Is honey good for you?

What are the health benefits of honey, can it ease a sore throat or a cough, and how can it be used topically? Nutritionist Nicola Shubrook explains...

A jar of honey next to honeycomb

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 benefits of honey

While honey is 100% natural, 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 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.

Honey is higher in calories than sugar, but it is also sweeter tasting and so less is usually required.

Does honey 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.

Is honey good for 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.

Can honey help with wound healing?

Honey has natural antibacterial properties and its effects on wound healing have been well researched. 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.

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?

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.

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.

Healthy honey recipes

Honey-roast beetroot
Honeyed winter salad
Clementine & honey couscous
Honey-mustard steamed green medley
Puy lentil, spiced roast carrot & feta salad
Moroccan aubergine & chickpea salad

Read more...

The health benefits of apple cider vinegar
The health benefits of cinnamon
The health benefits of oranges
All our health benefits guides


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.

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.

Comments, questions and tips

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johnreed70
2nd Mar, 2019
My wife and I have been taking a teaspoon of honey for the last 8 years every morning before having breakfast. We started doing this after we moved back to Seattle after many years and after suffering through some horrible months of allergies probably caused by cottonwood trees. In the last 8 years we have not suffered from allergies, or if so, only very mildly. An important thing to note which was not mentioned in your article is that the honey needs to be local, and by local I mean roughly within 30 miles of where you live, to give you the most benefit. Most honey that is sold in supermarkets has been sourced from who knows where and is not local. We buy our honey at farmers markets where we can direct our questions about the honey to the actual beekeeper himself. We also buy bee pollen which comes in the form of tiny pellets that we mix with the honey to increase the pollen content. Additionally, we feel that honey, being a natural product, is a good thing for the throat even if it were not to contain any pollen. And we mix it with lemon juice and whiskey when one of our kids gets a sore throat. We also grow herbs in our garden. This is a little off subject but might be of interest to some of your readers. Last year when I harvested oregano, there was so much pollen that the color of the crop was more yellow than green, yellow being the pollen and green the oregano. Three times I filtered the pollen out but still left enough in the final product to have great benefit whenever we use that herb in cooking. The best pollen is the pollen that comes from where you live. In the study mentioned in your article, people were tested for only six months. Our feeling is that it probably takes a few years to truly start to build up an immunity to something, and it has to be taken every day. It is consistency over the long term that is key.
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