5 Health Benefits of Honey

All the health benefits of honey, how to select the best kind, and creative ways to add honey to meals, drinks, and snacks.

Honey is an all-natural and readily available option for improving upper respiratory tract infection (URI) symptoms. Several studies have demonstrated that honey possesses significant health benefits—the tasty treat often referred to as liquid gold.

Here's a look at the research on the health-protective powers of honey, how to shop for the best varieties, and ways to incorporate this sweetener into meals, snacks, and drinks.

Treats Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URI)

Honey may serve as an inexpensive alternative to antibiotics. For example, in a review published in 2020 in the journal BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine, Oxford University researchers looked at 14 previously published studies on honey's effectiveness in relieving URI symptoms.

The researchers found that honey improved both cough frequency and severity compared to usual treatments—like over-the-counter (OTC) medications and antibiotics. Concern over antimicrobial resistance, which is partly linked to overprescribing antibiotics for URIs, prompted the analysis.

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when viruses, bacteria, or fungi stop responding to medications (such as antibiotics) for treatment, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That's a great concern because it limits the treatment options for URIs and other illnesses.

Likewise, another study published in 2017 in UIC Today found that honey may hold the key to curbing antimicrobial resistance. The University of Illinois at Chicago scientists discovered that an antimicrobial compound made by honeybees could become the basis for new antibiotics.

Fights Metabolic Syndrome

Honey may help people with metabolic syndrome (MetS). Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. According to the National Library of Medicine, to be diagnosed with MetS, you must have at least three of five conditions:

  • A waistline between 35 to 40 inches
  • High blood pressure
  • High levels of triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood
  • Low HDL, or "good," cholesterol (helps remove cholesterol from your arteries)
  • High blood sugar

Luckily, honey may help to improve those conditions. An article published in 2018 in the journal Nutrients reviews the protective effects of honey for metabolic syndrome. The article describes the following ways honey may be beneficial for people who have MetS:

  • Keeps blood sugar low: First, honey has a lower glycemic index than sugar, so it doesn't trigger a spike in blood sugar and insulin levels and helps enhance insulin sensitivity. Honey has also been shown to prevent excessive weight gain, although it should be consumed in moderation. 
  • Improves lipid metabolism: Honey lowers the level of triglycerides in the blood and total cholesterol and LDL, or "bad," cholesterol, while increasing HDL cholesterol. Cholesterol is a substance in your body, according to the National Library of Medicine. If you have too much cholesterol, it can build up and cause heart problems.
  • Reduces oxidative stress: According to the 2018 Nutrients article, honey's antioxidative properties also help reduce oxidative stress, a mechanism in metabolic syndrome. In a nutshell, oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of cell-damaging free radicals and the body's ability to counter their harmful effects, according to another article published in 2017 in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.

For those reasons, the 2018 Nutrients article concludes that there is strong potential for honey to be integrated into the management of MetS, both preventatively and therapeutically.

Prevents Artery Hardening

Honey may have the ability to combat artery hardening, also known as atherosclerosis. 

According to an article published in 2019 in Nutrients, honey contains over 180 substances—including natural sugars and many vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. In addition to its ability to counter oxidative stress, honey's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds are the key factors responsible for its protective benefits against artery hardening.

Supports a Healthy Gut

A 2017 review published in the journal Integrative Medicine Insights note honey's use in complementary medicine. 

The review states that honey possesses prebiotic properties. Prebiotics help ferments beneficial gut bacteria, including bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. The researchers link that shift to stronger immune function and enhanced mental well-being.

Provides Nutrients

In addition to its natural sugar and antioxidants, honey contains some nutrients, according to an article published in 2017 in the journal Pharmacognosy Research

For example, while the amounts are small per serving, 31 minerals have been found in honey—including phosphorus, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.

In short, honey won't supply a large percentage of nutrients in your diet, but it's certainly not empty calories. Plus, researchers are still learning about the functional benefits of its complex makeup.

Different Kinds of Honey

One of the best ways to learn about the makeup of your honey and how it's been handled: Talk to the beekeeper, for example, at your local farmer's market. If that's not possible, always read the ingredients to be sure the honey hasn't been cut with other additives.

In a 2018 study from Molecules: A Journal of Synthetic Chemistry and Natural Product Chemistry, researchers demonstrated that buckwheat honey has the strongest antioxidant activity. And in general, dark honey showed better antioxidant activity than light varieties, except for goldenrod honey, which ranked high.

One note: You should never give honey of any kind to children under 12 months due to the risk of Clostridium botulinum spores. They can multiply in a baby's immature digestive system and cause serious illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Ways To Enjoy Honey

Honey can be enjoyed as is, straight from the spoon, or incorporated into various recipes. To relish the tasty treat, try some of the following ideas: 

  • Use honey to sweeten tea and coffee, or whip it into a smoothie.
  • Whisk honey into homemade vinaigrette dressings and sauces. 
  • Drizzle honey over oatmeal or overnight oats, pancakes, fresh fruit, chia seeds, or avocado pudding. 
  • Stir honey into energy balls made with a nut or seed butter and add-ins like oats, dried fruit, spices, and chopped dark chocolate.
  • Use honey to make kale chips or to glaze carrots, beets, walnuts, or cashews.

You can also trade sugar for honey in some baked goods. Replace one cup of sugar with one-half to two-thirds cup of honey, and reduce the liquid in the recipe. You can even use honey to sweeten cocktails, like honey lime margaritas, honey-kissed cosmos, or bee's knees made from honey mixed with gin, ginger, and lemon juice.

A Quick Review

Honey has many beneficial properties like treating infections, fighting metabolic syndrome, preventing artery hardening, and supporting a healthy gut. 

It's possible that honey may become an alternative to antibiotics. Honey also contains some nutrients and many different ways to enjoy it. Whether you're spooning it from the jar or adding it to your tea, honey can be a beneficial addition to your diet.

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