Honey contains a treasure chest of hidden nutritional and medicinal value for centuries. The sweet golden liquid from the beehive is a popular kitchen staple loaded with antibacterial and antifungal properties that has been used since the early days of Egyptian tombs.
Honey has been used by countless cultures all around the world. It is known as Honig in German, Miele in Italian, Shahad in Hindi, Miel in French and Spanish, Mel in Portuguese, мед in Russian and Honing in Dutch; there is almost no part in the world where honey is not widely used and celebrated as a part of the cultural diet.
But what makes honey so popular? Most likely, it is the ease with which it can be consumed. One can eat it directly, put it on bread like a jam, mix it with juice or any drink instead of sugar, or mix it with warm water, lime juice, cinnamon and other herbs to make a medicine. It is savoured by all due to its taste as well as health benefits, making it extremely useful and versatile.
Honey is a sweet food made by bees foraging nectar from flowers. The variety produced by honey bees (the genus Apis) is the one most commonly referred to, as it is the type of honey collected by most beekeepers and consumed by people. Honey is also produced by bumblebees, stingless bees, and other hymenopteran insects such as honey wasps, though the quantity is generally lower and they have slightly different properties compared with honey from the genus Apis. Honey bees convert nectar into honey by a process of regurgitation and evaporation: they store it as a primary food source in wax honeycombs inside the beehive.
Honey gets its sweetness from the monosaccharides fructose and glucose, and has about the same relative sweetness as granulated sugar. It has attractive chemical properties for baking and a distinctive flavor that leads some people to prefer it to sugar and other sweeteners. Most microorganisms do not grow in honey so sealed honey does not spoil, even after thousands of years.
However, honey sometimes contains dormant endospores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can be dangerous to babies, as it may result in botulism.
The benefits of honey go beyond its great taste. Honey is known for its effectiveness in instantly boosting the performance, endurance and reduce muscle fatigue of athletes. Its natural sugars play an important role in preventing fatigue during exercise. The glucose in honey is absorbed by the body quickly and gives an immediate energy boost, while the fructose is absorbed more slowly providing sustained energy. It is known that honey has also been found to keep levels of blood sugar fairly constant compared to other types of sugar. So, to experience these health benefits of honey, here are a few tips for you:
1. Next time before you go for a workout, take a spoon of honey to enable you to go for the extra mile.
2. If you are feeling low and lethargic in the morning, instead of reaching out for a can of carbonated energy drink , try honey. Spread it on hot toast or replace the sugar in your tea with it for a refreshing surge of energy.
3. If your kids are finding hard to cope with the physical strain from the buzzing activities at school, prepare them a honey drink, some sandwiches with honey, butter and ham to make sure they have enough energy to sustain through the day. And for optimal sleep and recovery cycle at night, give your child a spoonful of honey before sleep on a daily basis. They may not care a bit about the health benefits of honey now, but will be grateful and love what you do for them when they grow up!
Health Benefits of Honey
1. Used as Sweetener: It can be used as a substitute for sugar in many food and drinks. It contains about 69% glucose and fructose, enabling it to be used as a sweetener that is better for your overall health than normal white sugar.
2. Helps prevent cancer and heart disease: Honey contains flavonoids, antioxidants which help reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease.
3. Reduces ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders: Recent research shows that honey treatment may help disorders such as ulcers and bacterial gastroenteritis.
4. Anti-bacterial and anti-fungal: “All honey is antibacterial, because the bees add an enzyme that makes hydrogen peroxide,” said Peter Molan, director of the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. This contributes to the incredibly long shelf-life of honey.
5. Antioxidants: It contains nutraceuticals, which are very effective for the removal of free radicals from the body. As a result, our body immunity is improved against many conditions, even potentially fatal ones like cancer or heart disease.
6. Increases athletic performance: Ancient Olympic athletes ate honey and dried figs to enhance their performance. This has now been verified with modern studies, showing that it is superior in maintaining glycogen levels and improving recovery time than other sweeteners.
7. Reduces cough and throat irritation: Honey helps with coughs, particularly buckwheat honey. In a study of 110 children, a single dose of buckwheat honey was just as effective as a single dose of dextromethorphan in relieving nocturnal cough and allowing proper sleep.
8. Helps regulate blood sugar: Even though honey contains simple sugars, it is not the same as white sugar or artificial sweeteners. Its exact combination of fructose and glucose actually helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. Some honeys have a low hypoglycemic index, so they don’t jolt your blood sugar.
9. Heals wounds and burns: External application of honey has been shown to be as effective as conventional treatment with silver sulfadiazene. It is speculated that the drying effect of the simple sugars and honey’s anti-bacterial nature combine to create this effect.
