Health Benefits of Honey

Learn about 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 with many possible health benefits. Some evidence suggests that honey helps reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes and supports a healthy gut. Other research has found that honey might be a good alternative to antibiotics.

Honey comes from nectar, which flowers produce to attract bees to them. Bees suck the nectar from flowers and store it in their stomachs. Later, bees will pass the nectar to other bees through their mouths. As the bees pass the nectar, the sugary substance turns into honey. Then, the bees store the final product in honeycomb cells.

Read on to learn about the health-protective powers of honey, how to shop for the best varieties, and ways to add the sweetener to meals, snacks, and drinks.

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Helps Prevent and Treat Metabolic Syndrome

Honey may help people with metabolic syndrome (MetS), a cluster of risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

To be diagnosed with MetS, you must have at least three of five conditions:

  • A waistline between 35–40 inches
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood levels of triglycerides
  • Low HDL ("good") cholesterol, which helps remove cholesterol from your arteries
  • High blood sugar

Some evidence suggests that honey may prevent and manage MetS by:

  • Keeping blood sugar low: Honey has a lower glycemic index (GI) than sugar, so it does not trigger a spike in blood sugar and insulin levels. In contrast, honey helps enhance insulin sensitivity. Research has shown that honey can prevent weight gain if moderately consumed.
  • Improving lipid metabolism: Honey lowers blood levels of triglycerides and LDL ("bad") cholesterol and raises HDL cholesterol. Too much total cholesterol can build up in the arteries, leading to heart problems.
  • Reducing oxidative stress: Honey's antioxidative properties help reduce oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is an imbalance between cell-damaging free radicals and the body's ability to counter their harmful effects.

May Prevent Heart Disease

Honey contains over 180 substances, including natural sugars, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Honey's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds help protect against atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries. That buildup hardens over time and blocks blood flow to your body. Atherosclerosis is a risk factor for coronary artery disease (CAD) if the buildup prevents blood flow to your heart. CAD raises the risk of angina and heart attack.

Might Protect Against Antibiotic Resistance

Honey may act as an inexpensive alternative to antibiotics. A review published in 2020 found that honey helps improve cough frequency and severity compared to over-the-counter medicines and antibiotics. 

Concern over antimicrobial resistance, partly linked to overprescribing antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infections (URIs), prompted the analysis. Antimicrobial resistance occurs when viruses, bacteria, or fungi stop responding to treatments. That's a great concern because it limits the treatment options for URIs and other infections.

A study published in 2017 found that honey may hold the key to curbing antimicrobial resistance. The researchers discovered that an antimicrobial compound from honeybees could become the basis for new antibiotics.

Supports a Healthy Gut

A review published in 2017 found that honey possesses prebiotic properties. Prebiotics help ferment healthy gut bacteria. For example, Lactobacilli is a type of "good" bacteria that aids in breaking down food and absorbing nutrients. 

Some people use Lactobacilli to alleviate irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, such as diarrhea. The researchers linked the effects of prebiotics to a strong immune system and enhanced mental well-being.

Nutrition of Honey

One tablespoon of honey contains the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 63.8
  • Fat: 0g
  • Sodium: 0.8mg
  • Carbohydrates: 17.3g
  • Fiber: 0.04g
  • Added sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 0.1g

Research has found that honey contains 31 minerals, including phosphorus, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Still, honey will not supply a large percentage of those nutrients in your diet. More research is needed to fully know the benefits of honey's complex makeup.

Risks 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. Always read the ingredients to be sure the honey hasn't been cut with other additives.

Research has found that buckwheat honey has one of the strongest antioxidant activity. Dark honey generally has better antioxidant activity than light varieties, except for goldenrod honey.

Of note: Never give honey to children under 12 months due to the risk of Clostridium botulinum spores. The bacteria can multiply in an infant's immature digestive system and cause serious illness.

Tips for Consuming Honey

You can enjoy honey as is, straight from the spoon, or incorporate it 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 trade sugar for honey in some baked goods. Replace one cup of sugar with one-half to two-thirds cup of honey, then reduce the liquid in the recipe. You can even use honey to sweeten cocktails. Try 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. 

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

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