Honey… It’s a name we affectionately call our children, husbands, wives and loved ones. It’s sweet, it’s sticky, it’s made by bees and Winnie the Pooh has a serious addiction to it.
We use it in recipes, slather it on toast, use it to sweeten our tea, but how much do your really know about the health and beauty benefits of honey?
The benefits of honey don’t end at satisfying a sweet tooth. Honey also offers amazing antiseptic, antioxidant and cleansing properties, skin and hair benefits, and amazing healing properties, from eye conjunctivitis to athlete’s foot.
The powerful healing attributes and benefits of honey have been used for thousands of years with good reason and great success.
Although I believe it would be impossible to provide you with an exhaustive list of the benefits of honey, we’re going to try!
Let’s take a look at honey’s nutritional facts before getting into the many benefits of honey.
Honey (raw, unprocessed) is primarily composed of natural sugars (carbohydrates) and water, in addition to trace enzymes, minerals, vitamins, amino acids and phytonutrients. Honey is an all-natural sweetener which provides 17 grams of carbohydrates and 64 calories per tablespoon – without any added ingredients.
Raw, unprocessed honey also contains a wide variety of flavonoids and phenolic acids which act as antioxidants, scavenging and eliminating free radicals. Generally speaking, darker honeys have higher antioxidant content than do the lighter honeys.
Although our food ranking system did not qualify honey as a dense source of traditional nutrients, it did emerge as a source of vitamin B2, vitamin B6, iron and manganese.
In addition to a multitude of antioxidants, another of the benefits of honey is that one ounce of raw honey contains approximately 20 vitamins, 18 amino acids, 16 minerals, and a ton of antioxidants as well as plenty of phytonutrients and flavonoids. Honey, in its raw state, is an antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal substance – and these are three of the best benefits of honey.
Raw honey contains vitamins B1, B2, C, B6, B5 and B3 all of which change according to the qualities of the nectar and pollen. Besides the above, copper, iodine, and zinc exist in it in small quantities. Several kinds of hormones are also present in it. Approximately one half of the human diet is derived directly or indirectly from crops pollinated by bees. Today honeybees are an essential part of a healthy agriculture economy.
For a complete nutrient listing for honey, please visit USDA’s National Nutrient Database, http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/.
Raw Honey Vs. Processed
So, what is the difference between the benefits of honey I find at my local grocery store and the ‘raw’ honey that is supposed to be so much better for you (and is also a lot more expensive!). Is it a big deal to get raw honey instead of the clear/liquid honey? Are there more benefits of honey if it’s raw instead of processed? In a word, yes!
Raw honey is the concentrated nectar of flowers that comes straight from the extractor; it is the only unheated, pure, unpasteurized, unprocessed honey. It is the only type of honey that allows you to enjoy all of the health and beauty benefits of honey. Although many benefits of honey can be attributed to processed honey, it does not have health and beauty benefits to the extent that raw honey does.
Did you know that according to the National Honey Board (NHB), (http://www.honey.com) , 82 percent of households currently use processed honey, which can contain botulism and High Fructose Corn Syrup, (HFCS). Processed honey is not as antibacterial as raw honey, and is dangerous for diabetics and infants under 12 months old.
First of all, raw honey has not been heated excessively through the pasteurization process. The only way to get that beautiful clear appearance of most commercial honeys is to heat it and then filter it – a LOT.
The problem with heat is that many nutrients are very sensitive to it and do not survive it, thus the benefits of honey that you are looking for will be greatly decreased when you use processed honey. You may get strange looks when you tell people your raw honey is ‘alive’, but you’re absolutely correct to a certain extent.
Pasteurization kills any yeast cell in the honey and prevents fermentation. It also slows down the speed of crystallization in liquid honey. On the downside, when honey is heated, its delicate aromas, yeast and enzymes which are responsible for the many benefits of honey such as activating vitamins and minerals in the body system are partially destroyed.
