"Because honey has potential health benefits and induces a similar glycaemic response, substituting honey in place of sugar may be warranted," wrote lead author Jennifer Ilana Ischayek from San Diego State University.
Interest in honey has been increasing as researchers look for ever diversifying health benefits. Indeed, only last year researchers from Purdue University reported that honey in combination with calcium supplements increased the quantity of calcium absorbed and could therefore play a role in boosting bone health.
The use of glycaemic index (GI) ranks carbohydrates according to their ability to affect blood glucose. The general 'take-home' message for consumers therefore has been "low GI good, high GI bad."
The new research, funded by the US National Honey Board, analysed the GI of four US honey varieties (clover, buckwheat, cotton, and tupelo) in 12 healthy adults. The Fructose-to-glucose ratios were found to be 1.09, 1.12, 1.03, 1.54, respectively.
Blood sugar levels of the volunteers were measured 15, 30, 45, 60, 90, and 120 minutes after eating the honey meal. The average glycemic index for all four honeys was 72.5 (69.2-74.1).
"While there does not appear to be a lower glycaemic response for the varieties of honeys tested here versus glycaemic index values previously reported for sucrose, honey may provide some nutritional advantages over some refined sweeteners, such as table sugar," said Ischayek.
"For example, honey, especially darker varieties such as buckwheat honey, possesses natural antioxidants that can decrease oxidative stress in humans.
"Honey also provides prebiotic properties on bifidobacteria, which can help improve gut health," she said.
In international terms China is currently by far the largest honey producing nation in the world, with around a 40 per cent slice of the market. The next biggest producers are the US, Argentina and Ukraine. According to the American Honey Producers Association China and Argentina have been adversely affecting America's domestic honey industry with cheap imports, although there is a counter argument that both China and Argentina have been helping to counterbalance falling production in the US.