Stirred into tea or squeezed into lemonade. A dollop on yogurt. A drizzle on granola.
Honey sweetens our world in so many ways! One of the best sugar substitutes available, it brings a welcome taste, but did you know honey can also contribute to your vitality and overall wellness with myriad health benefits?
If you’re wondering, Is honey really healthy? The answer is a resounding yes. And we’re not alone in believing this. Honey and bees have long been valued going as far back as Ancient Egypt. In fact, pots of honey were discovered inside tomb’s in Egypt’s famous Pyramids, and has been found in the historical records of ancient cultures around the globe. But, while honey as food for the soul in the afterlife is a romantic notion, we’re more interested in using honey on a daily basis to sustain our earthly lives.
How Do Bees Make Honey?
Who doesn’t love watching honeybees nuzzle flush flowers? It for sure gives us the warm-fuzzies. Not to mention, their hard work is our benefit: Honey’s long shelf life is a confluence of flower nectar (that sweet liquid inside a flower) and the diligent work of these two-winged friends. As bees gather nectar, they store it in their honey stomachs (who knew?). When bees return to the hive, it’s transferred mouth to mouth to bees inside the hive. It’s this transference that reduces the nectar’s moisture content and results in a more concentrated liquid; the moment it transforms into honey. The result? A delicious raw honey with antibacterial qualities due to low water content, high acidity, and a slight accumulation of hydrogen peroxide.
But it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Colony collapse disorder, varroa mites, and habitat loss all threaten bees and the crucial job they perform in our world. Without these one-of-a-kind pollinators, a shocking amount of food would not be available. To illustrate just how many of our everyday food products depend on pollination by honeybees, in 2013 a Rhode Island Whole Foods store removed all pollinator-dependent items from their produce shelves. The result was dramatic.
Gone were many smoothie, stir fry, and salad go-to ingredients. In fact, more than half of the fruits and vegetables–including apples, onions, avocados, carrots, lemons, limes, and many others–vanished from the shelves. Of course, the other major ingredient that becomes less abundant as honeybee populations decline is honey itself. That’s why it’s important now more than ever to support your local bees. How? By buying local honey (more on that later), planting bee-friendly flowers and plants, and maybe even welcoming a beehive or two in your own backyard.
Best Types of Honey To Use
Before discussing the health benefits of this sugar alternative, it makes sense to first talk about the best types of honey to use. For obvious reasons, raw (or minimally processed), local, organic honey are top of the list. As with organic produce, organic honey is a more wholesome and chemical-free food. Then there’s pasteurized versus unpasteurized forms of honey. Mass-produced honey–even if it comes from organic flowers–is more likely to be heat-treated and may also be adulterated with cheap, sweetening adjuncts like high-fructose corn syrup. That’s a big no at Perfect Snacks.
But, why heat honey in the first place? Heat used during the pasteurization process makes it easier to process honey. The honey becomes less viscous, and a thinner consistency makes it easier to pump into tanks, jars, and bears. Pasteurized honey also resists granulation down the road, which is all about retail aesthetics. In fact, crystallized honey is perfectly okay to use and can be returned to syrup when gently heated it in a warm water bath. High-temperature pasteurization can also kill beneficial enzymes and antioxidants, and reduce antibacterial activity, all notable properties that bestow many of the health benefits of honey. And here’s a Good-to-Know: When shopping for honey, keep in mind that honey labeled “raw” cannot be pasteurized under U.S. regulations, but honey labeled “organic” can be.
When it’s time to replenish your honey stock, it’s a good idea to seek out raw, organic, local honey at a nearby farmer’s market or natural food store to maximize the health benefits of this natural sweetener. Local honey showcases the flavor and characteristics of your local flora because it contains nectar and pollen from the plants you interact with daily. And there is an infinite variety of locally produced honey, some you’ve probably heard of and others that may seem exotic. That’s why it’s vital to support your local beekeepers and the important work they do. It helps ensure the local bee population remains healthy and vibrant in the face of rising environmental stresses.
While local, single varietal honeys display an amazing range of flavors and colors, it’s also fascinating to sample the great diversity of flavors produced by bees in vastly different bioregions like the Pacific Northwest, southern California, Hawaii, and the Midwest. We love grabbing a jar of local honey wherever we go on vacation. It’s the perfect souvenir!
So, Onto the Many Benefits of Honey
Honey has been clinically proven to bolster health in a bunch of ways when a part of your daily diet. The most notable benefit is to the immune system, the fortress that protects and supports our health and vitality. This sugar alternative’s immune-bolstering effects are partly due to probiotic bacteria that come from both the bees and the pollen they collect. Lactobacillus kunkeei is the single-celled defender that boosts your immunity to help you avoid getting sick. In addition, the flower nectar found in honey passes along phytochemicals that also stimulate the immune system. The presence of these beneficial bacteria are another good reason to consume raw honey. Pasteurization of honey kills beneficial bacteria similar to the way antibiotics, while vital to fighting bad bacteria, may also ravage good bacteria in your intestinal tract.
