Honey: More fructose than high-fructose corn syrup

Honey: It’s natural. Mom probably gave it to you, either straight or in tea for a sore throat when you were a kid. Even today, honey is touted as possessing almost supernatural qualities for promoting health.

Honey contains B vitamins, minerals, and a handful of antioxidants. It also contains . . . fructose. 60% of honey, in fact, is fructose.

While the average per capita intake of honey is only a modest 1.29 lb per year (National Honey Board; 2008) and therefore contributes only 0.77 lb of fructose per year, there are people who, believing honey to be healthy, use it to excess and use far more than 1.29 lb per year.

How does that compare to table sugar, or sucrose?

Sucrose is 50:50 glucose to fructose. How about high-fructose corn syrup, the sweetener found in virtually all processed foods that has replaced sucrose as the most common sweetener? Depending on the variety, high-fructose corn syrup is generally 42-55% fructose. Many of us (including me) believe that the proliferation of high-fructose corn syrup in processed foods is a big part of the reason Americans are fat and diabetic.

Yes: Judged by its fructose content, honey is worse than high-fructose corn syrup. It is also worse than sucrose.

It means that honey can also contribute to the adverse health effects of fructose, as detailed in this prior Heart Scan Blog post.

Comments (21) -

  • Nancy LC

    8/11/2009 5:40:02 PM |

    Is there any difference in fructose by source?  I know that natural fructose has a molecule that is  either right-handed or left-handed (can't remember which) and manufactured fructose is the opposite?  Could that account for a difference in how they're metabolized?

  • Kipper

    8/13/2009 4:52:23 AM |

    Regardless of what honey does once it's been absorbed, for those of us who don't digest fructose well it is frequently a quick ticket to intestinal distress (as is agave nectar).

  • jon

    8/13/2009 5:26:22 AM |

    As Dr. Royal Lee pointed out in the 1920's. Honey is a complete food, containing proteins, vitamins, minerals, coenzymes, and cofactors; as well as the fructose. Eat too much of it (or any whole food) and the body will avoid it for months to years.

    Processed foods have no such feedback mechanism.

  • Kismet

    8/13/2009 3:26:27 PM |

    Interesting references (I love honey), but what is the biological rationale for those findings? Some magical & so far unkown micronutrient in honey?

    Even if the latter is the case, eliminating fructose while adding this nutrient X would be even healthier (that is assuming the fructose literature shows a convincing dose-response relationship, I haven't checked).

  • jpatti

    8/16/2009 8:19:20 PM |

    Not for *me*, because I'm diabetic, but for most people I think there *is* an advantage to using honey, molasses, sorghum and/or maple syrup instead of granulated sugar.  

    It's not the minerals and vitamins, cause it's not enough to be significant.  If raw, there's some enzymes too, but again... really a salad and a cup of broth has way more micronutrients than any of these syrups.

    But these all taste way stronger than sugar.  It's really easy to oversweeten things with white sugar, because the only taste there is "sweet".  If you're sweetening with a strongly-flavored syrup, it's a lot harder to overdo.  

    It's easy for someone to put 2-3 tsp of sugar in a cup of coffee; much less likely for them to put in that dose of molasses.

    In short, for people who do not have blood glucose issues, using the syrups for sweetening still cuts sugar consumption down a lot, which is a good thing.  

    And for those of us with blood glucose issues, there's stevia.

  • Anonymous

    8/16/2009 8:26:17 PM |

    However, honey will have the natural form of fructose, the D isomer, which can be converted to glucose and go through the glycolytic pathway. The chemical process which produces HFCS makes a significant amount of L-fructose which can only be processed by immeditately turning it into fat. This may account for Jonathan's studies showing good things from a non-industrial source of fructose. I suspect the same things would be shown with fructose from fruits.

  • jacob

    8/18/2009 4:00:35 PM |

    Fascinating on honey (& possibly fruit). I've always been suspicious of equating HFCS, or purified lab fructose, with the fructose found in fruits and in honey. Do you have any references for the d isomer / l-fructose distinction?


