The Original Natural Sweeteners: Honey vs Stevia (Comparison Guide)


9 minutes, 30 seconds

Essential Takeaways

Honey and stevia are some of the original natural sweeteners, used by different cultures throughout the world for millennia.

Although stevia contains no calories and is sweeter than honey, many popular stevia products are highly processed and contain hidden additives.

When choosing between honey vs stevia, manuka honey gives you much bigger bang for your buck. Not just a natural sweetener for foods, it is an effective agent in medicine and skincare, too.

Humans have had a sweet tooth since the beginning of recorded history.

Natural sweeteners like honey and stevia were used for centuries before highly processed, more convenient foods laced with added sugars flooded the market.

These days, we’re much more aware of the dangers of these foods. And the shift back to natural options is well underway.

(So it’s a little ironic to call them natural “alternatives”, don’t you think?)

They were the original sweeteners. And now, they’re going head-to-head.

In this guide, we’re exploring the history, benefits, pros, and cons of honey vs stevia. Is there a clear winner?

Let’s find out.

In this guide to honey vs stevia:

  • The key differences between honey and stevia

  • The health benefits of manuka honey vs stevia

  • Stevia vs honey for diabetics

  • Stevia vs honey for weight loss

  • Is manuka honey the healthiest sweetener?

  • Where to buy authentic manuka honey


What’s the Difference Between Honey vs Stevia?

They’re both natural sweeteners, but is that where the similarity ends?

Let’s investigate what the key differences are between honey and stevia.

An introduction to manuka honey

As you may know, honey is a food source produced by bees to help them get through the winter months when flowers (and nectar) are in short supply.

It has been used by humans for thousands of years in food¹, medicine², beauty and skincare.

Manuka honey is just one of many honey varieties, but it’s a pretty special one thanks to its unique chemical composition.

It contains around 100 times more of the antibacterial compound associated with manuka honey’s health benefits, methylglyoxal (MGO), than regular honeys³.

And it’s been studied for decades as a result.

Unfortunately, due to its reputation for healing and versatility, honey is one of the most faked foods in the world.

So with its unique properties, limited supply, and higher price tag, manuka honey has its own dedicated testing and grading system. This protects the integrity of genuine manuka honey and the consumers that buy it.

The Unique Manuka Factor (UMF™) grading system tests for the presence of four chemical markers that indicate raw, fresh, monofloral manuka honey from New Zealand. It is the most regulated honey in the world.

As it’s so much more than just a sweetener, we’ll be focusing on UMF™ grade manuka honey in this guide as we compare the benefits, pros, and cons of honey vs. stevia.

An introduction to stevia

Stevia is a natural sugar substitute free from calories, carbohydrates, and artificial additives⁴.

It is hundreds of times sweeter than table sugar⁴, so people often use it as a healthier alternative.

A native plant to South America, stevia has been used as a sweetener for centuries. Indigenous people would dry the leaves and chew on them or add them to drinks and medicines⁵.

Stevia is a member of the sunflower family, and was first used commercially by Japan. Today, it’s mostly produced in Paraguay, Kenya, China, and the US⁵.

The name “stevia” in a food context typically refers to high-purity stevia leaf extract that comes from drying and then steeping the leaves in water before filtration, purification, and crystallisation⁶.

It comes as a powder, liquid, and even in pellets for warm beverages.


The Health Benefits of Manuka Honey vs Stevia

So, which is better for us, manuka honey or stevia?

Let’s find out.

The health benefits of manuka honey

The healing powers of manuka honey have fascinated scientists since they began to investigate it more deeply in the 1980s.

Studies show that it offers something truly unique, with unusually versatile applications.

“Manuka honey has greatly attracted the attention of researchers for its biological properties, especially its antimicrobial and antioxidant capacities.

Besides its main components [including methylglyoxal, its antibacterial compound], manuka honey contains a large number of other constituents in small and trace amounts, able to exert numerous nutritional and biological effects, like antimicrobial and antioxidant activities.

Manuka honey offers advantages in controlling bacterial growth and in the treatment of several health problems.”

