Honey has been used for medicinal, natural healing and culinary purposes for thousands of years; offers many health benefits and is the ideal alternative to sugar in cooking and as a sweetener.
Honey is made from flower nectar collected by bees from flowering plants and is basically the stored food for bees. Honey is a nutrient rich food - 1 tablespoon contains 64 calories and 17g sugar (fructose, glucose, maltose, sucrose). It also contains minerals, vitamins, enzymes and a combination of phenolic compounds like flavonoids, making honey a powerful healer and antioxidant.
The common honey bee is thought to originate in Africa, and most ancient cultures including the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians used it as a natural sweetener and for medicinal purposes. The Greek physician Hippocrates used honey to treat skin ailments, and to enhance energy levels. Modern science has since proven that honey has many benefits and is a much healthier alternative to refined sugar.
These are the top 7 health benefits of honey:
Soothes and treats upper respiratory tract infectionUpper respiratory tract infections are common with symptoms ranging a sore throat to coughing, and often caused by a viral infection. Mainstream medication is not always effective, but honey has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties that can ease coughing and soothe sore throats.
Powerful antioxidantNatural honey is packed with enzymes and phenolic compounds, which are strong antioxidants and help block disease causing free radicals. Boost your immune system and reduce the risk of heart disease by consuming honey regularly
Prebiotic for a healthier digestive systemRaw honey contains oligosaccharides, which are sugars that serve as a fuel source and a natural source of prebiotics (beneficial bacteria). This promotes the growth of the good bacteria necessary for a healthy gut and improved immune system.
Maintains healthy blood pressureThe phenolic compounds in honey have shown to regulate blood pressure and in turn, reduce the risk of heart disease.
Improve cholesterolInterestingly, studies have shown that honey may improve cholesterol levels by reducing bad cholesterol (LDL) while significantly increasing good cholesterol (HDL).
Lowers triglyceride levelsElevated blood triglyceride levels poses a risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Studies have found that replacing refined sugar with honey helps maintain healthy triglyceride levels.
Promotes wound healing
Applying honey topically to help heal wounds is a ancient practise. It’s anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and viscosity soothes and provides a protective barrier to prevent infection. Treat wounds, burns or even diabetic ulcers safely and without any side effects. Manuka honey is considered particularly suitable for treating burns and ulcers.
Is honey better than sugar for diabetics?Although honey is better than sugar due to the its many nutrients and antioxidants, studies have shown that it can increase blood sugar levels. It’s slightly better than refined sugar but is still high in calories and comprises glucose and fructose, which means that it should be consumed with caution by those with diabetes. Bear in mind that certain types of honey may be adulterated with glucose syrup, which can have a huge impact on blood sugar levels.
Pick the right honey: raw, organic or natural
There are so many different types of honey available in the market making it quite difficult to choose the right one. For optimum healing effects, it’s best to use natural, raw or organic honey; and avoid those that are highly processed and adulterated with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
Types of honey
- Comb honey: Purest, rawest form of honey and the beeswax is also edible
- Raw honey: Contains wax, pollen and other enzyme - may be unpasteurised if it comes straight from the farm
- Organic honey: Produced without pesticides, insecticides and herbicides - this is hard to control and the standard remains controversial as since bees can travel up to 4 km from the hive to gather nectar and pollen. Only non-toxic paints can be used on the hives and no medication can be administered to the bees
- Single flower species honey: Honey gathered from a single flower (e.g. orange blossom, clover, longan, Manuka) with at least 51% of the specific type of nectar present and labelled accordingly
- Liquid honey: Pasteurised with the beeswax filtered out with a longer shelf life. Always check the label to ensure there are no sugars added and buy a reputable brand
Natural honey is diverse and varies between batches and hives so expect it to look and taste different from jar to jar.
- Colour: Different shades from light brown to amber and dark brown. Colour depends on mineral, pollen and phenol content; with darker honey containing higher bioactive antioxidant compounds than the lighter shades
- Clarity: Often cloudy due to air bubbles, pollen and other particles
- Natural honey should not dissolve easily in water: Stir some honey into a glass of water - real honey won’t dissolve but forms a lump and sinks down to the bottom of the glass. If you shake well, real honey emits bubbles that last for a while. Adulterated honey dissolves easily in water and there aren’t many bubbles when you shake it
- Smell: Sweet to acidic depending on the amount and types of acid it contains
- Taste: Varies from hive to hive and what the source of the nectar was - smoky, floral, spicy, woody, nutty or earthy
- Nutritional content: Varies according to type of honey - cloudiness is due to the enzymes and phenolic compounds found in natural honey
- Pricing: Pure honey comes at a price and quality does depend on how much you pay for it. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the most expensive honey is the best, but don’t expect it to be very natural and pure if it’s priced too low
It is advisable not to allow children below the age of 1 to consume honey due to the risk of contracting botulism, a potentially fatal illness caused by certain bacterium spores that may be present in the honey. If you have a pollen allergy, it’s also recommended to be cautious when consuming honey.