Since the dawn of time, honey has been a staple in the food cupboard of most homes and is a tasty addition to many snacks, meals, deserts and drinks. It even has many seemingly magical properties when used as a wound dressing or cough medicine. But how much truth is behind this? Whilst honey has many wonderful properties, the myriad of health claims can be a little confusing. So, here is a little information about a few of these miraculous health claims, to help you to decide whether you should add honey to your diet.
What is honey?
Honey is created by honeybees, who convert the nectar they collect from flowers into a thick sugary liquid. They then eat this for energy or store it as honeycomb for later. Which flowers the nectar is collected from influences the colour and taste of the honey, but also the nutrient and antioxidant levels.
It is commonly believed that honey is better than sugar, as it contains vitamins and minerals, whereas white sugar contains very little nutrition. Whilst this may be marginally true, bear in mind that these vitamins and minerals are in tiny amounts. You would need to eat a whole tablespoon of honey to provide just 1/100 of the recommended amount of B vitamins, vitamin C, protein, calcium and iron. So this is not a particularly beneficial contribution to your diet, especially as it also contains around 65 calories and 17 grams of sugar.
It does have some redeeming features though, as honey contains antioxidants called flavonoids, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. The darker the honey, the more antioxidants it is likely to contain. In particular, buckwheat honey has been found to increase the antioxidant level in your blood. Always opt for a high quality brand of honey, as some of the lower quality ones have been found to be mixed with syrup, which wouldn’t offer any health benefits.
Magical wound healing properties
Applying honey to wounds to promote healing has been used for thousands of years. It is believed that it contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, whilst allowing oxygen and nutrients to nourish the wound. Honey has been found to be a particularly effective treatment for second degree burns, infected post surgery wounds and diabetic foot ulcers. It may also be beneficial in easing a sore throat or bad cough.
Honey and your heart
Raised triglyceride levels in your blood increase your risks of heart disease and diabetes. You can help to reduce these levels by decreasing your intake of refined carbohydrates or simple sugars and instead opt for starchy carbohydrates like whole grains and vegetables. Interestingly, studies on people who chose honey as their sweetener of choice have a tendency towards lower triglyceride levels than those who chose white sugar. So, if you are going to sweeten your coffee or baking with a simple sugar, honey may be the lesser of two evils.
High LDL (or bad) cholesterol can also be a risk factor for heart disease. Some studies comparing LDL cholesterol levels in people who chose honey over white sugar found that the honey eaters had lower levels than the sugar eaters. It is important to note however, that the lower blood cholesterol level does not mean that honey lowers cholesterol, but that it may be better option when compared to the white sugar alternative.
Highly delicious, but also high in calories
We all know honey tastes particularly yummy, but keep in mind that it is high in calories and may contribute to weight gain. Honey is made up mostly of water, fructose and glucose. Fructose and glucose, otherwise known as simple carbohydrates, are very easily and quickly absorbed into the blood stream, so it should be eaten in moderation. The good news though, is that the high fructose content of honey makes it sweeter, so you may use less of it than white sugar. Whilst honey may look good when compared to sugar, it is not better than using no sweetener at all, particularly if you are overweight, or have diabetes or heart disease.
Whilst honey may be better for you than white sugar, it doesn’t make it “good” for you. It will still rapidly raise your blood sugar levels, which diabetics need to be very cautious about. Diabetics are best to reduce their consumption of all simple sugars, in favour of balanced meals containing slow release complex carbohydrates.
Children shouldn’t have honey until after 1 year of age, as it can contain bacteria their little bodies are not yet able to fight off. This bacteria can produce toxins in their intestines, leading to a potentially life threatening condition called Botulism.
So, should you use honey or not?
Flavour and texture play a part in this decision when it comes to baking but in terms of health, it seems that the evidence is pointing firmly in the direction of honey. So, why not swap sugar for honey, to see if you use less or prefer the taste. But remember it is still very high in calories, so if your goal is weight loss, why not try a calorie free sweetener instead. Whilst, honey may be an improvement on white sugar, it does not make it “good” for you. No sweetener at all, is always the better option, so enjoy in moderation.