Honey is well known for being a health food but does it have health benefits or is it just another fad food?
Honey is made up of sugar, water, and some vitamins. It does not contain any fat but does contain minuscule amounts of protein and fiber.
Let’s take a look at what all is in honey:
- Sugar (fructose, glucose, and sucrose)
- Vitamins B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, & C
See a complete composition of honey here.
While honey does contain all these vitamins and minerals that can benefit us, you would have to eat large amounts to get the needed daily values.
Honey does contain antioxidants which have been found to possibly aid in reducing the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and some types of cancer. It can also help lower blood pressure.
Honey is often praised as a sugar substitute for diabetics but there are mixed opinions on whether or not honey is better for diabetics than table sugar. One study found that honey can increase blood sugar levels but not as much in comparison to table sugar.
Medicinal Properties of Honey
The medicinal use of honey is better known than its possible nutritional benefits.
Honey has been used for thousands of years medicinally and for human consumption. In Ayurvedic medicine, honey was considered one of nature’s most remarkable gifts to mankind. It was used to treat digestion issues, irritating coughs, insomnia, skin disorders, lung issues, anemia, and various eye ailments. Honey was an ingredient in almost all Egyptian medicines and they would offer honey as an offering to their gods. They also used honey in topical ointments, to treat infected wounds, and even used it in the embalming process of their dead. The Greeks had a drink made up of honey and unfermented grape juice that was sometimes used to treat gout and certain nervous disorders. Hippocrates favored honey and used it in the treatment of baldness, wounds, coughs and sore throats, eye diseases, and for the prevention and treatment of scars.
There have been countless studies done on honey recently. We now know that honey does indeed have antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. The only thing is, scientists aren’t 100% sure what gives honey these properties.
The amount of antimicrobial properties is not the same across the board for all types of honey. It differs from honey to honey based on region and what plants the bees are collecting nectar from. Manuka honey is the most well-known honey for its antimicrobial properties. It has been found to have an inhibitory effect on around 60 species of bacteria.
There was one study done that found that aerosolized honey helped treat asthma in rabbits but has not been tested on humans.
What is in honey that gives it these properties?
Honey contains hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and it is believed that this could be one of the ingredients in honey that gives it its antimicrobial properties. The only problem is, manuka honey has very low levels of hydrogen peroxide, which means it is considered a non-peroxide honey, yet it has very high levels of antimicrobial activities. H2O2 levels is not a good indicator of how strong a honey’s antimicrobial properties are and it was found that heating honey reduces the amount of H2O2 in the honey.
Honey’s high sugar levels and acidic nature is believed to also contribute to its antimicrobial properties. The acidity of honey has the ability to inhibit several bacterial pathogens. Honey also has the ability to absorb water which will create a moisture-free environment that most bacteria cannot thrive in.
Honey and Allergies
I’m sure many of you have heard that eating local honey could help reduce your seasonal allergies. The theory is that if you ingest pollen found in honey from local sources it will help you build up some immunity to the plants that cause your seasonal allergies to flare up. This study contributed to the idea that pollen in honey could help those with seasonal allergies. In the study they added the pollen that caused the allergies to the honey. The honey did not naturally contain this pollen.
While there is pollen in honey, there’s not always a lot of it and it does not guarantee that the pollen that ends up in honey will be the pollen from local plants that cause allergies. In 2004, the Australian government found that there was only 0.15% to 0.443% canola pollen found in canola honey. The amount of pollen in honey will never be consistent and differs from honey to honey.
This study found that using local honey did not relive pollen allergy symptoms at all. In rare cases, people can actually have allergic reactions to honey due to the pollen or possible bee venom in honey.
Honey and Children
Never give children under 1 year of age honey. Ask your doctor before giving honey to children.
Raw Honey vs Honey
Which is better, raw honey or honey?
I wrote all about it here, but to summarize, it depends on what you are looking for.
Nutritionally, raw honey and honey(often referred to as processed or fake honey due to it being heated and pollen removed) are the same regardless of whether or not it is heated. More studies are needed, but there is not a significant amount of data to prove that heating honey will destroy all beneficial properties or that filtered and heated honey is less “healthy” than raw honey.
If you are wanting to use honey for medicinal reasons, raw honey will be your best bet. Raw Manuka honey is even better if you want to make sure it has the antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Just keep in mind that high heat could reduce its H2O2 content and other properties.