Wellness Wednesday: The Sweet Life of Honey


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Wednesday, May 31, 2023
Jars of honey

For generations folk wisdom has held that “a spoonful of honey” can treat a variety of ailments. Great-grandmothers throughout history have responded to a child’s raspy cough or a relative’s sore throat by reaching for the honey jar. Is there something to this collective folk wisdom? The short answer is: yes! Honey isn’t just sweet and healthy to eat: it’s packed with very beneficial nutrients, antioxidants, and other properties that can help contribute to your overall health.

What Is Honey?

Honey is a sweet, golden fluid made by honeybees. They use the pollen and  nectar of flowering plants to make honey, which they use as a source of carbohydrates. The honey they make is essential for providing colony bees the energy they need to fly, build and maintain their honeycomb, and perform other daily activities. There are over 320 different varieties of honey, which can vary in flavor, color, and odor. That’s why lavender or orange honey have such unique flavors; the plants themselves lend their flavor profile and fragrance to the honey.

Why Is It Healthy?

Honey is almost pure sugar. It contains trace amounts of protein and fiber and has no fat. It does, however, contain copper and carbohydrates, and is rich in polyphenols. These are plant compounds rich in antioxidants, which makes polyphenols a good source for both anti-inflammation properties and for neutralizing free radicals that can increase your risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Raw honey can be very nutritious and contain a range of nutrients that include:

  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • manganese
  • niacin
  • pantothenic acid
  • phosphorous
  • potassium
  • riboflavin
  • zinc

While honey is healthier than most other sugars and artificial sweeteners, it can also rot your teeth over time if consumed in excess.

It Can Soothe A Sore Throat

Talk to any working singer and they’ll tell you that honey and tea are their two best friends. If you're feeling a sore throat coming on, mixing two tablespoons of honey into a warm glass of water or tea can bring you some relief. This can also alleviate some of the pain and discomfort brought on by a coughing fit. Scientists attribute honey's soothing medicinal qualities to the golden liquid's anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Honey can also reduce mucus secretions, which makes it very helpful when fighting off a “wet” cough.

It Can Treat Burns

One very surprising use of honey is as a first aid salve. Historically, honey was often used to treat wounds and burns. Researchers have found that applying honey to the skin can be an effective treatment for mild burns, wounds, ulcers, and other skin conditions. It is, however, not a substitute for serious burns or other issues requiring surgical care and should never be used in lieu of emergency care.

It Helps With Digestion

Research has found that honey can be used to treat certain digestive issues like diarrhea and gastrointestinal tract conditions. Honey contains prebiotics, which can nourish the good bacteria that lives in our intestines and aid digestion and contribute to our overall health.

Raw Honey Or Regular Honey?

You may be wondering if there are any significant differences between raw honey and regular (i.e. pasteurized/filtered) honey. Both raw and regular honey offer benefits and drawbacks unique to their type. 

Raw honey: This is honey that’s harvested straight from the honeycomb and poured through mesh or nylon cloth to filter out impurities like dead bees and beeswax. Raw honey tends to be more nutritious than regular honey, due in part to its high content of bee pollen. The pollen is packed with nutrients and antioxidants which can benefit your immune system. On the downside: there’s a very small risk that raw honey may contain trace amounts of botulism-causing bacteria.

Regular honey: This type of honey goes through several additional forms of processing before it is bottled. This process involves destroying the yeast in the raw honey to extend its shelf life and also smooths out the honey to make it more aesthetically pleasing by removing air bubbles and debris. The bad news is that all that processing removes a fair amount of the nutritional value of the honey, so you get less bang for your buck healthwise with regular honey. You also may be consuming extra sugars and/or artificial sweeteners in your regular honey, as those are often added to sweeten the regular honey.

That being said: one major advantage of regular honey is that it does filter out bee pollen, so if you love honey but have a bee pollen allergy to bee pollen it’s the safe version to consume.

Are There Dangerous Side Effects To Eating Honey?

For most adults and children, no. Eating honey in moderation is fine so long as you don’t have an allergy to it. The one major exception is for children under the age of one: infants should not eat honey before they turn one. This is because honey can occasionally contain bacteria that can produce toxins inside a baby’s intestines, triggering a process that can cause infant botulism. Infant botulism is a serious, possibly life-threatening illness so it’s best to treat honey as off limits to your child until your pediatrician says it’s safe to give it to them.

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Article by Austin Brietta

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