Is honey healthy?

“Is it OK to eat honey, surely it’s just sugar, and sugar is bad?”

“Is honey healthy?”

We’re often asked these questions, especially in the current spell of sugar-hysteria.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you live on a diet of honey but some things are nicer sweetened, sometimes, and unlike refined table sugar honey (in its raw state) brings with it significant health benefits.

Honey is a completely natural food, produced by bees using plant nectar which mixes with enzymes in the bee to produce a sweet liquid. The bees store honey in waxy honeycombs (more about those later) as a food source.  Honey has been used for thousands of years both as a food and as a wound-healer/antimicrobial.

Using honey as a sweetener is far better than using highly processed forms of sugar, which are devoid of nutrients. Of course you should limit your intake of sweet foods, natural or not but when a food needs sweetening honey is a good choice (as is maple syrup, whereas Agave is certainly not even if it’s marketed as a health food!). To get the real nutritional benefit you should buy raw honey, which you can often find at farmer’s markets, also online. Raw honey hasn’t been pasteurised, so it retains its diversity of beneficial enzymes.

So what is in honey?

Honey is made up of natural sugars, water, vitamins and minerals and a tiny amount of protein. Honey’s appearance, flavour and nutrient content varies according to the flowers the bees used to make the honey. As with all foods, it’s good to eat a variety; so vary your honeys, and of course the different flavours lend themselves to different foods. If you think you don’t like honey then try a mild clear variety, such as acacia. Very good with natural or Greek yoghurt – as is Greek honey, which is darker with a gorgeous caramel flavour. Manuka honey is said to be one of the most mineral-rich honeys. Minerality can be measured by a honey’s ability to conduct an electric current, and Manuka apparently conducts four times faster than other honeys – though it’s very expensive and an acquired taste.

Approximately 70% of honey’s sugar comes from fructose and glucose. A higher fructose content results in runnier honey; less fructose gives a more set form of honey. Fructose is absorbed by the body more slowly than glucose; please don’t confuse this with high fructose corn syrup, which is a hideous highly-manufactured food additive. This is nothing like it, it is a naturally occurring sugar.

What about honeycomb?

Firstly, it’s delicious. Secondly it has long-chain fatty acids, the good guys and can improve the ratio between *good* and “bad* cholesterol – HDL and LDL.The waxy alcohols found in honeycomb will slow the release of the honey’s sugar and help keep blood sugar steadier. Best of all it contains an array of microbial organisms (the ones that can withstand the sugar and acid environment, to improve gut health and microbial diversity in the gut, which has a knock-on effect to nearly everything, including brain function. It’s well worth eating raw honeycomb, delicious on sourdough toast with a tangy Cheddar or goat’s cheese.

Is honey healthy?

Honey has proven health benefits and has been used as a medicine worldwide for centuries. Not only as a medicine but applied to wounds and skin conditions, where its healing properties come to the fore. Honey contains antioxidants, which help the body to fight disease. It can help to alleviate inflammation inside as well as outside the body. It can broaden the range of beneficial gut microbes. It can improve the balance of HDL and LDL cholesterol. It can help with hayfever too – eating some local honey acts like a natural defence against pollen allergy.

Is honey any good for athletes?

For athletes and exercisers honey is a great energy source, its sugars are easily absorbed and it contains some electrolytes. Honey was used by runners in the Olympic Games in ancient Greece, you can even buy honey ‘gels’ to eat during exercise.

Honey’s nutrient profile

Vitamins
B6, Niacin, Thiamine, Riboflavin, pantothenic acid

Minerals
Calcium, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, sodium, zinc.

Life is the flower for which honey is the love.
Victor Hugo

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