Is honey good for you? 7 Benefits and Precautions
Nature is beautiful and one of the sweet natural gifts we humans have received is Honey. Bees store 2-3 times more honey and wax compared to what they need during the year. There is an ongoing debate in the health circle about the benefits of honey and is honey good for you?
Article Information: This article is written by NikitaMayuresh, Registered Dietitian, Certified Dietitian Nutritionist.
Today we shall discuss the health benefits of honey, how to use it, what type of honey is the best, and many other related questions.
What is Honey?
Honey is a viscous, amber, or yellow-colored substance that has been in use by humankind for ages. The hardworking bees produce honey by collecting nectar from the flowering plants.
We, humans, are using honey for more than 8000 years, proof of which is depicted in stone age paintings.
You might see reference to honey in various Ayurvedic medicines. Even today, the mixture of honey and ginger is used to soothe a sore throat.
Honey is a popular substitute for sugar. The nutritional value of good quality honey has been researched and proved to help combat an array of health problems.
How bees produce honey?
This sugary liquid is extracted from the flowers using the bee’s tube-shaped tongue.
It is stored temporarily inside the bee’s stomach, where it mixes with enzymes. Thereby, the partially digested nectar regurgitates into the honeycomb.
The bees fan the honeycomb to fasten the evaporation of water from the nectar. Using the bee’s abdominal liquid, the comb seals itself.
This honey is then stored in the beehive as a portion of food during times of scarcity or other contingencies (3).
Health benefits of honey
Honey is one of the essential ingredients in many traditional health remedies. Garlic and honey can help you lower cholesterol, fight cold and flu symptoms, etc.
Many of the therapeutic activities are due to the presence of many antioxidants, proteins, and micronutrients present in honey.
Based on lab studies, honey has an inhibitory effect on more than 60 species of bacteria. It also helps in restricting the growth of many fungi and viruses.
Various compounds in honey, like phenolics, peptides, enzymes, organic acids provide it the antioxidant property.
1. Can help in boosting immunity
Honey contains bioactive molecules like flavonoids, polyphenols ascorbic acid, etc. It is also enriched with enzymes like peroxidase, phenolic acid, and catalases.
Also, honey has antibacterial and antifungal properties, too, which helps to fight many infections (5).
Honey recipe to fight common infections
In a blender, add two chopped cucumbers and make a puree. Mix 3 tsp honey and 4 tbsp lemon juice in a pitcher.
Add this mixture to the cucumber puree and blend well. Take this mixture daily to prevent common infections.
2. May improve cardiovascular health
Honey contains various phenolic constituents that have shown a promising effect in cardiovascular disease treatment. These phenolic compounds are caffeic acid phenethyl ester (known as CAPE), quercetin, acacetin, kaempferol, etc.
A study shows that the antithrombotic properties of phenolic constituents help in avoiding the formation of blood clots. Other properties like anti-ischemic, vasorelaxant, etc help in the heart condition.
Flavonoids decrease the risk of coronary heart disease. It improves vasodilation and prevents low-density lipoproteins from oxidation (6).
3. Accelerates wound healing
The direct application of honey on wounds promotes healing because of its anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial properties.
Scientific studies prove that manuka honey can heal ulcers formed due to diabetic wounds. The antioxidant property of honey reduces inflammation, and hydrogen peroxide contributes to antimicrobial activity (10).
4. Antimicrobial effects
Research has shown that the pH of honey is between 3.2 to 4.5. This pH range is highly harmful to the growth and proliferation of bacteria (11).
5. Might help in hair fall control
The antioxidants present in honey is best for reducing hair breakage, hair loss, promotes a healthy scalp, and hair growth.
A study involving 20 patients who were suffering from itching, scaling, and hair loss showed positive results with the application of honey once a week (14).
The antibacterial properties of honey prevent scalp infection, inflammation, and itching. Honey is also an emollient and moisturizes the hair leaving it shiny and smooth (15).
Mask for a healthy scalp
Mix 2 tbsp honey and 4 tbsp yogurt in a bowl.
Massage this mix on your scalp and every possible area using an applicator or brush or only using your hands.
Cover the hair with a towel and leave it for 30 minutes.
Rinse thoroughly and blow-dry your hair. Honey and yogurt will give your hair a smooth and shiny texture.
6. May help in skin repair & protection
Honey is one of the most preferred ingredients in skincare routines across the globe. It acts as a pore cleanser, heals sunburn, and promotes wound healing.
Honey is found effective in treatments against skin problems like seborrhea, dandruff, pityriasis, hemorrhoids, and anal fissures. It helps to moisturize the skin, exfoliates it, reduces wrinkles, regulates pH, and provides proper hydration to the skin (16) (17).
Face pack for healthy skin
Mix 2 tbsp gram flour, 1 tbsp honey, and 2 tbsp milk in a bowl. Make a thick paste and apply it on the face.
Leave it for 15 to 20 minutes and rinse off with water. Repeat this twice a week to get clear and glowing skin.
7. May help to control blood pressure & cholesterol levels
Some animal studies suggest that honey supplementation lowers systolic blood pressure (19).
8. Potentially help in weight management
Honey has a low glycemic index that means it does not convert into fat easily. Apart from this, honey might help in reducing excess fat.
Various honey recipes help in the weight management one of such recipes is Cinnamon and honey for weight loss.
An animal study focused on the consumption of Malaysian honey and its effect on obesity shown good results. The fat diet-induced obese rats were given honey for 4 weeks and found the obesity-related parameters were improved (20).
Recipe for weight loss
Take a glass of warm water and add 3 tsp honey to it.
Stir well and add 1 tbsp lemon juice into the mixture. Mix well. Take this mixture once every day for about a month to get the results.