  • Lucy

    8/19/2009 9:13:36 PM |

    Well this is definitely going to make me think twice before using spoon-fulls of honey in my next camomile tea, lol. This is useful information that was surprising to me, so thanks for sharing! I work with a program called Chef's Diet, and we create meals used from fresh produce and lean meats, delivered to your door daily.  I find your post pertinent. If you or your readers are interested in healthy eating and are interested in Chef's Diet, check us out at http://www.mychefsdiet.com.

  • Anonymous

    8/22/2009 6:02:27 PM |

    Jacob, this was my source for the L-fructose comment. Maybe not the most reliable source but an interesting premise. I have not gone to the original literature to verify.

  • David Gillespie

    8/24/2009 1:41:26 AM |

    According to the Finnish National institute of health and welfare, honey contains only 41.4% fructose.  Even allowing for half of the 1.5% sucrose being converted to fructose, its still short of the 50% fructose for table sugar or the 55% for HFCS.

    See http://www.fineli.fi/food.php?foodid=4&lang=en

  • Anonymous

    9/11/2009 12:48:33 PM |

    "jon said...
    As Dr. Royal Lee pointed out in the 1920's. Honey is a complete food, containing proteins...."

    Are you referring to Royal "Jel" Lee?

    Sorry. I could not resist.

  • rshwnd

    10/10/2009 3:26:57 PM |

    from what I've been reading...mass produced honey where bees are under forced conditions to produce honey are fed fructose corn syrup and this leads to higher levels of fructose in our honey.  fructose corn syrup is the ultimate culprit and is something I avoid. when shopping for honey, the cheaper honey will most likely be the honey that is "spiked" with fructose corn syrup.  it is also referred to as "baker's honey".  you need to buy whole organic honey to get honey that doesn't contain the corn syrup.  also, most food that has honey as an ingredient will contain fructose corn syrup.  I used to buy the "golden blossom" brand of honey but discovered that is is packed with high fructose corn syrup.  I only buy organic now...its a bit more money but worth every penny

  • Anonymous

    3/27/2010 7:23:00 PM |

    Ah, yes, the HFCS Big Lie: the artificial sweetener produced from agricultural starches. Despite its name, the fructose in HFCS is not the same as the L-fructose found in fruit and honey; instead it contains high concentrations of D-fructose, a naturally rare “mirrored” version of reversed isomerization and polarity.  In mammals (including humans), both isomers of fructose are not used directly for energy, instead being shunted by the liver for conversion primarily into blood triglycerides and body fat.

    The two fructoses are not the same, and the HFCS industry is not inclined to look for possible secondary health effects; they just want their profits to continue.

    Honey is a wholesome food eaten for millenia by humans, containing much more than simple sugars. HFCS has been around for mere decades. Why be a lab rat for ADM or Cargill?

  • Soylent

    4/24/2010 12:39:00 PM |

    "Is there any difference in fructose by source?"

    I don't know.

    "I know that natural fructose has a molecule that is either right-handed or left-handed (can't remember which) and manufactured fructose is the opposite?"

    Fructose in nature exists in many forms depending on what has produced it.

    Fructose can exist as a linear ketose, a six-member pyranose ring, or a 5-member furanose ring. These exist in left-rotating(D) or right-rotating(L) forms.

    I don't see any specific pattern that would allow one to claim that fructose in corn syrup is somehow uniquely evil. It is even produced by a biological process with enzymes.

    If you're going to do some more research on this, keep in mind that the notation can be a bit confusing. Small l and small d refer to which way it rotates plane polarized light(l is anti-clockwise/left and d is clockwise/right). But there is also big L and big D which refer to the different enantiomers; in fructose it happens to be that l-fructose is a D-fructose and vice versa.

