honey lovers say yes. The sugars in honey and ordinary table sugar (or sucrose) are both primarily a mixture of fructose and glucose, yet honey contains a small amount of other sugars. The composition of sugars in honey can vary from bee hive to bee hive, according to the source of the nectar. Because of its slower rate of absorption through the intestines and a stopover at the liver before being used by the body, fructose triggers less insulin and therefore less swings in blood sugar. For this reason, honey that contains more fructose than the equivalent amount of table sugar would be metabolically easier on the body. Yet, the glycemic index of honey is the same as table sugar.
Many people prefer the taste of honey over that of table sugar as a sweetener. Since honey is sweeter than table sugar, when substituting honey for sugar in recipes, use half the amount of honey and decrease the liquid called for in the recipe by the volume of honey that you add. Whether honey is nutritionally superior to table sugar may be more of a mystique than reality. If you enjoy its sweeter taste and believe that honey is healthier than sugar, for you it probably is. As for our family, we prefer honey. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that honey not be given to infants under one year of age because of the rare possibility of being infected with the germ that causes botulism.)