The Sweet, Surprising Benefits of Honey

The Sweet, Surprising Benefits of Honey

Honey is a sweet, thick substance made by honeybees. Not only is it used as a natural sweetener, it also has a longstanding history of benefits. For centuries, people have used honey for a number of health applications like dressing wounds and Ayurvedic medicine.

Bees make honey by sipping nectar from flowers and bringing it back to their hive for processing. Other bees eat the nectar at the hive, mixing it with an enzyme that partially digests the nectar into honey. Honey’s flavor depends on which flowers — wildflower, avocado, or orange blossom — the bees visited.

Here’s what you need to know about honey, how it can fit into your diet, and its benefits.

 

Honey vs. Sugar

spoons of sugar and honey | benefits of honey

Honey is not a low-calorie alternative to sugar. It’s nutritionally similar to plain sugar:

A tablespoon of honey contains:

  • 60 calories
  • 16 grams of sugar

A tablespoon of sugar contains:

  • 48 calories
  • 12 grams of sugar

If you love honey, you can use it instead of sugar since it does contain more beneficial nutrients (more on that below). But if you want a true sugar substitute, here are some options for you to explore. Most experts advise that we eat less added sugar (honey included), not more.

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4 Benefits of Honey

Honey contains primarily sugar and water. But unlike plain sugar, it is reported to contain about 200 substances, including:

  • Amino acids
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Enzymes

These substances are why honey comes with some extra benefits.

1. Honey has antioxidants

Natural honey contains antioxidant-like compounds such as flavonoids and phenolic acids. Antioxidants can help protect cells from damaging free radicals.

Caveat: You should get most of your antioxidants from fruits and vegetables. But, if your current diet is high in sweeteners, switching to honey might help add to your antioxidant intake.

2. Honey might support the immune system

A handful of small animal studies and cell culture studies have found that honey can help support the activity of immune cells. In short, honey isn’t guaranteed to boost immunity, but it’s promising. We still need to see more evidence.

3. Honey might support digestion

Honey has long been used by Ayurvedic medicine the help support the digestive tract. But, modern evidence is patchy. If you think you’re suffering from a digestive condition, talk to your doctor.

4. Honey can soothe sore throats

A spoonful of honey is widely known to potentially help relieve a sore throat. Try adding honey to hot tea along with a squeeze of lemon. The honey coats your throat to soothe irritation.

 

Possible Risks of Honey

bowl of honey with honey dipper | benefits of honey

Regular honey is generally safe for people over a year old. Microbes can’t grow in honey, but honey can contain botulinum spores that germinate once eaten. An infant’s immune system is still developing and may not be ready to fend the infection. People who are sensitive or allergic to bee pollen should also be careful.

You may also wonder, “Is it safe to eat raw honey?” Probably, but it may still contain botulinum spores (same as regular honey), so don’t feed it to a young infant. Those with specific allergies should be on guard since raw honey will contain trace amounts of yeast, wax, and pollen.

Raw honey isn’t filtered or heated, and the potential health benefit of raw honey is it may retain more of the valuable substances we discussed above.

Trinh Le

About

Trinh is a registered dietitian by day, blogger at Fearless Food by night. She loves helping folks develop a better relationship with food, which includes lots of cooking, eating and learning about nutrition. When she’s not snapping mouthwatering shots of (mostly) healthy food, you can find Trinh HIIT-ing it at her local gym. Follow her on Twitter.