Other health benefits of honey are
- Prevents acne or pimple formation, helpful in treating eczema.
- Helpful in eye diseases.
- It is can be effective in common cold, sore throats, bronchial asthma, tuberculosis.
- Milk and honey mixture can promote sound sleep.
- Honey may improve digestion, regulates acidity, and can treat vomiting, diarrhea.
- It helps in reducing arthritic pain.
- It helps to enhance fertility, promotes semen & mental health.
- Honey can be helpful in hiccups, thirst, dizziness, fatigue.
You might notice the price range of honey changes depending on the nutritional content. As a buyer, you shall be wary of fake adulterated versions as they would do harm to your health than good.
Food authorities in your country do take care of most of the product quality checks but a vigilant buyer can further avoid many issues.
Do check the label to know if the product is certified or approved by the food authority.
Lab tests would provide accurate results regarding the quality of honey. Because of the limitations of a buyer, I have listed some simple tests you can do at home to check the quality of honey.
It is an easy way to find out if the quality of honey is good. Pure honey does not dissolve in water unless you stir it.
To perform this test, take a glass of water. Add 1 tbsp honey into it. Do not stir it or make any effort to dissolve it. If the honey is pure you will find a lump settled at the bottom of the glass.
If honey gets dissolved completely it is not pure.
Pure honey is viscous, sticky and it doesn’t spread on the surface.
To check this, take 1-2 drops of honey and put those on your thumb. Check if the honey spills or spreads around.
The impure honey has more moisture than pure honey and we can detect it with the help of the flame test.
You need to practice caution while doing this test as improper handling of matchstick can cause skin burn.
Take a matchstick and immerse it in the honey sample. Try to lit the matchstick with the help of any flame or the matchbox. If the stick catches flame the honey is pure else there is some impurity in it.
The impurity in honey can cause foam after mixing with other agents like vinegar.
Take ½ tsp honey in a glass, add some water, and 2 to 3 drops vinegar essence into it. Mix it well.
if you observe a foamy solution, it indicates adulterated honey.
Pour a few drops of honey on a blotting paper. The blotting paper can not absorb pure honey because of its viscosity.
The levels of inverted sugars in honey should not be greater than 100mg/kg. In many cases using high fructose corn syrups enhance the sweetness of the product.
The quantification of HMF and enzyme activities in honey samples are an excellent way to identify heat-induced effects on honey.
pure honey does not get filtered through a mesh size smaller than 0.2mm.
The refractometer is used to detect the water content in honey. The moisture content should not be higher than 19%.
At home, you can check the presence of excess moisture by turning the two well-sealed jars of honey upside down. Watch out for the formation of bubbles. Bubbles in honey with more water will rise faster.
Quality testing laboratories use novel methods like chemometrics, HPLC, PCA, CLA, and CA. They are efficient in detecting adulterants in honey (21).
Precautions while using honey
There are a lot of health benefits of honey and it is not a cause of concern for many people.
However, this golden liquid can health issues in some people because of its specific properties.
Keep in mind the following precautions while using it.
- Produced from the nectar of Rhododendrons can likely cause toxicity issues like heart problems, low blood pressure, and chest pain.
- In some small children, consumption of raw honey can result in botulism poisoning. It has rare chances of occurrence (22).
- People with type 2 diabetes have a high risk of increasing blood sugar levels.
- Pollen allergies are also seen in some people because its made from pollen.
- The possible presence of toxins like C. Botulinum and grayanotoxins in honey might prove to be harmful to pregnant women and the growing fetus. Therefore, its best to avoid honey by kids and pregnant ladies
Sources and types of honey
The biological source of honey is from the honeycombs of different bee species.
Honey gets prepared by using nectar collected from various flowers. The chief producers of honey include California, Jamaica, Chile, and Britain.
There are different classifications of honey-based on varying parameters.
Classification based on the floral mix
- Polyfloral – as the name suggests, this is derived from the nectar using a blend of flowers.
- Monofloral – it is a mixture obtained from distinctive floral groups because of this, each flower type gives honey of specific taste and color.
- Honeydew– honeydew from aphid secretions or other plant sap-sucking insects are collected by bees and deposited in the combs. Honeydew has a full aroma, pungent taste, and has a solid amber color.
Classification based on texture
- Liquid– most commonly used for cooking or baking.
- Creamed– brought to the market in a crystallized state.
- Comb or the unprocessed honey– directly taken from the comb.
Classification based on the extent of the processing carried out
- Raw honey– this is the crude form of honey. It is extracted directly from the comb before refinement. The therapeutic value of raw honey is higher than that of other types.
- Pasteurized honey– to prepare this type, heating, and straining of the honeycomb is the first step. Heating removes any chances of bacterial contamination.
Classification based on the type of phytochemicals present in honey
- Manuka honey– the bees feeding on manuka bushes flowers prepare this honey. it is well-known for its antibacterial and wound-healing properties.
- Eucalyptus honey– it is derived from flowers of eucalyptus and contains many micronutrients. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- Alfalfa honey– it is obtained from flowers of alfalfa and possess prebiotic and antipyretic nature
- Buckwheat honey- this form derived from buckwheat has bactericidal and antioxidant properties
- Acacia honey– It is well-known and has numerous therapeutic effects. It has hepatoprotective, nephroprotective, tissue proliferative and wound healing properties.
- Sage honey– this thick form of honey is known for sweetening, expectorant, digestive and antioxidant properties.
- Clover honey– It is one of the safest and best antibacterial agents.
- Rosemary honey– this type has antioxidant and moisturizing effects.
- Jamun honey– use this for topical application to wounds as it offers healing and anti hypoxic effects.
- Lavender honey– one of the best antifungal agents used in the treatment of foot ulcers and other infections.