It’s the beneficial enzymes found in raw honey that make it so digestible, and beneficial, to humans. When honey is processed by heating and pasteurization, many of the phytonutrients present in it are lost. Raw honey often contains propolis, a mixture of resins used by the honeybees to seal their hive against viruses and bacteria. Propolis has a large number of nutrients that have significant antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Processed honey also contains antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties, although it is not as effective as raw honey.
Raw honey is filtered, but to a very small degree, and in a manner which does not destroy the health promoting enzymes and other nutrients or the the health and beauty benefits of honey.
You’ll also notice raw honey is solid at room temperature (like honey should be) and it also looks almost milky. It is not a golden and perfectly clear liquid. This murky look to honey is an assurance that it still contains bee pollen granules, bee propolis, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and every other substance raw honey contains that we haven’t identified yet! If you want to take advantage of the benefits of honey, then raw honey is definitely the way to go!
Health Benefits of Honey
COUGHS: One of the benefits of honey is that it has been shown to be a more effective cough suppressant for children ages 2-18 than dextromethorphan
EXPECTORANT: A mixture of equal quantities of honey and ginger juice is a good expectorant. It helps in colds, cough, sore throat and runny nose.
CHOLESTEROL: In a study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, researchers found that taking honey every day helped improved levels of antioxidants in the blood, which can keep bad cholesterol from oxidating. Mix four tablespoons of honey into a 16-ounce glass of water. Honey should be taken as part of a heart-healthy diet. A natural sweetener, honey can be substituted for sugar in baked goods.
IMMUNE SYSTEM: Immune system boosting is another of the many health benefits of honey. Research conducted in several hospitals in Israel found honey effective in decreasing the incidence of acute febrile neutropenia (when high fever reduces white blood cell count) in 64% of patients. Honey also reduced the need for Colony Stimulating Factor (a compound produced in the cells lining the blood vessels that stimulate bone marrow to produce more white blood cells) in 60% of patients with acute febrile neutropenia; increased neutrophil count (another type of white blood cell), decreased thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), and stabilized hemoglobin levels at >11 gm/dl (a bit low but way better than full blown anemic).
ANTIBACTERIAL/ANTIFUNGAL PROPERTIES: Honey has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and thus it can be used as a natural antiseptic.
WOUNDS and SKIN: Significant research is being done to study benefits of honey in treating wounds. Research thus far has found that honey possesses antimicrobial properties, it helps in promoting autolytic debridement, it deodorizes malodorous wounds, it speeds up the healing process by stimulating wound tissues, it helps in initiating the healing process in dormant wounds, and honey also helps in promoting moist wound healing. When topically applied, honey used as a salve can safely and effectively treat diabetic ulcers, canker sores, bleeding gums, and eczema, and can be used when topical antibiotics are not well-tolerated.
ALLERGIES: If you have allergies, then this may very well be your top pick of the many health benefits of honey. If you eat honey that is local to your area, it may help prevent your seasonal allergies. Bees use the pollen from local plants and eventually it ends up in your honey.
BODY CLEANSING: To help cleanse the blood, mix one glass of warm water with 1-2 teaspoonful of honey and one teaspoonful of lemon juice. Take this preparation daily before you go to the toilet. It will also reduce fat and cleans your bowel.
ENERGY SOURCE: According to the USDA, honey contains about 64 calories per tablespoon which means that honey is also used by many as a source of energy. On the other hand, one tablespoon of sugar will give you about 15 calories. Furthermore, the carbohydrates in the honey can be easily converted into glucose by even the most sensitive stomachs. This means that honey is very easy to digest.
DIARRHEA: In treating diarrhea, honey promotes the rehydration of the body and more quickly clears up the diarrhea and any vomiting and stomach upsets. The anti-bacterial properties and benefits of honey, both the peroxide and non-peroxide, are effective in the laboratory against MRSA strains of bacteria which are notoriously resistant to antibiotics and are sometimes responsible for the closing of hospital wards.
