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.
5 health benefits of honey
1. A lower GI alternative to refined sugar
A natural sweetener, honey contains around 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. As honey has a lower GI value than sugar, this means it does not raise blood sugar levels as quickly.
While honey is 100% natural, it is important to remember it is still high in sugar with around 5.6g of sugar per teaspoon, and honey counts as a ‘free’ sugar – the type that the NHS advises us to cut back on.
Honey is higher in calories than sugar, but it is also sweeter tasting and so less is usually required, making it a good substitute. Read more about using honey as a sugar substitute.
2. Honey may help with hayfever and allergies
Consuming local honey has long been touted as a hayfever remedy, but as yet there hasn’t been enough research to support this claim.
One study in 2011 looked at honey in cases of birch pollen allergy which is common in Finland. Patients consumed honey with added birch pollen daily from November through to March (before the hayfever season) and then they 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. The sample size for this study was only 50 patients, but it’s a promising early result. However, more evidence is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn.
3. Soothing sore throats and coughs
A study in 2007 found that parents favoured honey for symptomatic relief for their children’s night cough and sleep difficulty due to upper respiratory tract infection.
This has been supported by a later study in 2016 that 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. Natural antibacterial and wound healing properties
Honey has natural antibacterial properties and its effects on wound healing have 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 to stimulate new tissue growth and minimise scar formation which is encouraging for treating those with non-serious wounds, ulcers and burns.
5. Alleviating dermatitis
Honey has also been shown to help seborrheic dermatitis, a common skin condition that mainly affects the scalp and causes scaly patches, red skin and stubborn dandruff.
A trial in 2011 of 30 patients with chronic seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp, face and chest were asked to apply diluted honey every other day and leave for three hours before rinsing off. After four weeks, all the patients saw improvements in their condition. The researchers concluded that topical application of honey could markedly improve seborrheic dermatitis and associated hair loss, plus prevent relapse when applied weekly.
Are there any risks to taking honey?
As honey contains sugar, it can contribute to tooth decay. Speak to your dentist or another health professional if you’re concerned about dental health.
Is honey vegan?
No – honey is produced by bees and therefore counts as an animal product. For more information, read our guide: Is honey vegan?
Healthy honey recipes
And check out more of our honey recipes.
This article was published on 21 February 2019.
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 Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
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