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  • Writer's picturefranceswalker@thefoodinto

When honey is not the best choice

Updated: Apr 8

Honey is not always the best choice! Honey is often seen as a healthy alternative to sugar. As the oldest known sweetener known to man, honey commands a lot of respect. We also use honey for medicinal purposes to soothe sore throats and even treat infections. Manuka honey is terrific as a medicinal honey which comes from the good old tee tree. Smear it on the affected area for best results.

It is almost a universally accepted fact- honey is simply delicious.

What is lesser known is that honey contains some natural chemicals that can be a real problem for some people.

Luckily there are 5 great honey alternatives for when honey literally makes you sick!


The sweetness of honey comes from the fact it is made up of sugars called fructose and glucose. There is slightly more fructose (40%) than glucose (30%) and we call this 'excess fructose'. Compare this to normal white sugar which is made up of equal amounts of glucose (50%) and fructose (50%).

This is significant- this excess fructose tends not to be absorbed across the gut wall but remains in the gut. Fructose remaining in the gut is not a good thing if you have fructose intolerance as fructose is a very small molecule which makes it 'osmotically active'.

This means that:

  • Water is attracted to the fructose in the gut causing extra water to move into the gut from the body. If you are sensitive or have irritable bowel then you may become quite bloated from this extra water.

  • Unabsorbed fructose makes its way to the small part of the gut (small intestine) where your microbes live in the billions. The microbes ferment the fructose really quickly and this fermentation produces gases which further bloats the sensitive gut and triggers pain.

The result is bloating, gut pain and diarrhoea or constipation (ar alternating).


Honey starts off as flower nectar and thanks to our wonderful bees is magically transformed into honey.

Because honey comes from a plant, it contains a natural chemical called salicylate. Salicylates act as a natural preservative for plants protecting against microbe attacks and providing immunity.

Some people can get terrible symptoms from salicylates such as recurrent hives, irritable bowel symptoms including bloating as well as headaches, incredible fatigue, moodiness, brain-fog, aches and pains and children can be restless with exacerbation of behavioural issues such as ADHD. Symptoms differ between people and can change over a lifetime.

Honey is very high in salicylates and salicylates are also found found in fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, oils such as olive oil and coconut oil, chocolate, mint flavoured sweets, tea and herbal teas, coffee, fruit juices and ciders, and many alcoholic drinks such as beer and wine.

Salicylates are just one type of natural chemicals that can cause unpleasant symptoms and if you are sensitive to salicylates you may also be sensitive to the other natural chemicals- amines, glutamates as well as some food additives. People's sensitivities are very unique and very hard to predict so a properly constructed food chemical elimination diet (the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Elimination diet = the FAILSAFE diet) can help identify what groups of chemicals and foods you are reacting to.

5 HONEY ALTERNATIVES low in fructose and salicylates

1. Sugar: white, brown, castor, icing

Sugar can be used instead of honey- either white or brown. Just moderate use to maintain a healthy diet.

Choose pure icing sugar over normal icing sugar to avoid wheat if you have Coeliac Disease, and if you are following a low FODMAP diet you can safely use raw or palm sugar.

2. Rice syrup: a delicious alternative to honey that can be used as a direct honey substitution. Found in most leading supermarkets.

Some rice syrups contain gluten which may need to be avoided if you have Coeliac Disease.

3. Maple syrup: a great tasting alternative to honey, especially on pancakes and in desserts. To be low in chemicals and food additives- choose PURE maple syrup, not imitation.

4. Golden syrup: a firm favourite in our household for when you want that denser, stronger, molasses type of taste.

To be low in FODMAPs make sure you have only ONE TEASPOON per serve. Be careful- if you increase to2 TEASPOONS per serve then golden syrup becomes high in FODMAPs. 5. Glucose syrup

Often found in the baking section in supermarkets. Contains sulphites but will be burned off in cooking..

FODMAPs or salicylates elimination diet.

If you suspect you may be sensitive to FODMAPs or salicylates and other naturally chemicals/ food additives then you can:

  • Go on the low FODMAP elimination diet and take out all the high FODMAP foods including honey

  • Go on the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital chemical and food additive elimination diet and take out all foods and drinks high in food chemicals and some food additives

  • Sometimes a combined diet is required

Don't struggle on with your food sensitivities- find out how to manage your diet and minimise your symptoms.


Updated 28/8/18

REFERENCES 1. Keith Kantor. Ask A Scientist. Is Honey healthier Than Sugar? Huffpost. 2014-06-09. Retrieved from: Retrieved on 2017-08-23. 2. Saxelby S. Medical Honey or Manuka honey. 2013-01-18. Sourced from: Retrieved on 2017-08-28. 3. The Monash University Low FODMAP App. 2017: version 2.0.1. Date retrieved: 2017-08-28. Retrieved from: 4. Swain AR, Soutter VL, Loblay RH. RPAH Elimination Diet Handbook with food & shopping guide. Camperdown, N.S.W. Allergy Unit, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, 2011.


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