Honey possesses antimicrobial properties. It helps in promoting autolytic debridement. It deodorizes malodorous wounds. It speeds up the healing process by stimulating wound tissues. It helps in initiating the healing process in dormant wounds. It also helps in promoting moist wound healing.
10. Helps improve the skin and hair: Its anti-bacterial qualities are particularly useful for the skin, and, when used with the other ingredients, honey can also be moisturizing and nourishing. Honey is an emollient which means it is a natural softener. This makes it a great hair conditioner that smoothens your hair. As honey is an emollient, it also improves the health of the hair follicles which are responsible for hair growth. If your hair is dry or increased pollution and direct exposure to the sun as made them lifeless, then use of honey can bring back that lost sheen and shine of your hair. For a powerful home beauty treatment for which you probably have all the ingredients in your kitchen already, try:
a. Honey Hair Conditioner: Mix ½ cup honey with ¼ cup olive oil. Work a small amount through your hair until coated. Cover your hair with a shower cap and let sit for 30 minutes. Shampoo as normal and rinse.
b. Honey Body Moisturizer: Mix 5 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons rose oil, and 2 cups almond oil in a medium-sized bottle. Apply as needed onto wet skin.
c. Honey Almond Scrub: Mix 3 teaspoons honey, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and 6 ½ tablespoons of finely crushed almonds. Rub the exfoliating scrub onto your face gently and rinse with warm water.
11. Protects the scalp and treats dandruff: Honey also comprises of antibacterial and antiseptic qualities. This prevents our scalp from infections or psoriasis, and tends to keep our scalp clean and bacteria-free. This also keeps us away from dandruff and itchiness on your scalp.
12. For Hangovers: When you get a hangover from drinking too much alcohol, combat its effects by applying honey remedy. Honey is gentle on the stomach and contains a mix of natural sugars such fructose which is known to speed up the oxidation of alcohol by the liver, acting as a 'sobering' agent. Follow this recipe: 15ml of liquid honey with 80ml of orange juice and 70ml of natural yogurt. Blend them together until smooth.
13. For Sleeplessness: Unable to sleep? Use the famous Milk and Honey Remedy. Take a glass of hot milk with a teaspoon of honey to calm the soul and induce sleep. Or, add 1 or 2 teaspoons of honey to a cup of chamomile tea and sip.
14. Boosts Memory: The sweet nectar is loaded in antioxidants that may help prevent cellular damage and loss within the brain. A 2011 study published in Menopause found a daily spoonful of Malaysian honey may boost postmenopausal women’s memory, which can provide an alternative therapy for the hormone-related intellectual decline. After four months of taking 20 grams of honey a day, the women were more likely to have better short-term memory than their counterparts who took hormone pills.
Honey’s ability to help the body absorb calcium, according to Brennecke, helps aid brain health. The brain needs calcium in order to process thought and make decisions. “As our populations continue to get older and older, the likelihood of dementia setting in because of poor intake of vitamins and minerals continues to get higher and higher,” he said.
15. Help Boost Your Energy: A healthy, whole-food diet and proper sleep is the best recipe for boundless energy, but if you're looking for a quick energy boost, such as before or after a workout, honey can suffice. This is particularly true for athletes looking for a "time-released fuel" to provide energy over a longer duration.
16. Weight Loss: Though it has more calories than sugar when honey is consumed with warm water, it helps in digesting the fat stored in your body. Similarly, honey with lemon juice or cinnamon help in reducing weight.
17. Source of Vitamins and Minerals: It contains a variety of vitamins and minerals. The type of vitamins and minerals and their quantity depends on the type of flowers used for apiculture. Commonly, honey contains Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron. If you check the vitamin and mineral content in regular sugar from any other source, you will find it to be completely absent or insignificant.
18. Diabetes Aid: Consumption of raw honey can reduce the risk of developing diabetes and help aid medication used to treat diabetes. The combination of raw honey and cinnamon can be especially beneficial to healthy blood sugar management, as well as many other health concerns like gingivitis and acne.
According to a study out of Dubai, honey has been observed to cause a lower elevation of plasma glucose levels in diabetics compared to dextrose and sucrose. Some suggest that the insulin-boosting power of cinnamon can counteract this glucose elevation in honey, which would make your honey and cinnamon mixture a low glycemic index food combination.
Raw honey increases insulin and decreases hyperglycemia. Try consuming a little at a time and see how your blood sugar reacts to it, and add both raw honey and cinnamon to your diabetic diet plan.
Factors Governing the Benefits of Honey
The benefits of honey that we get greatly depend on its quality. Not all of it is created equally, so quality is different, and subsequently, the various types do necessarily provide the same benefits.
