What is honey?
Honey is a thick, golden liquid that is produced by bees using the nectar of flowering plants. The type of flowers that the bees visit can affect the taste, smell and texture of the honey, resulting in different varieties, such as manuka, acacia, clover and orange blossom.
Nutritional profile of honey
A teaspoon of honey (8g) provides:
23Kcal / 98KJ
Top health benefits of honey
1. A lower GI alternative to refined sugar
A natural sweetener, unprocessed honey contains approximately 40% fructose and 30% glucose, along with some water, pollen and trace minerals, including potassium, calcium and magnesium. Refined sugar by comparison is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. This means honey has a lower glycaemic value than sugar, and its affects on blood sugar levels will be slower.
While honey is 100% natural, it is important to remember it is still a ‘free’ sugar – the type that the NHS advises us to cut back on.
2. May help with hay-fever and allergies
Consuming local honey has long been touted as a hay-fever remedy, however, fairly high amounts may be needed to benefit from these effects.
One small study in 2011 looked at honey in cases of birch pollen allergy. Participants consumed honey with added birch pollen daily from November through to March (before the hay-fever season) and recorded their symptoms from April through to May. The results demonstrated a 60% lower total symptom score and twice as many asymptomatic days compared to those using conventional medicine.
3. Soothes sore throats and coughs
A study in 2007 found that parents favoured honey for symptomatic relief of their child’s night-time cough and poor sleep during an upper respiratory tract infection.
A later study in 2016 found honey may be better than ‘no treatment’ for the symptomatic relief of cough but that it wasn’t better than certain over-the-counter cough mixtures. As always, it is best to be guided by your pharmacist or GP in the treatment of child coughs and upper respiratory tract infections.
4. Antibacterial with wound healing properties
Honey has natural antibacterial properties and its effects on wound healing has been well researched. It is a rich source of chemical compounds such as flavonoids which have been reported to have antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties. Both laboratory studies and clinical trials have shown that honey is an effective broad-spectrum antibacterial agent.
Honey may help stimulate new tissue growth and minimise scar formation which is encouraging for those with non-serious wounds, ulcers and burns.
5. May alleviate skin conditions
Honey shows promise as a therapeutic aid to alleviate the symptoms of a number of skin conditions including atopic dermatitis, rosacea and acne. However, more research is needed to better understand the immunomodulatory properties of honey and its relevance for these conditions.
Is honey safe for everyone?
There is a risk of infant botulism (a rare but serious illness) from honey. The NHS therefore advises not to give honey to children until they’re over one year old. Furthermore, some individuals may experience allergy to raw honey, however, once again this is rare.
As honey contains sugar, it can contribute to tooth decay. Speak to your dentist or other health professional if you’re concerned about dental health.
Honey is produced by bees and therefore counts as an animal product, making it inappropriate for those following a vegan diet. For more information, read our guide: Is honey vegan?
Healthy honey recipes
And check out more of our honey recipes.
This article was last reviewed on 12 November 2021 by Kerry Torrens.