Honey has been used by many cultures around the world both in the kitchen and as a medicine, and for good reason. There’s some confusion around honey as to whether it is just another form of sugar and how great its health benefits really are. While honey is high in fructose, it also offers a myriad of micronutrients and health benefits and is absolutely a welcome addition to a healthy diet. Also, it is a much better alternative to white sugar than most other substitutes.

Fun Facts About Honey

Before diving into the nutrition specifics and health benefits offered by this tasty treat, check out these fun facts about honey [1]:

  • Honey bees are the only insect in existence that make food fit for human consumption.
  • These bees work hard; in fact, they will only produce around 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey during their whole life.
  • Honey is one of the few natural foods that does not spoil if stored Like salt, the concentration of sugar will pull the water out of microbes that would otherwise contaminate it.
  • Honey from different types of flowers have different tastes.

Brief History of Honey

The earliest record of beekeeping is from Spanish cave paintings from 7000 BC, so honey has been used by humans for at least 8,000 years.  And these uses extend far beyond just eating it: honey has been bathed in, used to cure wounds, and even used as trade currency. The Old Testament refers to the land of Israel as a “land flowing with milk and honey.”

From the Romans using honey to dress battle wounds to ancient people fermenting honey into mead, this natural sugar has long been extremely revered for its many benefits and sweet taste.

Nutrition Facts of Honey

Honey contains the following [2]:

  • 82% sugar, by weight
  • 40% of that sugar is fructose
  • Trace amounts of important vitamins and minerals
  • Antioxidants
  • A varying glycemic index and glucose-to-fructose ratio, depending on the specific variety of honey

One tablespoon serving of honey has about 64 calories and 17 grams of sugar.

Health Benefits of Honey

Because of its high sugar content, honey should be eaten somewhat in moderation, especially for those with diabetes or other metabolic disorders. However, honey does offer some impressive health benefits, such as the following:

One of the Best Sugar Alternatives

Although honey is high in fructose, it raises blood sugar levels significantly less than white sugar. [ Unfortunately, many sugar alternatives on the market today are full of artificial ingredients and chemicals that can be harmful, and honey is completely natural and offers micronutrients (minerals and vitamins). Use it to sweeten your tea or coffee and to bake.

Packed Full of Antioxidants

Free radicals come from many sources such as toxins found in our food and environment and have been shown to be heavily linked to degenerative diseases such as cancer. Honey is high in compounds (such as phenols, enzymes, flavonoids and organic acids) that have been shown to lessen the damage done by excessive free radicals in the body. [

Could Lower Blood Pressure and Blood Triglycerides

Also thanks to some of these unique antioxidants, honey has been shown to help in lowering blood pressure and blood triglyceride levels, both markers that increase your risk of heart disease. [5] 

Natural Burn and Wound Healer

Honey has been used historically to treat wounds and burns, as it is a natural anti-microbial and anti-bacterial agent. One study found that it is more effective than antiseptic when treating burns and infected post-surgery wounds. [6] Medical professionals use medical grade honey to treat diabetic foot ulcers and other skin conditions, like eczema and psoriasis. [7]

Works to Suppress Coughs in Children

Commercial OTC (over the counter) cough medications for children contain a long list of potentially harmful ingredients, such as coloring agents, binders, preservatives, and artificial flavors. Honey can make a natural and effective cough remedy, and one study found it to be much more effective than certain drugstore brands. [8] Babies under one year should not be given honey.

Types of Honey

You will probably be surprised to learn that there are over 300 types of honey in the United States alone (and all honey is definitely not created equal).

Tupelo Honey

Tupelo honey is kind of a “gold standard” that other honey varietals are sometimes measured against, and it comes from the northwest region of Florida. It is considered a specialty honey, as it comes from trees that only blossom for 3 to 4 weeks, once a year.

Manuka Honey

Manuka honey is produced in Australia and New Zealand and comes from bees that pollinate the Manuka tree. Manuka honey is known to be one of the best honeys for medicinal use, as its antioxidant content and antibacterial properties are quite high. You can purchase Manuka honey at most health food stores, online, and sometimes at herb stores. It can also be used similarly to any other type of honey as a sweetener, although the taste is slightly medicinal.

Unfiltered, Raw, and Organic Honey

To reap the maximum health benefits possible from your honey (and aside from Manuka honey, which is kind of in a class of its own), opt for unfiltered, raw, and organic honey. Avoid ultra-processed honey, as its nutrients have largely been stripped; some are even “spiked” with added sugars (such as high fructose corn syrup) while still being labelled as just honey.

Top 4 Unusual Uses for Honey

Along with the widely known uses (like adding it to your tea), check out a few other uses for honey that you can explore:

1. Hair Conditioner

Honey can benefit both your skin and hair, and you can make your own easy conditioner. Try mixing together about 1/4 cup coconut or olive oil with 1/2 cup honey and gently heat them on the stove until the two are well-combined. Allow it to cool (stirring occasionally), and use it as a hair conditioner (apply and rinse, as usual). Use this mixture a few times per week for shiny, soft, and delicious-smelling hair.

2. Topical Wound and Burn Ointment

As mentioned above, honey makes for a powerful wound healer. If administering it yourself, stick to using (raw or Manuka honey) on minor cuts, scrapes, and burns (like a sunburn). Darker-colored honeys are best for this purpose. 

3. Anti-Nausea Tonic

Whether your nausea is pregnancy-related, due to motion sickness, or any other reason, try mixing a bit of honey with ginger, lemon, and hot water for a soothing and effective anti-nausea tonic.

4. Sleep Aid

Honey can also help induce sleep, especially when combined with a healthy fat. Try stirring honey into warm cow’s milk or coconut milk before bed, or if you wake up at night and can’t get back to sleep.

Adverse Effects of Honey

Honey in food amounts is safe for most people, but there are a few important points to keep in mind:

Children Under the Age of 1, and Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women

Some experts believe that babies under the age of one should avoid honey due to it potentially causing botulism, a dangerous condition in children. Because further research is needed, pregnant and breastfeeding women might want to avoid honey, as well. 

Diabetics

As mentioned earlier, honey is high in sugar, so it should be used in moderation for diabetics or those with other metabolic conditions. Also, taking honey alongside protein and healthy fat sources will help to mitigate the blood-sugar-spiking effects of honey (and any sugar, for that matter).

Honey Baked Ham Recipe

Now that you’ve gained some helpful insight into the vast health benefits and uses of honey, why not try a new recipe? Honey-baked ham is a favorite in many households, and this version makes it even healthier.

Ingredients:

  • A ham, about 2 pounds
  • 1 large apple, sliced
  • 1 peach, sliced
  • 1/4 cup raw honey (melted, if the honey is solid)
  • A pinch each of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and mustard powder
  • 1/8 cup water

Directions:

  1. Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place your ham in the middle of a big roasting pan (wash and pat dry if necessary, first), and then combine your honey, water, and all spices in a small bowl.
  3. Baste your ham with the spice mixture evenly.
  4. Lay your fruit slices around the ham in the roasting pan evenly, and drizzle the remaining spice mixture over your fruit (and ham, if there’s extra).
  5. Bake your ham until it’s done, which will really vary depending on your oven and the ham thickness. Its internal temperature should reach 150 degrees, and you can remove it every 30 minutes to continue basting it with your spice mixture, if you’d like (this will lead to an even richer taste).

High-quality honey can definitely be considered a superfood, as it is all-natural, rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant compounds, and offers some very real health benefits. Use it as a superior alternative to white sugar and try some of the other ways to incorporate it. Honey can be a sweet and healthy addition to your entire family’s diet.

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