  • Soylent

    4/24/2010 1:21:07 PM |

    "Despite its name, the fructose in HFCS is not the same as the L-fructose found in fruit and honey;"

    No the most common kind in nature is D-fructose, also known as l-fructose(capitalization matters).

    "[...]instead it contains high concentrations of D-fructose, a naturally rare “mirrored” version of reversed isomerization and polarity."

    But it's not naturally rare. You won't usually find L-fructose in plants; but this does not prevent you from getting plenty of L-fructose in a "natural" diet.

    Fruits contain not just fructose, but also lots of sucrose. When you eat this sucrose it will be broken down by acid hydrolysis into L-fructose.

    Different plants, animals, bacteria or fungi that use enzymes instead of acid hydrolysis to break down sucrose use different enzymes, yielding either L-fructose or D-fructose.

    L and D enantiomers does not cover all varieties of fructose that exist in nature.

    I don't see any particularly sinister pattern here. It smells more like more like it is part of the long-running FUD campaign against the artificial and man-made by the technophobes. See the success of organic farming for the damage such long-running FUD campaign can do. Organic farming uses more land, more water, more energy and more pesticides. Which replaces "artificial" fertilizer such as mined potash, with "natural" fertilizer such as mined potash without the dirt removed(all this does is increase shipping costs).

  • javieth

    8/15/2010 8:21:23 PM |

    The honey is really great for the skin, i usually use it in my face, is really wonderful. After my mask i feel my face smooth and clean. And my boyfriend always notice the difference, he simply love it. I feel more comfortable with my self and he is always with too much energy because he usually buy viagra

  • buy jeans

    11/3/2010 9:53:00 PM |

    While the average per capita intake of honey is only a modest 1.29 lb per year (National Honey Board; 2008) and therefore contributes only 0.77 lb of fructose per year, there are people who, believing honey to be healthy, use it to excess and use far more than 1.29 lb per year.

  • Sc0rp10n

    12/15/2010 9:12:26 PM |

    For your body fructose is fructose - simple. The body has no way of differentiating. The outer shell is stripped off and what remains is FRUCTOSE. Fructose cannot be used for energy and will be shipped to the liver once processed and converted to fat - usually abdominal fat (note the expanding muffin tops of young girls drinking fruit juices as healthy options)!

    Fructose is fructose to your body, whether you have to digest it or it's supplied to your processed.

    You can see from this analysis and study that honey reduces your immune function, for instance, by nearly as much as pure fructose and by much more than glucose or starch:


    Anyone eating the recommended low-fat, high carb, high fibre diet and having those 5 small meals a day, will have impaired their immune function by 50% for pretty much the whole day!

    For optimal health you have to eat a high fat diet, that's very low in carbs.

    Follow my thread here:

  • Robert Miles

    3/20/2011 12:16:58 PM |

    Research on mice shows that, for them, fructose causes insulin restance and obesity. Insulin resistance makes type 2 diabetes worse, converts pe-diabetes into type 2, and type 1 diabetes into type 1.5 (also known as double diabetes).

    Does this also apply to humans?  The "expert" opinions vary so widely that they essentially prove little more than the need for similar research on humans.

    Manufacturing processes seledom distinguish between the two isomers at all, and therefore starting with anything that does not have isomers would almost always produce a 50-50 mixture of the two isomers of fructose.

    Manufacturing processes starting with one isomer of something would be much more likely to produce just one isomer of whatever their result is.

    So far, research on humans has shown that fructose make your brain increase your appetite.  Also, your liver converts it into cholesterol and saturated fat.  The rest of your body has little use for it; it cannot be used for energy the same way glucose can.

    Do D-glucose and L-glucose have different effects on your body?  I haven't found any research papers saying one way or the other yet.

  • Robert Miles

    3/20/2011 12:24:39 PM |

    One more comment:  The heating process used in manufacturing high fructose corn syrup, will, if overdone, turn some of it into a compound toxic to honeybees.

    Does this also apply to humans?  So far, I haven't found any research papers saying that anyone has done any research into whether it does or not.