It’s so versatile in fact, that we’ve created a list of over 170 ways to use manuka honey.

Here are some of them.

Manuka honey for healing

Manuka honey has humectant qualities, meaning it can seal off an inflamed or infected area, locking in moisture and keeping out bacteria.

Its antibacterial properties get to work whilst keeping the wound clean and clear⁷.

Since many medical complaints are ultimately due to an inflammation, infection, or open wound, manuka honey has been tested and found effective for a huge range of conditions.

Some of those include healing wounds, burns, and scars, soothing acne and eczema, easing allergy symptoms, sinus infections, and fungal infections, and even helping with menopause symptoms.

Manuka honey for skincare

Manuka honey isn’t just good for healing skin that’s already inflamed or scarred.

It’s also effective in maintenance of skin health, appearance, and elasticity, too.

Manuka honey has been shown to regulate the immune system and reduce rosacea⁸, balance skin pH levels, keep it clear of the debris that can trigger pimples⁹, and even boost collagen production¹⁰.

Plus, it’s fun to create your own manuka honey skincare products at home.

Try our manuka honey face mask recipe here.

Manuka honey for cooking

It might seem strange to list “food” last since we’re comparing manuka honey to stevia as a sweetener.

But a flavoursome ingredient in food is just the tip of the delicious iceberg for manuka honey.

Its health benefits are most effective raw, so it’s important when eating manuka honey not to heat it.

Get the best of manuka honey by adding manuka honey to your coffee or tea, making a delicious raw marinade, summer cocktail or indulgent side dish.

The health benefits of stevia

Despite its intense sweetness, stevia can help to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels¹¹, so it’s a popular choice for people dieting or managing diabetes⁵.

In its purest form, it also contains zero calories and has no glycemic index.

Unfortunately, the most popular stevia products (Stevia in the Raw and Truvia) are actually blends, and heavily processed.

As a result, the nutrients in stevia vary drastically, and research into its safety is lacking¹².

Although FDA-approved stevia products are considered safe, studies have shown mixed effects on the body¹²:

  • It can interrupt the beneficial bacteria in our gut¹³ which may lead to other health problems like weight gain and heart disease¹⁴.

  • The filler or added ingredients in popular stevia products like sorbitol and xylitol have been associated with digestive problems¹⁵.

  • Being a zero-calorie sweetener, it may encourage people to consume more calories than needed in other parts of their diet¹⁶.

Stevia can be a great alternative to refined white sugar, but like with any sweetener, it’s important not to go overboard.

By understanding exactly what’s in your stevia product, and how to consume in moderation, it can be enjoyed as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Is honey better for you than stevia?

Manuka honey is better for you than stevia when you consider its versatility and wider health benefits.

Honey does contain more calories and have a higher glycemic index than stevia. But it also contains more vitamins and minerals, has unique antibacterial qualities, and can be used in many more ways¹⁷.

Some stevia products contain fillers like maltodextrin, and other sugar alcohols and sweeteners¹⁷. UMF™-graded manuka honey is pure and unadulterated.

Ultimately, there is much more research about the benefits of manuka honey than of stevia. We know more about it, and we can use it for much more than just sweetening food.

Can you replace stevia with manuka honey?

Yes, you can. It’s likely that swapping stevia for manuka honey will change the flavour and possibly the texture of your food, but you will be introducing more potential health benefits.

Here are the things to consider when replacing stevia with manuka honey:

  • Manuka honey is not as sweet as other honeys, and it has an earthier flavour. Stevia is very sweet, so you may need more manuka honey or a combination to achieve the level of sweetness you’re looking for.

  • Manuka honey is a thick, viscous substance. Stevia tends to be in powdered or tablet form. So you may need to alter how you use the honey to ensure the texture and consistency of your food is what you’re aiming for.

  • The benefits of manuka honey are most potent when raw. Overheating honey can destroy the good stuff, so try drizzling honey on your food after cooking instead, like in this delicious baked brie recipe.

Replacing stevia with manuka honey is a great way to get much more bang for your buck.

