Honey has, for thousands of years, been considered as a healthy addition to not just our kitchen, but to our medicine cabinets too.
But can something so sweet really be good for us? Before you go loading up your morning porridge with a teaspoon of honey, we’ve delved into some of the science behind its supposed health benefits.
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What is the nutritional value of honey?
Honey is packed with natural sweeteners, but how much sugar - and everything else - is actually in a teaspoon?
One portion (teaspoon) of honey contains:
- 21 calories
- 17 grams of sugar
- Water, vitamins, minerals and pollen
Despite the slightly higher calorie count - compared to the 16 calories in a teaspoon of sugar - it’s the make-up of sugars in honey that are thought to make it a healthier option.
Most of the sugar found in honey is fructose (40%) and glucose (30%). The balance of glucose and fructose in honey can vary, but these relatively low levels are what makes honey a smart alternative to other sugary treats.
Honey does have another secret weapon, too - its antibacterial properties and hydrogen peroxide levels. Read on to find out why these are so important to our health.
What are the health benefits of honey?
Raw honey is packed with nutrients, a relatively healthy blend of sugars, minerals and antioxidants, making it a unique natural remedy that is linked to so many different health benefits, from heart health to healing wounds.
The health benefits of honey include it:
- Being a rich source of antioxidants
- Acting as a cough suppressant
- Treating a sore throat
- Treating burns and wound healing
- Improving heart heart
- Helping to reduce blood pressure
- Strengthening our immune system
The levels of nutrients and antibacterial properties can vary from honey to honey, making some more effective than others.
Buckwheat honey and manuka honey are great sources of nutrients, aiding the benefits below.
Antioxidants in honey
Honey contains polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants.
This means, when consumed in moderation, honey can boost levels of antioxidants found in the blood. This has been linked to a reduced risk of heart conditions (like heart attacks and strokes) and even some types of cancer.
A top tip? The darker the honey, the more antioxidants it usually contains. Buckwheat honey is a great source of antioxidants, having a proven impact of improving the body’s antioxidant defence.
Honey helps soothe a sore throat
Got a sore throat? You’ve probably already been advised to have a mug of hot lemon and honey water - and you should take that advice!
Because of its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, honey is one of the best at-home remedies for a painful throat.
Honey is a cough suppressant
Multiple studies have shown that in children, honey can suppress coughs and improve sleep, when it may be disrupted by an uncomfortable respiratory infection.
Why you should never give honey to children under 1
Babies, up to 12 months of age, can suffer from a rare but dangerous condition called infant botulism. Caused by bacteria multiplying in the intestines, symptoms include weakened muscles and breathing difficulties.
You can heal wounds and treat burns with honey
This is one of the less commonly known health benefits of a spoonful of honey. However, honey has been a go-to for wounds and burn-related injuries as far back as the ancient Egyptian times.
Thousands of years later, studies have proved honey to be a successful treatment. One study proved its effectiveness on patients suffering from post-surgery wounds as well as burns. Again, we have honey’s antibacterial properties - in the form of its hydrogen peroxide levels - to thank for this natural remedy.
The low, but effective, levels of hydrogen peroxide (a weak acid) within honey cleans wounds and burns, helping to keep infections at bay.
Honey improves heart health
A big contributor to heart disease is our levels of cholesterol - we have ‘good’ cholesterol (called HDL) and ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL).
Honey can benefit our balance of cholesterol by reducing levels of LDL cholesterol and significantly increasing our HDL cholesterol levels. This helps to prevent the build up of fat in our arteries, a problem that leads to heart attacks and strokes.
Honey lowers high blood pressure
The antioxidants in honey have been linked to the lowering of high blood pressure. This can have a significant impact on the likelihood of heart disease.
Remember, even though these are some great health benefits, medical advice is to consume honey in moderation to avoid any health risks.
Honey strengthens our immune system
The combination of antioxidants and antibacterial properties means honey can help fight off bacteria and viruses. Look beyond your standard honey though - to see the benefit you want one with higher antioxidant levels.
Buckwheat honey and manuka honey both have some of the highest levels.
Are any of the health benefits of honey a myth?
There are some health benefits of honey that aren’t supported by any scientific research, or that research has conflicting opinions on.
Can honey help relieve allergy symptoms, like hay fever?
Due to pollen being one component of honey, some believe that by ingesting it over time and exposing your body to it, you can become less sensitive to pollen.
There is no solid evidence to confirm this, however.
Does honey improve insulin resistance?
Some studies have suggested that by consuming small amounts of honey, diabetics may experience an improvement in their body’s insulin resistance. Insulin resistance causes a low uptake of glucose from the blood, and subsequently glucose levels rise. Honey has been shown to have an impact on making cells less resistant to insulin.
This suggests that it could be used regulated blood glucose levels, however there isn’t enough evidence to support this idea yet, and it isn’t advised to use honey for this purpose.
What is manuka honey?
Manuka honey is one of the latest ‘superfood’ fads to hit the supermarket shelves. This type of honey is produced when bees collect nectar from manuka trees. Its difference? A study in New Zealand found that even when the, usually important, ingredient of hydrogen peroxide was removed, manuka honey still held onto its antibacterial properties.
So reliable as a natural antibiotic, antiviral and anti-inflammatory, in some instances manuka honey has been medically approved as a treatment option. In the US, the FDA list manuka honey as an option for treating wounds.
What are the benefits of manuka honey?
As well as the benefits above, makuna honey can improve oral health, including tooth decay, gum problems and plaque formation. This can help with oral health by stopping the growth of harmful bacteria that grows in our mouths.
It’s important to note, like all honey, manuka honey’s nutritional value varies depending on what type for tree it’s harvested from.
Is honey bad for you at all?
Whilst honey is a great sugar alternative, there are a few things to look out for before you start adding it to your meals.
Honey is still relatively high in calories and sugar - particularly when syrup may be added by some brands. This means, as with most things, it’s important to consume honey in moderation.
This is particularly important in people who are overweight, diabetic or already consume high amounts of sugar or carbohydrates. It’s recommended that in these instances, honey is avoided all together.