Date: 22nd May 2020
Q: What food group is honey in?
The short answer is:
Across the USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, honey is categorized as a sugar and a sweetener. As a sugar, it falls into the umbrella group of ‘carbohydrates’.
Now for further information....
People sometimes ask “what food group is honey in?”. This may be due to a general query regarding the nutritional profile of honey, or it may be due to the urge to seek clarity: I have learned there are some peculiar rumors flying around the web (on forums, for example) regarding honey and how it might be categorized by regulators.
After all, the way honey is to be listed and regarded as a food, might influence people’s perceptions of it.
I have covered this in a number of other pages, but to summarize here, about 82% of honey is composed of carbohydrates – and almost all of this is simple sugars: fructose; sucrose; glucose; maltose. Honey also contains 18 amino acids in small quantities – but protein constitutes only about 0.3% of the contents of honey.
Honey also contains trace amounts of B vitamins; vitamin C; some minerals such as magnesium, selenium, phosphorus and zinc. There may be some small differences in the balance of these nutrients, depending on the particular type of honey, and primary sources of nectar from which honey bees gathered nectar to make honey.
According to US government websites, honey is a ‘nutritive sweetener’, and this is how they define a nutritive sweetener:
Nutritive sweeteners, also known as caloric sweeteners or sugars, provide energy in the form of carbohydrates.
Some sugars are found naturally in foods. For example, fructose is found in fresh fruits. By eating the whole fruit, you not only consume fructose, but you feed your body fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that you do not get from sugar alone.
They go on to include honey, Agave, high fructose corn syrup, and fructose among nutritive sweeteners. (Non-nutritive sweeteners are zero- or low-calorie alternatives to nutritive sweeteners, and include things like aspartame, saccharin, sucralose and stevia).
I was genuinely surprised to discover a peculiar myth that the US FDA classified honey as a raw meat – it does not! There is absolutely no evidence for this at all.
To be clear, the FDA defines honey as:
“a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of flowers and store in honeycombs.”
In Canada, honey is classified as a sugar-based ingredient because it is a sweetening agent. To quote the relevant Canadian government authorities:
Examples of sweetening agents include fancy molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar, agave syrup, refined sugar syrup, honey, and other syrup....
Honey falls under the definition of a sugars-based ingredient because it is considered a sweetening agent. As such, when honey is used in multi-ingredient foods such as candies and biscuits, honey is required to be grouped in parentheses following the term "Sugars" in the list of ingredients and placed in descending order relative to the other ingredients in the product [B.01.008.3(1) and (2), FDR].
As such, when honey forms part of the ingredient list for a product (such as a cake), then it will be listed among ‘sugars’:
As per section B.01.001(1) of the FDR, honey is considered a sweetening agent as it is listed in Division 18 of the FDR. Although single-ingredient products like honey are exempt from displaying a list of ingredients, if one is voluntarily included on the label, honey packaged and sold as such is exempt from being declared in parentheses following the term “Sugars” in the list of ingredients [B.01.008.3(4)(a), FDR].
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