It’s sweeteness that packs a serious wellness punch.


Manuka Honey vs Stevia for Diabetics

Both manuka honey and stevia are lower on the glycemic index than refined white sugar.

So they’re both better options for diabetics.

When consumed in moderation, manuka honey can have unexpected positive impacts for diabetes management:

“Considerable evidence from experimental studies shows that the honey may provide benefits in the management of diabetes mellitus.

The benefits could be a better control of the hyperglycemic state, limiting other metabolic disorders and diminishing the deleterious effects on different organs that may produce diabetic complications.

It is true that honey may be used as a potential antidiabetic agent that has the potential to reduce the complications of diabetes...” 

- Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity study, 2018.

It’s important to remember that although natural, manuka honey is made up of sugar, so it’s best to check with your doctor before consuming.

The same goes for stevia.

Even without the calories and impact on blood sugar, stevia has been found to trigger an insulin response brought on by its sweet taste alone¹⁸.

Plus, many of the popular stevia products contain additives that can cause dangerous blood sugar spikes for diabetics.

So whichever you choose between stevia vs honey for diabetes, make sure to check with a medical professional first.

Manuka Honey vs Stevia for Weight Loss

When it comes to weight loss, the watch-outs are slightly different for manuka honey vs stevia.

Manuka honey is a carbohydrate that contains sugar. When consumed as part of a balanced, healthy diet, it can be hugely beneficial to the body in many different ways.

It has been found to release energy slowly, and even help to repair cells after exercise, making it a great pre- or post-workout snack.

But like any other food, it should be consumed in moderation.

Stevia is so sweet that studies have found people using it tend to crave more sweet foods¹⁹.

This can encourage unhealthy habits like snacking more throughout the day, triggering weight gain.

Manuka honey is likely better for weight loss due to its vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant properties.


Is Manuka Honey the Healthiest Sweetener?

Manuka honey is the healthiest, most versatile sweetener when consumed in moderation.

This is based on the fact that it doesn’t just offer flavour and sweetness, but a whole host of health benefits thanks to its unique antibacterial and antioxidant properties.

If you want to learn more about the various sweeteners on the market and how they compare to manuka honey, check out our dedicated series of guides:

Find more manuka honey articles here.

Get So Much More than a Sweetener with New Zealand Honey Co. Manuka Honey

Our manuka honey is sourced and packaged in New Zealand by some of the best, most dedicated beekeepers in the country.

Rigorously tested and graded using the independent UMF™ system, you can rest assured that New Zealand Honey Co. manuka honey is the real deal.

Shop our range of UMF™ graded raw manuka honey.

Unsure which grade is right for you?

Take the quiz.


¹ Countries that consume the most honey, World Atlas.

² Traditional and modern uses of honey, National Library of Medicine.

³ Identification and quantification of methylglyoxal, ResearchGate.

What is stevia? WebMD.

Stevia: nature’s zero-calorie sustainable sweetener, National Library of Medicine.

Stevia, Coca-Cola.

Honey-based templates in wound healing, National Library of Medicine.

Honey: a therapeutic agent for disorders of the skin, National Library of Medicine.

Manuka honey for acne, Healthline.

¹⁰ The roles of vitamin C in skin health, National Library of Medicine.

¹¹ Effects of stevia, aspartame and sucrose on food intake, National Library of Medicine.

¹² Is stevia safe? Healthline.

¹³ Metabolic effects of non-nutritive sweeteners, National Library of Medicine.

¹⁴ The gut microbiome and blood lipids, National Library of Medicine.

¹⁵ Gastrointestinal disturbances associated with sugar alcohols, National Library of Medicine.

¹⁶ Diet quality and socio-demographic factors associated with non-nutritive sweetener use, National Library of Medicine.

¹⁷ Stevia vs sugar, Healthline.

¹⁸ Relationships between insulin and taste, National Library of Medicine.

¹⁹ Review of the nutritional benefits and risks related to intense sweeteners, National Library of Medicine.

Your wellness journey starts with a spoonful a day.


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