Here our sports nutritionist has collected important data on the benefits (and uselessness) of honey.
Benefits of Honey: Background
Honeybees collect flower nectar, and enzymes in bee saliva break down sugar from the nectar into glucose and fructose, which are stored in combs to feed the hive during winter. In the combs, excess water evaporates due to constant ventilation, which is provided by the incessant flapping of the bees’ wings. As a result, a thick sticky liquid – honey – remains in the combs.
There are more than 300 types of honey in the world. They vary in color, aroma, and taste depending on the source from which the bees collect the nectar. Some of the most famous types of honey are acacia and manuka.
What Is in Honey
The main nutritional elements of honey are carbohydrates in the form of disaccharides and monosaccharides. Besides sugars, honey contains water and very little protein, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and polyphenols, including pollen flavonoids.
Honey can be divided into raw and processed (which was amenable to processing). When honey is removed from the hive, it is usually lightly filtered to remove wax and non-honey particles. It is then available as a raw product, which can then be heated and poured into containers.
Stores often sell honey that has been heated and refined to remove pathogens that may have been present in raw honey. However, along with this, honey loses vitamins, antioxidants, and enzymes, which are already not so much in it.
The 2001 European Council Directive states that the maximum water content of honey must not exceed 20%, otherwise it is no longer genuine honey.
Based on the analysis of 8 honey samples, the following composition was established per 100 g:
- Calorie content – 288 kcal,
- Carbohydrates – 76.4 g, of which 41.8 g – fructose, 34.6 g – glucose,
- Protein – 0.4 g,
- Water – 17.5 g.
Per 100 g of product, honey is slightly less caloric than sugar. But if you take into account the portions that we eat in real life, then in 1 tsp. sugar (8 g) = 31 kcal, and in 1 tsp. honey (15 g) = 43 kcal It all depends on your personal habits, but usually, a portion of honey is larger, and therefore more caloric than a portion of sugar.
I repeat that there are very few vitamins and minerals in honey. Even if you eat 5 tablespoons of honey a day, you can cover only 0.5-2% of the daily requirement for vitamins and minerals. And this is only on the condition that you bought raw honey from a trusted grandfather. But there are very few nutrients in ANY honey. To receive a significant amount of vitamins and minerals, you need to eat honey in kilograms. And if we are talking about real amounts of honey (say, 1 spoon per day), then we are unlikely to get a noticeable benefit.
Yes, there is nothing in sugar. Table sugar is sucrose, which is composed of fructose and glucose. Honey consists of the same monosaccharides, it just contains a larger percentage of fructose. Honey also contains disaccharides: a little sucrose and very little maltose, isomaltose, turanose, maltulose, and nigerose.
In short, HONEY ≈ SUGAR.
The Benefits of Honey
But there is still a sense in eating honey, although, for the most part, this sense concerns external use, as well as “internal intake” for coughs and problems with the gastrointestinal tract.
Antibacterial and Anti-Inflammatory Feature
Honey has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Hence, it is useful for wound healing and tissue regeneration. It is not for nothing that the abuse of antibiotics and the development of resistance to their action again led to the more frequent use of honey in regenerative medicine.
For medical use, special honey is prepared – in this case, it can be used to heal wounds. Low moisture content, the presence of hydrogen peroxide in the composition, acidity (average pH – 3.9) are unfavorable for the vital activity of bacteria, and therefore impart antibacterial properties to honey. Plus the presence of the potent antibacterial agent lysozyme and exposure to flavonoids also make its contribution.
Honey can also be used for burns – at first, it can act as a sedative, and then as a healing agent.
But there is a small fly in the ointment in this barrel of honey. The most potent antibacterial properties are found in manuka honey, which is made from flowers of the New Zealand plant Leptospermum, which means that domestic honey in this regard is not the best. The high antibacterial properties of New Zealand honey are due to the very high concentration of a substance in manuka called methylglyoxal (MSO). Manuka is unique in that it combines all the antibacterial effects of honey. Other types of honey cannot boast of this.
Other Benefits of Honey
- Some research evidence also suggests that honey may be helpful in relieving coughs. A 2018 Cochrane review found that honey relieves coughs in children more than diphenhydramine (an antihistamine). Also, honey probably helps to shorten the duration of the cough and does it better than salbutamol (bronchodilator).
- Honey can also be useful for digestive disorders, such as diarrhea.
- Honey is also used in cosmetology because it can enhance the regenerative capacity of skin cells. But again, this effect is primarily related to manuka. And I suppose that cosmetic products that contain this particular type of honey must be very expensive.
Raw honey and products that contain it should not be given to children under 1 year old, since the honey may contain spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, the causative agent of botulism. For example, in the US state of Texas, there were cases where babies got sick with botulism after being given honey pacifiers. Unlike adults and children over 1 year old, the digestive system in babies under 1-year-old is not yet mature enough to cope with the toxin that is produced by the spores of these bacteria.
Honey is not a good source of vitamins and minerals. If you go to the website of any reputable organization, you will see in the list of free / added sugars and honey – on a par with any sugar, nectar, powdered sugar, and others. These are the types of sugars that should be limited to less than 10% of the daily calorie content (in terms of grams at a rate of 2000 kcal/day, 10% in the form of honey ≈ 70 g).
So if someone says that honey is a very healthy and essential substitute for sugar, then this is, to put it mildly, an exaggeration.
As for the medical (primarily external) use of benefits of honey, it has a number of useful properties, but remember that usually, such honey is specially prepared.
As for the rest, if you like the taste and texture of the honey, chew it in small amounts (unless you are allergic, of course). But don’t expect to get a lot of health benefits, vitamins, and minerals from it.
- The Health Benefits of Honey and Its Nutritional Value, The European Food Information Council (EUFIC).
- O S. Martinotti, E. Ranzato, Honey, Wound Repair and Regenerative Medicine, J Funct Biomater, 2018.
- F.R. Khan et al., Honey: nutritional and medicinal value, Int J Clin Pract, 2007
- Honey for health, Harvard University
- Honey the Same as Sugar, University of Arizona red O. Oduwole et al., Honey for acute cough in children Cochrane Systematic Review, 2018
- Botulism, Prevention, CDC
- How can I protect my baby from infant botulism, Mayo Clinic
More about this topic:
- How to Start Eating Healthy: 9 Tips
- Pu’er Tea Benefits, Side Effects, and Uses
- Plant-Based Diet: Guide for Vegans, Vegetarians, etc.
- 10 Surprising Health Benefits of Honey – HealthLine
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