True or False: Using Honey in Coffee Instead of Sugar Is an Easy Healthy Hack

Photo: Getty Images/ Sofie Delauw
There may be lively debates about whether putting butter in your coffee is healthy or not, but virtually everyone is in agreement that sugar in your morning brew isn't great for you.

However, it's hard to go from being a sweetened coffee lover to "just black, please" just because you know sugar isn't healthy. Which is where alternative natural sweeteners like honey come in. In theory, putting honey in coffee sounds a heck of a lot better than something artificial. To find out how healthy it actually is, I asked the senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center, Dana Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, to weigh in.

Are there any benefits to adding honey in coffee?

In general, honey has some major pros in the nutritional density column compared to sugar, like having vitamins B2 and B6, iron, and manganese. B vitamins are crucial for giving the body energy, and combined with the caffeine in coffee, you're bound to feel a boost. The iron in honey is linked to increased cardiovascular health; the manganese has  antioxidant properties and can support bone health. Honey also has some antibacterial properties, especially manuka honey.

In order to reap all of these amazing benefits from honey, Dr. Hunnes says it's important to make sure you're buying a good-quality product. "Honey bees are dying off at fairly rapid rates globally and demand is outpacing the supply," she says. "Many honey products out there are not 100-percent honey because there just simply are not enough bees to produce as much honey as people want." When buying honey, make sure the label says "pure honey" and there aren't other ingredients listed in the ingredients list.

The not-so sweet news about honey

While having honey in coffee may sound healthier than adding straight sugar, Dr. Hunnes isn't convinced that it's a more nutritious choice. "It still breaks down into sugar," Dr. Hunnes says. "Honey does have a healthier 'air' to it than other sugars, but in the end, it still affects blood sugar in a similar way as sugar would." One tablespoon of honey has 17 grams of sugar and 64 calories. Compare that to a tablespoon of granulated sugar, which has 13 grams of sugar and 49 calories. Surprised?

That's why, given the sugar content, "I’m not sure that the small amount of honey that would be used would be sufficient to add much in the way of benefit," she says. Not that adding more is the answer either. "It's possible that the sugar load, depending on how much is used, could outweigh the benefit that the honey might purport to add," Dr. Hunnes adds.

So what's the verdict? "Adding honey to your coffee is probably unnecessary," Dr. Hunnes says.  "If you want honey, have some honey, but have it in a way that will be noticeable to you, meaning where you can actually taste it and appreciate it.  Don’t just add it to your coffee because that’s the 'latest trend.'"

Or, you could go another route completely and add cinnamon to you coffee. Speaking of coffee, here's the brewing method that gives you the most nutritional bang for your buck.

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