7 Hidden Health Benefits of Honey

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7 Hidden Health Benefits of Honey

The history of honey dates back to Ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptians baked honey into cakes as an offering to their deities. Before entering the arena, Olympic athletes drank a few sips of honey to power up their bodies for victory. Honey has a rich history of use as a sweetener, a holistic medical agent, and even a weapon of war. Read on to uncover the history and benefits of honey.

dark honey in bowl

Honey is often a good alternative for sugar when trying to eat healthy, as it carries a richer nutritional profile. Honey can also be utilized for its antibacterial properties. Some link honey consumption to the suppression of chronic diseases. Honey’s benefits as a topical agent are practically limitless. Honey can be used to heal serious burns and other wounds. It can also be beneficial as an acne solution.

In October of 2017, Jorja, my one-year-old, had third degree burns on her hand. Instead of using the cream from the hospital, we used Raw Manuka Honey to treat her burns. The honey worked like a dream, healing the burns nicely!

honey on spoon


When using honey for its holistic benefits, make sure you are choosing the right kind of honey. Not all honey is created equal. Examine the label to find out if the honey you are purchasing is right for your desired benefit. "The kind of honey you buy depends on the flavor that you're looking for and what you want to do with it. While a particular honey's nutrient profile (and its taste and color) vary according to its flower source, the general nutrient profile and health benefits are pretty standard," says Jenny Friedman, MS, RD. Make sure to look at the country of origin on the honey label. Also, try to opt for darker honey varieties, as they often contain more antioxidants.

The honey you choose should also be raw and organic. According to performance nutritionist Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, “"Raw honey is not treated (other than being poured through a cloth to separate the honey from the wax and impurities), so it retains the most nutrients, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds," Sass says. "In organic honey, the plants the bees are getting nectar from can't be sprayed with synthetic chemicals, and the bees cannot be administered antibiotics either."

honeycomb

Honey Boosts Energy

Honey is a great sweetener to use when baking or making drinks like coffee and tea. Honey is a healthier alternative to refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. "Due to the trace amount of nutrients, antioxidants, and its ability to reduce triglycerides when used in place of sugar, raw, organic honey is a good alternative where it might make sense," says Sass. Honey is a great substitute for sugar in smoothies, oatmeal, overnight oats, coffee, tea, salad dressings, and sauces.

Due to higher fructose content, honey has more calories, carbohydrates, and total sugars than table sugar. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however. "A higher fructose content means it's sweeter, and you'll need less [honey] to obtain the same taste," Friedman says. "The primary reason to choose honey over sugar would be for the flavor or texture, but with honey, you are getting a small dose of extra nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that you don't with sugar." 

Honey jars
Honey Supports a Healthy Diet

Adding honey to your diet on a regular basis will not give you a major weight loss transformation. This is not the intention of adding it to your diet. Honey is a nutritious sweetener that allows you to sweeten recipes without consuming too much refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup in a given day. Friedman prefers buckwheat honey for its robust flavor and full nutritional profile, as antioxidants are honey’s most important nutritional benefit.

Even if you just consume raw honey, you could reap some cardiovascular health benefits. "Some research shows that honey may help protect against heart disease by reducing 'bad' LDL cholesterol while increasing 'good' HDL," Sass says. "When used to replace sugar (not just added to a diet) honey may also help reduce triglycerides, which are linked to hardened arteries." Research has even revealed the possibility that honey could contain cancer fighting agents.

 honey on pancakes

Honey as Moisturizer

Covering your face with raw honey might seem off, but honey is actually a beneficial skincare ingredient. Honey is a great option for those who suffer chronic dry skin. This is because honey is a humectant—a substance that draws water to the skin. Raw honey also contains enzymes that restore skin purity for damaged skin.

Honey in jar 

Honey Fights Infection

The antibacterial properties of honey are greater than you might realize. "Honey contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, and even antioxidants in the form of flavonoids and phenolic acids," Friedman says. "The specific amount and type of these nutrients varies with the source of honey, so it's hard to say specifically what you're getting with each jar." Experts claim that Manuka honey is more effective than regular honey when it comes to preventing infection. 

Honey does not only boost your immunity from the inside; it also protects against infection topically. According to the Cochrane Review with 26 separate clinical trials involving 3,011 participants in total, honey can be used to treat these wounds: boils, burns, pilonidal cysts, and venous and diabetic foot ulcers.  According to Zeichner, honey also contains a small amount of hydrogen peroxide in its natural form. Manuka honey is especially beneficial as it contains methylglyoxal. This compound makes it beneficial for topical treatment of gashes and wounds. It may even be more beneficial than raw honey.

 honey dripping

Honey as Natural Sleep Aid

Researched published in Pediatrics claims honey to act as a natural sleep inducer. Adding a tablespoon or two to your bedtime tea or water can reset the circadian rhythm. This technique pairs well with a natural sleep aid tea like chamomile, which contains the antioxidant apigenin. Children under the age of one should not consume honey, however, as the spores are dangerous to infants.

 Honey dripping from spoon

Honey for Sore Throats

Honey is a great natural relief option during flu season. Honey is even known to work as well at suppressing cough and soothing sore throats as the cough suppressant dextromethorphan. "It's not a total cure, but honey can lessen the discomfort and irritation that comes along with a scratchy throat. Research supports honey as more soothing than medicinal," Friedman says.

Honey dripping from comb

Allergy Relief

Honey can be a great source of relief during allergy season as well. This might seem ironic, as pollen causes allergies and bees use pollen to make honey. Experts believe that introducing the pollen pathogen into the body might desensitize it. Honey is not a replacement for treatment, however. It can help relieve discomfort, but not cure. "While we hear a lot about using honey and bee pollen in treating seasonal allergies, research doesn't support a curative role," Friedman says.

Text By Thomas Cox and Martha Kendall Custard 

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  • Thomas Cox
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