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Honey: Health Benefits, Uses and Risks

Honey is a sweet food made by bees using nectar from flowers. Bees first convert the nectar into honey by a process of regurgitation and evaporation, then store it as a primary food source in wax honeycombs inside the beehive. Honey can then be harvested from the hives for human consumption.

Honey is graded by color, with the clear, golden amber honey often at a higher retail price than darker varieties. Honey flavor will vary based on the types of flower from which the nectar was harvested.

Both raw and pasteurized forms of honey are available. Raw honey is removed from the hive and bottled directly, and as such will contain trace amounts of yeast, wax and pollen. Consuming local raw honey is believed to help with seasonal allergies due to repeated exposure to the pollen in the area. Pasteurized honey has been heated and processed to remove impurities.

This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of honey and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more honey into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming honey.

Nutritional breakdown of honey

According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, one tablespoon of honey (approximately 21 grams) contains 64 calories, 17.3 grams of carbohydrate (17.3 grams of sugar no fiber), 0 grams of fat and 0 grams of protein.1

Honey contains negligible amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Choosing honey over sugar results in a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels that is believed to help with hunger levels. Honey is also known to have antioxidant, antimicrobial and soothing effects.2

Possible benefits of consuming honey

Cold relief

The World Health Organization (WHO) and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend honey as a natural cough remedy.

A 2007 study by Penn State College of Medicine suggested that honey reduced nighttime coughing and improved sleep quality in children with upper respiratory infection better than the cough medicine dextromethorphan or no treatment.2

Heartburn relief

Honey may be effective at treating heartburn, according to research reported in the BMJ.3 Researchers have suggested that this may be due to the viscosity of honey coating the upper gastroesophageal tract and preventing stomach acid from rising.

Antibacterial agent

Honey contains the protein defensin-1, which has the ability to kill bacteria.4 Raw, unpasteurized honey can be used as a topical agent for wounds but should not be used in place of a prescribed topical agent.

How to incorporate more honey into your diet

Experimentation is key when substituting honey for sugar. Baking with honey can cause excess browning and moisture. As a general rule, use ¾ cup of honey for every one cup of sugar, reduce the liquid in the recipe by 2 tablespoons and lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

Quick tips:

  • Use honey to sweeten your dressings or marinades
  • Stir honey into coffee or tea
  • Drizzle honey on top of toast or pancakes
  • Mix honey into yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal for a more natural sweetener
  • Spread raw honey over whole grain toast and top with peanut butter.

Or, try these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:

Honey-glazed roasted sweet potatoes
Basil honey mango sorbet
Honey Dijon vinaigrette with arugula, pear and walnut salad
Grilled fruit kebabs.

If stored in an airtight container, honey can be kept indefinitely.

Potential health risks of consuming honey

It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.

Honey is still a form of sugar and intake should be moderate. The American Heart Association recommends that women get no more than 100 calories a day from added sugars; men no more than 150 calories a day. This is a little over two tablespoons for women and three tablespoons for men.

Honey may contain botulinum endospores that cause infant botulism, a rare but serious type of food poisoning that can result in paralysis. Even pasteurized honey has a chance of containing these spores. For this reason, it is recommended that infants under 1 year do not consume honey.

Written by

and Mary Curnutte, Nutrition Intern

Copyright: Medical News Today

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