Honey is a sweet, golden liquid that conjures images of bees buzzing from flower to flower. Collecting nectar and producing this delicious natural food in their hives. But honey is far more than a sweet treat – it’s one of nature’s most powerful health foods with a myriad of benefits supported by science.
In this article, we’ll get to familiarize ourselves with the nectar of health that is honey.
The Essence of Raw Honey
Raw honey is honey in its purest form. It’s extracted directly from the honeycomb, unheated, unpasteurized and unprocessed. This allows it to keep its natural vitamins, enzymes, antioxidants, and other nutritional elements found in the bees’ nectar.
The pure raw honey creation process is fascinating. Worker honey bees suck nectar from plant blossoms through their straw-like tongues. This nectar then gets stored in their extra stomachs, or “honey sacs.”
Back at the hive, the bees regurgitate the nectar and pass it from bee to bee, adding specific enzymes during each transfer. When finished, they deposit the nectar into wax honeycombs. That’s where natural evaporation takes place where it concentrates into honey. Throughout this whole process, which can take from a few days to weeks depending on climate, the honey is never heated or pasteurized.
In contrast, regular supermarket honey is heated and pasteurized to slow crystallization and improve shelf life. This destroys the delicate enzymes and nutrients in raw honey. Truly raw honey is the way to go for maximizing health perks.
This is why raw honey contains components like bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly that regular processed honey does not. Propolis is created by bees from plant resins to build their hives. Royal jelly is secreted by nurse bees to feed larvae and queens. These natural components found in raw honey but destroyed by processing are what give it its unique health properties.
Nutritional Profile of Honey
Raw honey contains a host of beneficial nutrients and compounds. Here’s what you’ll find in just 1 tablespoon (21 grams) of honey:
- 64 calories
- 17 grams of sugar
- 0 grams of fat, fiber, or protein
- 11% DV for riboflavin
- 3% DV for niacin, pantothenic acid, iron and zinc
- Antioxidants like phenolic compounds and flavonoids
- Essential vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium and sodium
- Enzymes like diastase, invertase, and glucose oxidase
So while honey is high in sugar, it offers more than just sweetness. The presence of antioxidants, enzymes, and phytonutrients adds to its health benefits.
Honey owes its sweetness to natural sugars fructose and glucose, which account for 85-95% of its carbohydrates. It also provides a handful of other nutrients:
- Vitamins. Raw honey contains various B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid. It also contains pantothenic acid and pyridoxine. These support energy metabolism and red blood cell production.
- Minerals. It provides minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and selenium in trace amounts. These support bone health, circulation, immunity, and more.
- Amino acids. Raw unfiltered honey contains amino acids proline, phenylalanine, tyrosine, and aspartic acid. These act as building blocks for proteins and aid in wound healing.
- Enzymes. Honey possesses enzymes like invertase, which breaks down sucrose into fructose and glucose. It also has glucose oxidase. This enzyme produces hydrogen peroxide and gluconic acid. Both of its by-products have anti-bacterial properties.
This unique nutritional profile is what sets raw honey apart from regular sugar. It offers a bevy of important micronutrients and health-promoting compounds.
Antioxidant Properties of Honey
Raw honey contains polyphenols and other antioxidant compounds from plant nectar. In general, darker varieties like buckwheat and wildflower honey tend to be highest in antioxidants.
One study found that the total antioxidant content in honey ranges from 33 to 85 millimoles per 100 grams. It’s comparable to fruits and vegetables. Researchers also observed a strong correlation between honey color and antioxidant levels. Darker honey has the most antioxidants present in it.
So along with vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, raw honey’s antioxidant content is a key part of what makes it a healthy superfood.
Free radicals are unstable molecules produced when the body breaks down food or by environmental exposures. They can build up and generate oxidative stress, damaging cells and contributing to chronic diseases.
Luckily, raw honey is packed with antioxidants that neutralize these damaging free radicals. The major antioxidants in raw honey include the following:
- Phenolic compounds. These are potent antioxidants found in many plants. Raw honey contains types like ellagic acid, gallic acid, syringic acid, benzoic acid, and cinnamic acid.
- Organic acids. It provides acids like gluconic, formic, acetic, butyric, citric, and succinic acid. These exhibit antioxidant effects.
- Vitamins C and E. Honey contain varying levels of antioxidant vitamins. Darker varieties tend to be the highest as they’re produced from vitamin-rich flower pollen.
- Flavonoids. Honey supplies flavonoids like quercetin, luteolin, kaempferol, apigenin, and chrysin. These polyphenols scavenge free radicals.