WEIGHT LOSS: This is one of the most popular health benefits of honey. In a year-long animal study comparing the effects of sucrose, honey and a low glycemic index (GI) sugar-free diet, rats on the honey-based diet showed: reduced weight gain and percentage of body fat, decreased anxiety, better spatial recognition memory, improved HDL cholesterol (15-20% higher than rats fed sugar or sucrose diets), improved blood sugar levels (HA1c), and reduced oxidative damage.
ANTIOXIDANT: Daily consumption of honey raises blood levels of protective antioxidant compounds in humans, according to research presented at the 227th meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, CA, March 28, 2004.
BURNS: A study carried out over the six-year period from 1987 to 1993 on 450 patients, by M.Subrahmanyam at the Solapur Medical College, India, claimed that burns healed faster and with less scarring than with conventional treatments.
HANGOVER: Get rid of your hangover by mixing two spoons of honey with half a cup of orange juice and half a cup yogurt. Blend them together properly and gulp it down.
BLOOD BUILDING: Honey provides an important part of the energy needed by the body for blood formation. In addition, it helps in cleansing the blood. It has some positive effects in regulating and facilitating blood circulation. It also functions as a protection against capillary problems and arteriosclerosis. Does not accommodate bacteria: This bactericide (bacteria-killing) property of honey is named “the inhibition effect”. Experiments conducted on honey show that its bactericide properties increase twofold when diluted with water. It is very interesting to note that newly born bees in the colony are nourished with diluted honey by the bees responsible for their supervision – as if they know this feature of the honey.
ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE: Recent research has shown that one of the lesser-known benefits of honey is that it is an excellent ergogenic aid and aids in boosting the performance of athletes. Honey facilitates in maintaining blood sugar levels, muscle recuperation and glycogen restoration after a workout.
Honey and Cinnamon – A Dynamic Duo
The combination of honey and cinnamon has been used for centuries. These two ingredients come with unique healing abilities and have a very long history as a home remedy. Cinnamon’s essential oils and honey’s enzyme that produces hydrogen peroxide qualify these two wonders of nature as anti-microbial foods with the ability to help stop the growth of bacteria and fungi.
Here are just a few conditions that this dynamic duo is believed to help:
HEART DISEASE: Apply honey and cinnamon powder on bread instead of using jam or butter and eat it regularly for breakfast.
ARTHRITIS: Apply a paste made of honey and cinnamon on the affected part of the body and massage slowly.
GENERAL HEALTH/LONGEVITY: Ancient cultures used Tea made with honey and cinnamon powder for longevity. 4 spoons of honey, 1 spoon of cinnamon powder and 3 cups of water are boiled to make this tea. The prescribed amount is to drink 1/4 cup, 3 times a day. It keeps the skin fresh and soft and is said to slow down old age.
HAIR LOSS: Apply a paste of hot olive oil, a tablespoon of honey, a teaspoon of cinnamon powder before your bath, leave it for 15 min and wash.
BLADDER INFECTIONS: Mix cinnamon powder and honey in a glass of lukewarm water and drink.
TOOTHACHE: Apply a paste of cinnamon powder and honey and on the aching tooth.
COLDS: Make a glass of lukewarm honey water mixed with cinnamon powder to help boost your immune system during the cold season. It may also help to clear your sinuses. Another great home remedy that takes advantage of the benefits of honey is our Hot Toddy Recipe for Colds.
INDIGESTION: Cinnamon powder sprinkled on a spoonful of honey taken before food relieves acidity.
PIMPLES: Mix honey with cinnamon powder and apply paste on the pimples before sleeping and wash away the next morning. Be sure to keep this away from your eyes!
OBESITY: To help you reduce weight, drink a mixture of a teaspoon of honey with half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder boiled in water on an empty stomach in the morning about half an hour before breakfast.