Both the price and the health benefits of honey are dependent on its quality, so it has become very important for both the manufacturers and consumers to understand the various factors that affect the quality of honey. Some of these factors include the type of flowers used in the formation of the honeycombs, the blending process, storage conditions, temperature of heating, and many more. These factors have been explained in more detail below:
Type of flowers: According to the Honey Research Center at the University of Waikato, New Zealand, there is not enough evidence to draw conclusions on the properties of honey, especially the antimicrobial properties, based on the type of flowers used for its production. However, extensive research has been carried out on the honeydew variety obtained from the conifer forests in the central European mountains and the manuka variety obtained from New Zealand. The above mentioned honeydew kind has been found to have high microbial activity while manuka kind has been found to have high non-peroxide activity.
Blending: It is also believed that polyfloral honey (which is obtained from more than one flower) provides more benefits than monofloral. Hence many companies sell blended honey as it offers the benefits from a variety and is therefore considered to be healthier than non-blended.
Storage: When stored for a long duration, honey becomes darker in colour. It loses some of its properties and may also ferment if the water content is too high. Therefore, prolonged storage should be avoided, while newly harvested honey is almost always preferred.
Heating: Heating honey leads to drastic changes in its chemical composition. As a result, heating to high temperatures reduces its benefits. It is no wonder many people prefer raw or organic or raw organic honey. While raw by definition signifies less processing (and no heating), organic honey is prepared using stringent organic production methods and processing standards, in which heating to high temperatures is not allowed.
Water Content: Honey can also undergo fermentation. If the water content is high (above 19%), the chances of it becoming fermented are high. You can measure the water content using a refractometer. Furthermore, freely flowing honey either contains higher water content or has been heated to disturb the natural crystallization process, thereby reducing the benefits it will confer to you.
Colour: The colour is a very useful tool to judge its quality. Light coloured honey is more valued than dark coloured as the former has a delicate flavour. It becomes darker upon storage and heating.
Filtration: Most of the benefits are due to the presence of the pollen within the honey. Without the pollen, honey is a glucose-fructose solution, and is just as bad for you as sugar. Unfortunately, companies market the transparent clear product as good quality, while in reality, ultra-filtered honey does not have many health benefits at all. That being said, you should be very cautious while consuming pollen-rich honey. If you have pollen allergy, avoid consuming it.
How to Find and Use Raw Honey
Looking at honey consumption, 50 percent of the population directly purchases honey, 35 percent never eats honey, and the remaining 15 percent consumes honey in products made with honey, like honey-roasted peanuts. Raw honey might be available at your nearest grocery store, but it should be available at your local health food store or, even better, your local beekeeper. It’s also available online.
Expect raw honey to be opaque rather than that sparkling, clear, golden color that’s achieved through heating.
Never cook with raw honey because that will destroy its good properties. Also, do not store it near a heat source. If you enjoy honey in your tea or coffee, wait until the drink is just tepid enough to sip comfortably, and then add honey to taste.
Drizzle it on breakfast cereals, over your sprouted grain toast or on yogurt. It’s also a great addition to smoothies and salad dressings. Raw honey can be a healthy alternative to highly processed sugar in recipes that doesn’t require heat. For every one tablespoon of sugar in a recipe (that doesn’t require heating), you can typically use two teaspoons of honey instead.
Raw Honey History and Interesting Facts
Throughout history honey has been an important food. God used honey to motivate the Israelite people when He told them to, “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 33:3)
Raw honey has been used as medicine since ancient times.
For centuries, honey was considered sacred due to its wonderfully sweet properties as well as its rarity. It was used in religious ceremonies and to embalm the deceased.
Apiculture, or the practice of beekeeping to produce honey, dates back to at least 700 B.C.
Honey was used by runners in the Olympic Games in ancient Greece as an energy source.
The health benefits of honey depend on the quality of a specific honey.
Raw honey contains small amounts of the same resins found in propolis as well as bee pollen.
When raw honey is overly processed and heated, the health benefits are largely eliminated.
Raw Honey Possible Allergies and Potential Side Effects
Honey is considered safe when taken by mouth in normal food amounts or recommended dosages. However, honey should never be given to children under 12 months of age since raw honey is a potential source of botulism spores. Raw honey is not a danger to older children or adults, just to infants. However, if you have a compromised immune system or are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer, you should speak with your doctor before consuming raw honey.
If you’re allergic or sensitive to celery, pollen or have other bee-related allergies, you should not consume raw honey. Honey made from plants in the Rhododendron genus can also cause allergic reactions due to toxicity.
Proverbs 25:16 says, “Do you like honey? Don’t eat too much, or it will make you sick!” Although honey is one of the healthiest sweeteners, it still should certainly be used in moderation. Mild honey intoxication side effects can include weakness, dizziness, vomiting, sweating and nausea. Other more serious side effects of honey consumption are unlikely unless you consume way too much.
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