By Dr. Mike Roussell
October 15, 2013

Q: Is putting honey in tea as bad as adding sugar to coffee?

A: Yes and no: Yes, pouring honey into your tea is as "bad" as sprinkling sugar in your coffee, but no, neither is actually that bad. Let's first look at the sweeteners and then the drinks.

Honey vs. Tea

Honey is often touted as a healthy alternative to table sugar. Just walk down the cereal aisle and count how many healthy cereals you spot advertised as "honey sweetened"-you won't find any bragging about being dipped in table sugar! Per teaspoon, honey contains slightly more calories than sugar does (22 compared to 16). The types of sugar in each are slightly different as well. Honey contains fructose, glucose, and a little sucrose, while sugar is pure sucrose. When it hits your mouth, fructose is sweeter than sucrose, which is why honey tastes sweeter and thus you'll probably use less of it, making the calorie difference a wash.

There is also a little talk about the dark side of honey. Honey could be one of the most pesticide-laden products in our foodstuffs. A 2010 study found that 98 percent of bees wax extracted from apiaries (e.g. bee hangouts) contained pesticides. Bees forage small amounts of pollen from a very wide area and diversity of flowers; honey is the distilled down and concentrated result of their efforts. So essentially bees are concentrating down all the pesticides with the honey as well. Because bees can forage pollen upwards of 2 miles away from their hive, it is nearly impossible for honey to be completely pesticide-free, although organic honey should contain significantly fewer contaminants.

Coffee vs. Tea

If honey and table sugar in small amounts are essentially the same nutritionally, then is one delivery vehicle-coffee or tea-better than another? Nope, in fact both are very healthful and should be consumed regularly. People generally label themselves as coffee drinkers or tea drinkers, but becoming a hybrid coffee and tea drinker is the best thing you can do. Here's why.

1. Green tea and EGCG: If you drink green tea, one of the unique compounds you benefit from is epigallocatechin gallate, an antioxidant that gives green tea its fat-burning power. You can supplement with EGCG, but in order to reap its fat-burning effects, it needs to be combined with caffeine, as it is naturally in green tea.

2. Coffee and chlorogenic acid: While much of the research and talk surrounding coffee has to do with caffeine, chlorogenic acid is a very important antioxidant, as it may enhance weight loss and improve blood pressure. Chlorogenic acid is more concentrated in espresso compared to filtered coffee.

3. Black tea and theaflavins: Most of the nutritional buzz surrounding tea is associated with green tea, but black tea has its own unique healthful components. Black tea contains high levels of theaflavins, antioxidants that can help reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Drinking black tea is also associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and diabetes.

Coffee, Tea, or Neither?

Beverages like coffee and tea often transcend the warm drink category and can become very ritualistic. I never miss my morning cup of coffee, prepare it the same way, and look forward to drinking while making breakfast for my children every morning. I'm not alone in this. Because people enjoy these morning rituals so much, I try as much as possible not to disrupt them when putting together diet plans for my clients. Why make a client cut out coffee since they enjoy it and there's no reason to eliminate it?

Nutritional change is very disruptive to our daily lives. When a nutritional plan becomes too disruptive, adherence to the plan falls dramatically with time, and chronic adherence to your dietary plan is the most important thing. When someone is starting a new diet plan, the calories provided from honey in their morning tea or the sugar they put in their coffee (pending they are having a little sugar with their coffee and not coffee with their sugar!) is not the habit that is holding them back. I'd rather have a client be able to look forward to their morning coffee and focus their efforts on changing more impactful behaviors.