When it comes to achieving better heart health, your diet is key. Experts say whole, plant-based foods should dominate your plate, while saturated fats, salt and sugar should be kept to a minimum.
That said, a new study suggests that not all types of sugar are created equal in the eyes of cardiometabolic impact. The researchers behind the study say that swapping your usual sugar source for raw honey could make the most of your sugar intake by helping to lower your blood sugar and improve your LDL cholesterol.
Read on to learn more about their fascinating findings and to discover the one caveat they say changes everything.
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Most people are aware of the negative effects of saturated fat on LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels, but experts say eating a diet high in sugar can have a similar effect. As fatty cholesterol deposits build up in artery walls, they can block blood flow. Ultimately, this can lead to a series of major medical emergencies, including blood clots, heart attack, or stroke.
In addition to raising your LDL levels, eating too much added sugar can also lower your HDL, or “good,” cholesterol and raise your triglyceride levels, explains the Cleveland Clinic. This can cause the arteries and arterial walls to harden over time.
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A November 2022 study published in the journal Nutrition advice performed a meta-analysis of 18 controlled feeding trials that included over 1,100 largely healthy subjects. Researchers have found that raw honey and monofloral honey have a protective effect on the heart, helping to keep blood sugar and LDL cholesterol low.
“These results are surprising, because honey contains about 80% sugar,” Tausef Khanresearcher on the study and a nutritional science research associate at the University of Toronto’s Temerty School of Medicine, said U of T News. “But honey is also a complex composition of sugars, proteins, organic acids, and other common and rare bioactive compounds that most likely have health benefits.”
“The word among public health and nutrition experts has long been that ‘a sugar is a sugar'” John Sievenpiper, the study’s principal investigator and clinician-scientist at Unity Health Toronto, told the same outlet. “These results show that is not the case, and they should give pause to the designation of honey as free or added sugar in dietary guidelines.”
There was a crucial caveat to the researchers’ findings: the study subjects were mostly healthy individuals who followed nutritious diets. A condition of their participation was that added sugars made up less than 10% of their daily calories. This suggests that maintaining an overall low sugar intake is still an important factor in maintaining low blood sugar and low LDL cholesterol.
“We’re not saying you should start consuming honey if you’re currently avoiding sugar,” Khan said. Medical News Today. “Takeout is more about replacement — if you’re using table sugar, syrup, or another sweetener, replacing those sugars with honey might reduce cardiometabolic risk.”
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According to the Mayo Clinic, there may be several additional benefits of adding honey to your diet in place of other types of sugar. In addition to being associated with a lower risk of heart disease and cardiometabolic risk factors, honey may also act as a cough suppressant, improve gastrointestinal symptoms, improve neurological conditions, and provide topical relief from wounds and burns. Raw honey, which is unpasteurized and tends to be higher in antioxidants, may increase its benefits.
However, some experts note that pasteurized, raw honey may contain a spore-forming bacteria known as Clostridium botulinumwhich can cause intestinal botulism in rare cases.
Talk to your doctor or nutritionist to learn more about the impact adding raw honey to your diet can have on your health.
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