BAD BREATH: Gargle with honey and cinnamon powder mixed in hot water so that breath stays fresh throughout the day
The Beauty Benefits of Honey
Honey has been used for centuries to unlock beautiful, radiant skin and the many properties and benefits of honey make it useful for all skin types. A natural humectant, honey draws in and retains moisture while its natural antioxidant and anti-microbial properties help to protect the skin from the damage of the sun’s rays, supports the skin’s ability to rejuvenate and refresh depleted skin, leaving it feeling silky soft and supple. The antibacterial properties and benefits of honey are also good for treating acne while its high antioxidant levels help keep aging skin youthful.
Honey also absorbs impurities from the pores on the skin, making it an ideal cleansing agent. Another of the many beauty benefits of honey is that it reduces the inflammation so often seen with skin fungal infections; it will literally eat away at the infection and destroy it. And can even be used to reduce the inflammation caused by sunburn, heal the herpes virus responsible for cold sores and yet another of those childhood skin rashes called impetigo.
Here are a few easy recipes to help you take advantage of the beauty benefits of honey:
• Add one half cup of honey to your bath; this will keep your skin soft and healthy.
• Take a bit of powdered milk on your palm and mix it with one teaspoon of honey. Apply it to your face and rinse off with warm water. This can be used as a facial cleanser on a daily basis, taking advantage of the cleansing benefits of honey, to get rid of make up and dirt and help zap the bacteria that cause acne breakouts.
• Apply a mixture of honey and lemon juice in equal quantities on your face and neck. Let it stay for 20 minutes and then rinse it off with warm water. This blend rejuvenates your skin.
• To obtain a smooth complexion and flawless skin, mix one cup of honey with three teaspoons of rose water. Massage your skin with this mixture.
• Mix one cup of honey with one cup of coarse sea salt. Add olive oil or almond oil (1/4 of a cup). Use this mixture to scrub your face and body to reveal glowing skin. Use circular motions when scrubbing and rinse thoroughly.
• Mixing chopped almonds with a teaspoon of honey and using it as a scrub can work wonders on your skin. Be gentle to your skin while rubbing and then rinse well, preferably with warm water.
• If you need to treat acne and fine lines with simple homemade remedies and wish to take advantage of the antibacterial and moisturizing benefits of honey, take a teaspoon of almond or jojoba oil and mix it with two teaspoons of honey. Massage your skin gently with this combination for three to five minutes. Leave it on your skin for 20 minutes. Rinse it off with warm water first and then with cold water.
• Prepare a rich and soothing skin lotion by mixing a teaspoon of honey with a teaspoon of cooking oil and a bit of lemon juice (1/4 teaspoon). Apply on your hands, elbows and heels with a cotton swab. Leave for fifteen minutes and rinse with warm water.
• Whip an egg white with a teaspoon of honey. Add enough flour to make a paste. Mix thoroughly and apply it on your face. This firming mask should be left on your skin for around 10 minutes and then rinsed off with lukewarm water.
The beauty benefits of honey aren’t limited to your skin – it is also an amazing substance to help you keep your hair soft, shining and beautiful:
• Add one tablespoon of honey to four cups of lukewarm water. Mix well and use it as a hair rinse after you shampoo to help keep your hair soft and shiny.
• One of the absolute best benefits of honey is that it’s chock full of moisture and because of this it can be used as a conditioner to deep condition your hair. Add one quarter cup of honey to two spoons of olive oil or almond oil and two spoons of pure aloe vera gel. Apply it to damp hair, keep for 30 minutes and rinse well.
• Honey is also very effective when applied on dry hair. Try massaging your scalp and ends of your hair with honey blended with warm olive oil (equal parts). Wrap your hair with foil and then a warm towel and leave for about 20 minutes. Rinse well.
Here are more terrific beauty recipes taking advantage of the benefits of honey: http://www.honey.com/nhb/recipes/category-results/?category_number=3
Honey should never be given to a child under the age of 12 months old.
In fact, The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that honey should not be added to food, water, or formula that is fed to infants younger than 12 months of age. This technically, applies even to honey in baked or processed food goods. The AAP statement says “Raw or unpasteurized honey (Infants younger than 12 months should avoid all sources of honey)”. AAP Pediatric Nutrition Handbook.