Honey versus Sugar? Honey provides a slow and gentle rise in blood sugar, a major score for our favorite sugar alternative, making it the obvious winner. This means treats or beverages sweetened with honey don’t skyrocket your blood sugar then quickly crash it, leaving you depleted and lethargic. In our sweet-loving world, it takes vigilance and restraint to avoid processed sugar. But there is a healthier option. Since honey has a high-fructose content, it’s actually sweeter than sugar, so a little goes a long way. And it’s why we use pure honey as a natural sweetener in our Perfect Bars.
With both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, raw honey is an effective topical application for wound healing and an excellent first aid for minor burns. Using honey to promote the healing of wounds has been around since herbalists and folkloric medicine were the only established system of healthcare. Aristotle, Dioscorides, and scores of unknown female medicine practitioners throughout history have used honey for these purposes. How does honey heal wounds? Its benefit is partly due to honey’s low level of hydrogen peroxide. Honey also pulls water out of the wound, decreasing inflammation, while at the same time allowing the flow of healing lymph to the wound.
Honey has also proven effective at healing diabetic ulcers (ironically caused by blood sugar problems) and even severely infected diabetic foot wounds. Honey-infused bandages are available at some local drugstores, but you can also thoroughly clean your cut or scrape, apply honey, then bandage the area. Topical application of honey helps burns, too. As with any treatment for burns, always cool the burned area before applying honey, so the honey doesn’t act as an insulator and hold in the heat, damaging the tissue further. Once the wound is healed, further applications of honey can help restore the skin.
Even with the strongest of immune systems, sickness sometimes strikes. Unwelcome bouts of colds, flu, and croup often lead to nighttime coughing fits that exacerbate discomfort, disrupt sleep, and wear down family members within earshot. In a study by a Penn State College of Medicine research team, a small dose of buckwheat honey at bedtime was shown to be more effective in treating children suffering from nighttime coughs than widely used, over-the-counter cough suppressants that contain Dextromethorphan (DM).
The study showed that honey out-performed DM cough medicine at reducing the severity, frequency, and discomfort of nighttime coughing, and also provided a positive effect on the sleep quality of both the coughing child and (it goes without saying) the child’s parents. And remember, these sicknesses often seem most severe just before bed or in the middle of a night, making the 24-hour drugstore seem twice as far away. Late-night drugstore runs are just one more reason to always keep honey in your cupboard.
The demulcent property of honey that helps reduce coughing also soothes a sore throat by creating a protective coating over the irritated mucous membrane. And the same smooth coating honey provides your throat also works on your stomach. Honey-sweetened tea can both suppress a cough and aid an upset tummy. This is particularly helpful during the cold and flu season, but is also beneficial in curing mild nausea.
Remember: Never give honey to children under one year of age, as honey (even pasteurized honey) may contain trace amounts of Clostridium botulinum. If ingested, it could germinate and grow in the infant’s gastrointestinal tract, which is not yet protected by a developed population of intestinal flora.
Honey’s ability to ensure a good night’s sleep is due to the energy it provides the liver, helping to restock its glycogen, and from tryptophan, which helps in the brain’s production of serotonin. Honey as a natural sleep aid means you’ll sleep deeply, restore your mind and body, and wake the next morning more refreshed!
Honey contains antioxidants, including flavonoids, which may reduce the risk of heart disease, increase blood flow to the heart, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and help prevent heart attacks and stroke by inhibiting the formation of blood clots. Research from University of California Davis also suggests that raw honey contains high levels of antioxidants and may augment a healthy adult’s natural defenses against damaging free radicals and oxidative stress. We “heart” honey!
While your honey-fueled immune defenses, optimum digestive health, restorative sleep, and even-keeled blood sugar probably already have you feeling your best, you’ll also be looking your best. Using this sugar alternative as part of your skincare regimen can help correct blemishes and improve your glow. Don’t want to drop a bundle on expensive honey-based skin products? Use this talented natural sugar substitute as an ingredient in your own homemade beauty concoctions. Try this mask recipe: combine honey, ground organic almonds, and oats. Add bit of rosewater to form a paste and apply to your face. Leave on for 5-15 minutes and then rinse off gently with water.
If you struggle with skin blemishes, honey can also clear acne and cold sores due to its antibacterial and moisture-absorbing properties. It can also be used to calm rosacea. Applying honey as a soothing face treatment helps remove lesions without harsh chemicals, and nourishes sore or inflamed skin. In addition to the slight acidity and antibacterial properties, honey is nourishing and can clean and brighten your skin. Even the crystallized form of honey, can be used as a face or body scrub. (Rub gently!) Whether you are looking to clear acne or hydrate mature skin, honey belongs in your medicine cabinet as much as in your pantry!
Does your hair need some love? Honey can make it more lustrous. Thin ¼ cup of honey with 2 tablespoons of water. Massage it through your hair as you would conditioner. Wrap your mane with plastic wrap for 30 minutes then rinse with water.
Honey is truly amazing. That it is also made by bees is astounding. It is the golden nectar used throughout human history, and a royal ingredient we are lucky to be able to use daily. And this natural sweetener’s many health benefits help maintain and improve our wellbeing on so many levels, from enzymatic digestive health to glowing skin. You’ll never look at honey the same way again!
Want to learn more? Get further information straight from the sources:
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Raman, R; “All About Raw Honey: How is it Different Than Regular Honey?” accessed, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/raw-honey-vs-regular
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