Antioxidants are important compounds that help prevent cell damage by neutralizing free radicals in your body. High levels of free radicals can lead to oxidative stress, contributing to chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
*Research shows antioxidant levels in raw honey range from 0.75 to 3.5 mmol/kg, comparable to fruits and vegetables. Darker types like buckwheat, wildflower, and Manuka honey contain the highest levels.
Source: Antioxidant Properties of Honey and Its Role in Preventing Health Disorder (2018)
Cardiovascular Benefits of Honey
Raw honey also can bestow health benefits on our cardiovascular system. Here are some of the benefits that you may get from consuming pure raw honey:
1. Lower Blood Pressure
Some research indicates raw honey may help lower blood pressure levels. One study had participants consume honey for 8 weeks in place of sugar. Honey helped reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
2. Improve Blood Fat Levels
Honey contains components like propolis that may help control blood fat and cholesterol levels.
A human study found that drinking honey vinegar soda for 4 weeks moderately decreased LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
3. Support Heart Health
Additional components in raw honey like quercetin and acacetin exhibit antioxidant effects that may help prevent heart disease. Animal studies demonstrate honey’s potential to lower risk factors like elevated triglycerides.
That said, human research is limited at this moment. Researchers are still conducting more studies on honey’s direct impact on heart health over the long term.
Source: Effects of honey vinegar syrup on blood pressure and lipid profile in healthy subjects (2013)
Honey in Wound and Burn Healing
Honey has been used since ancient Egyptian times to treat wounds, burns, and skin ulcers. And this traditional therapy remains effective today.
In wound care, honey provides a protective antibacterial barrier and moisture-promoting environment to speed healing. It contains glucose oxidase, an enzyme that produces hydrogen peroxide to fight infection.
Studies show honey dressing can enhance healing time for mild burns, partial-thickness burns, and wounds (13, 14). Manuka honey from New Zealand is especially renowned for its antibacterial and wound-healing prowess.
So while more research is needed, raw honey shows promise in treating topical skin conditions when used properly. Consult a doctor before applying it.
Honey as a Cough Suppressant for Children
Several studies have found raw honey can reduce cough symptoms and duration in children. To start, one study gave children aged 1-5 with upper respiratory tract infections either honey, an artificial honey placebo, or no treatment before bed. Honey consistently outperformed the no-treatment and placebo groups. This results in lowered cough frequency and severity.
In another study, children aged 2-18 with colds were given honey, dextromethorphan, or no treatment 30 minutes before bed. Honey provided the greatest relief from nighttime cough and sleep difficulty.
You must take note that honey should never be given to children under 12 months old due to the risk of infant botulism poisoning. Kids 1-5 can consume small amounts if the honey is well-pasteurized.
Incorporating Honey into Your Diet
You can incorporate honey into your diet and the possibilities are endless. Here are some of the ways that you can add honey to your food:
- Drizzle it over yogurt, oatmeal, or fruit for breakfast
- Sweeten your tea or coffee with it
- Use it in salad dressings or marinades
- Mix it into smoothies
- Enjoy it straight from the spoon
Just be mindful of portion sizes, as honey still packs in sugar and calories. Stick to 1-2 tablespoons daily.
And as always, look for raw, unfiltered pure raw honey from reputable local sources. This ensures you’re getting the full spectrum of health benefits.
1. Is honey safe for diabetics?
Honey has a less drastic impact on blood sugar levels than white sugar. However diabetic individuals should still exercise caution and monitor blood sugar closely when consuming honey due to its high sugar content. Speak to your doctor to see if honey can be safely incorporated into your diet plan.
2. How does the color of honey determine its quality and benefits?
Darker varieties of raw honey tend to have higher antioxidant levels compared to lighter colors. Buckwheat, wildflower, and Manuka honey are especially high in antioxidant compounds. Opt for raw, unfiltered honey in darker shades to maximize potential benefits.
3. Why is honey not recommended for children under 1 year of age?
Honey may contain bacterial spores that can cause infant botulism, a rare but serious type of food poisoning. Children under 1 year have immature digestive systems that cannot safely metabolize these spores. So honey is not considered safe for infants.
Pure Raw Honey: Nature’s Sweet Superfood
Raw honey stands as one of nature’s true superfoods. With a rich diversity of enzymes, nutrients, antioxidants, and antibacterial compounds, it offers a wide range of potential health perks. From wound healing to cough relief to improved blood sugar regulation, honey’s benefits are as diverse as its flavors and varieties.
Sourcing high-quality, unprocessed raw honey is key to harnessing its full health potential. Drizzle it over your yogurt, use it to sweeten tea, apply it topically to minor burns, or give it to your child to ease a cough – the ways to incorporate honey’s healing powers into your daily life are plentiful. So embrace the nectar of health and add a touch of sweetness to your pursuit of overall wellness.You may also like:
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