Honey in pot

Top 5 health benefits of manuka honey

What's special about manuka honey, what does 'UMF' mean, and are the health claims about this expensive ingredient really true? Registered Nutritionist, Nicola Shubrook takes a closer look.

What is manuka honey?

Manuka honey is native to New Zealand and is a dark honey produced by bees which pollinate the flowers of the manuka bush. Manuka honey contains active compounds, giving it natural antimicrobial properties – and it is this that sets it apart from regular honey.

When purchasing manuka honey you should look for the UMFTM mark on the label. This stands for Unique Manuka Factor and is a quality trademark awarded to licensed beekeepers, producers and exporters of genuine manuka honey from New Zealand.

As well as carrying UMFTM trademark, you’ll also see a number such as 10+ or 25+, this represents the level of unique signature compounds, methylglyoxal (MG) and dihydroxyacetone (DHA) present in that specific honey, it’s this that gives the honey its purity and quality. The higher the number, the greater the MG and DHA content, and therefore the purer and more potent the honey is considered to be.

Discover our full range of health benefit guides and check out some of our best honey recipes. Manuka honey is heat tolerant so it can be used in recipes such as our honey-roasted swede with chilli & cumin, or used in a dressing such as in our flaked salmon salad with honey dressing.

What is the UMF trademark?

UMF stands for Unique Manuka Factor and is a quality trademark given to registered licensed beekeepers, producers and exporters of genuine manuka honey.

Advertisement

As well as looking for UMF on the label of any manuka honey product, you’ll also see a number such as 10+ or 25+, representing the level of unique signature compounds, methylglyoxal (MG) and dihydroxyacetone (DHA) present in that specific honey – this is what gives the honey its purity and quality. The higher the number, the greater the MG and DHA content, and therefore the more pure and potent the honey is considered to be.

Nutritional benefits of Manuka honey

One teaspoon of manuka honey provides:

  • 33 kcal / 137 KJ
  • 8.4g carbohydrates
  • 8.2g sugar

Honey, including manuka honey, is considered a ‘free’ sugar, the type we should look to minimise in our diets.

Manuka honey in a bowl with a spoon

Top 5 health benefits of manuka honey

1. Supports wound-healing

Manuka honey is probably most renowned for its wound-healing properties. When applied directly to a wound, it may improve the healing process and decrease pain – so much so that the US Food and Drug Administration approved it as an option for wound treatment in 2015.

Being collectively antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, studies have shown manuka honey to offer wound-healing support for tissue regeneration,  superficial partial thickness burnsdiabetic ulcers and eyelid wounds, for example, post-surgery.

2. Supports gut health

Manuka honey acts as a prebiotic, being a source of non-digestible carbohydrates known as oligosaccharides. We can’t digest these carbs but the bacteria in our guts can. Using the oligosaccharides as fuel helps levels of ‘good’ bacteria in our digestive system, including bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, thrive.

Research has demonstrated the potential for manuka honey to help protect against gastric ulcers, by providing an anti-inflammatory effect and potentially helping manage infections such as helicobacter pylori which can cause ulcers and acid reflux. There is also some evidence that manuka honey may help treat other gut infections including those from bacterial strains such as clostridium difficile.

3. May offer antiviral properties

2014 study of manuka honey found that in a laboratory, it efficiently inhibited influenza viruses, and another study found it had significant in activity against shingles. However, more research, including human trials, are needed in this area before any firm conclusions may be drawn.

4. Soothes a sore throat

Honey and lemon is an age-old remedy for a cold and studies support this claim. A study in 2010 found that honey was more effective at alleviating a cough in children than over-the-counter cough suppressants. This was followed by new guidelines in 2018 from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE and Public Health England (PHE) to use honey as a first-line treatment to reduce the symptoms of a short-term cough. Following the recent SARS Cov-2 (Covid-19) outbreak a study is currently looking at the efficacy of natural honey in the treatment of patients infected with Covid-19.

5. May be a useful for antibiotic resistant infections

A 2020 study investigating the application of medical grade honey as an approach to treating multidrug-resistant infections suggests it should be considered as an alternative therapy.

A cup of tea with Manuka honey

What is a healthy portion of manuka honey?

A maximum of two teaspoons a day (15g) is a good portion size of manuka honey, as while it has many impressive health benefits, it is still high in sugar.

If you are using manuka honey as part of a balanced diet, try drizzling it over porridge, overnight oats or natural yogurt.

How to buy the best manuka honey

Firstly, check that it is from New Zealand and that it carries the UMF stamp and trademark.

The label should also carry the UMF rating such as 10+ or 25+. The higher the number, the better in terms of nutritional benefits – but the more expensive the product will be.

Is manuka honey safe for everyone?

Honey is safe for most adults, however, it must be avoided if you are allergic to honey or bees.

Those with diabetes also need to be careful around their blood sugar levels when consuming manuka honey, as it is high in sugar.

The NHS also advises not to give honey to children under the age of 1 year old as occasionally it contains a bacteria that can be can cause serious illness in infants.

There are many health claims made about manuka honey. Some of these are based on limited, small-scale studies which, although promising, can’t be used to draw conclusions about its clinical use. Always check with your GP or other health professional if you have concerns over its suitability for you.


This article was last reviewed on 26th August 2021 by Kerry Torrens.

Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.

Advertisement

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.