The recorded use of honey in human civilization dates back to at least 700 B.C. Therefore, it is no surprise that over the centuries honey has been used for many different purposes. Personally, growing up I was administered gobs of honey whenever I felt sniffly or my throat was sore - my mom was on to something! Other health benefits include:
- Boosts immunity by showing antimicrobial (anti-bacterial, fungi, viral, etc) and antiseptic properties, especially when used topically on burns, infected/ non-healing wounds and ulcers.
- Research in Israel shows decreased incidence of neutropenia (low white blood cell counts) in cancer patients. As honey is high in antioxidants, specifically phenolic compounds (ellagic acid), it has been linked to cancer prevention.
- Anti-inflammatory properties decrease the risk for chronic diseases.
- Improve appetite-regulating hormones as well as glucose response (prolonged energy), as per small study.
- Aids in reduction of weight gain and adiposity (in rats), most likely because of controlled appetite and lower food intake
- Helps with upper respiratory infections and acts as a natural cough suppressant
- Helps with mouth sores, as per Traditional Chinese Medicine
- Helps enhance the growth/ activity of good bacteria found in probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kefir, and fermented food, which aids digestion and increases immunity.
- Helps athletic performance by providing good muscle recuperation as it is a good source of carbohydrates (the best ergogenic source)
- Aids with the effects of seasonal allergies, specifically raw, local honey. This, unfortunately, is based more so on anecdotal stories rather than informed clinical research.
Honey does more than provide personal health benefits. It is estimated that 1 of every 3 mouthfuls of food are dependent on pollination from a Western honeybee, which equates to ~35% of the calories we consume every year! Honeybees are responsible for the pollination of commercial crops worldwide (apples, oranges, onions, carrots, broccoli, sunflowers, strawberries, melons, avocados, peaches, cotton, soy, alfalfa). As Albert Einstein observed: “No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more man”- a harsh statement that speaks true to the current bee crisis. Beehives are dying off or disappearing. Some theories point to the overuse of pesticides in industrial farming, the varroa mite- a parasite that infected bees with a virus, and loss of local varieties or monoculture commodity crops that lack enough pollen to properly feed the bees, such as wheat and corn. The most affected places have reported losing up to 90% of their bee colonies! No wonder honey can be so expensive, and with reason!
How To Pick Honey
As a rule of thumb, I recommend the darker honeys (buckwheat, sage, tupelo) because they are usually higher in antioxidant content. That said, darker honey has a stronger taste than the lighter colored varieties, so it also depends on your flavor preference. Honey flavor differs as a result of the flower varieties from which bees harvest the nectar i.e. clover, orange blossom, wildflower, eucalyptus - up to 300 different types!
Honey is available in raw or pasteurized form. When raw honey is removed from the hive and bottled, it contains supportive health benefits such as traces of yeast, pollen, phytonutrients, and healthy bacteria (specifically lactobacilli and bifidobacteria). Look for the label “100% pure.” Pasteurized honey has been heated and processed to remove impurities and kill any potentially harmful bacteria.
CAUTION: Do not give honey to children under one year old. They may develop infant botulism due to the botulinum endospores found in honey. Their underdeveloped digestive system can’t destroy the spores yet.
One teaspoon of honey provides 20 to 22 calories, which is slightly more calories than sugar. It is also sweeter due to its high fructose content, so a small amount goes a long way. Even though honey is better for glucose control and is considered a natural sweetener, it is still an “added sugar” and therefore should be indulged in moderation. Some research has stated that fructose favors fat storage and therefore may contribute to obesity, hyperlipedemia, and insulin resistance; studies are inconclusive.
“Bee” smart and enjoy this low-calorie honey citrus recipe from Environmental Nutrition. Thirty-five calories per tablespoon! Use to sweeten tea, yogurt, oatmeal, whole grain pancakes/ French toast, high fiber/ low sugar cereal, or just fruit!
- ½ cup honey
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- ¼ cup tamarind juice
Directions: Combine all in a small cup. Blend well. Refrigerate in an air-tight container- preferably with a spout!
Written and photographed by Alanna Cabrero, MS, RD
Originally posted on NYHRC Tumblr
The Real Scoop on Sugar. Today’s Dietitian, October 2012.
Discovering A Honey of a Sweetener. Environmental Nutrition, December 2011.
Honey. World’s Healthiest Foods.