Honey has been accessible and used by humans for many years, and is much more than just a liquid sugar. Some health circles view honey as unhealthy due to its high fructose content, but honey contains a myriad of nutrients and other health-promoting compounds that actually make it an excellent part of a nutrient-dense diet, and one of the best sugar substitutes available.

Honey contains the following:

  • 82% sugar, by weight.
  • Half of that sugar (40% of total weight) is fructose.
  • Contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals.
  • Honey contains various antioxidants.
  • Its relative glucose and fructose content can vary greatly and its Glycemic Index ranges from low to high (depending on the particular nectar).

Honey can also be used as a potent medicinal agent for wound healing, particularly due to its anti-microbial properties.


Honey Benefits

1. Honey is rich in antioxidants

High quality honey is packed full of important antioxidants, which are key for fighting free radical damage that can potentially lead to cancer and other degenerative diseases. The specific type of antioxidants found in honey include compounds such as enzymes, phenols, organic acids and flavonoids (1). Including plenty of antioxidant rich foods in the diet is of utmost importance for preventing disease, supporting eye health, and much more (2).

2. Honey makes for an excellent sugar alternative

thrive banner honeyWhile the sugar in honey is mostly fructose instead of glucose, it actually makes for a highly preferred sugar substitute for everybody, including diabetics and those with blood sugar conditions. Honey will raise blood sugar levels far less than white sugar (3), although it will still cause a spike, so should be used in moderation by diabetics. Instead of using white sugar that contains no nutrient value whatsoever, honey also provides LDL cholesterol lowering benefits (4), which supports heart health.

3. Honey helps to lower blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol

Fascinatingly, honey contains certain antioxidants that have been shown to support normal and healthy blood pressure (5). High blood pressure puts us at risk for heart disease, so using honey instead of sugar is highly recommended. Furthermore, those eating a diet high in refined sugar and carbohydrates often have high triglyceride levels, and replacing honey with sugar might help lower blood triglyceride levels by up to 11%. As if that weren’t enough, honey has been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, while raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels (6).

4. Honey can heal burns and wounds

Honey is a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial agent, and has been used for centuries as a wound and burn healer. One study concluded that honey is particularly helpful in healing wounds that become infected post-surgery, and partial thickness burns (6). It is also widely used (especially by Naturopathic Doctors) to treat diabetic foot ulcers. Other common skin conditions treated with honey include herpes, hemorrhoids, eczema and psoriasis.

5. Honey is an effective cough suppressant in children

While many conventional, over-the-counter cough remedies for children contain chemicals and other potentially harmful ingredients, honey is an all-natural, safe and effective alternative. One study even showed that it is more effective than two of the more commonly purchased drugstore remedies (7). However, remember that honey is not considered safe in children under 1 year of age.

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Uses of Honey

1. Make an anti-naseau tonic

Honey can work wonders for nausea, whether it be related to morning sickness with pregnancy, motion sickness, or general digestive upset. Combine it with ginger (also known for its anti-nausea effects) and fresh lemon juice in a tea.

2. Use as a topical to treat and heal wounds or burns

As discussed above, honey makes an incredibly effective treatment for partial thickness burns and wounds, particularly post-surgical wounds that are infected. Dark honey is known to have higher antioxidant content, and might therefore be more potent in healing wounds. Medihoney is a medical grade honey used by healthcare practitioners.

3. Use Honey as a Conditioner to Soften Hair

Not only is honey great for the skin, it is also great for your hair. To make your own conditioner with honey, mix 1/2 cup honey with 1/4 cup of olive oil and warm this mixture over the stove. Use this honey, and olive oil mixture in your hair in place of your current conditioner. Using honey as a conditioner can help to soften your hair and it smells amazing as well!

4. Use honey instead of sugar to help regulate blood sugar

Raw honey has been found to actually improve insulin resistance in diabetic patients, although must be used in moderate amounts. Compared to the blood sugar rollercoaster of regular white sugar consumption, honey is an excellent alternative for anyone aiming to manage their blood sugar levels (not to mention for overall health and wellness).

5. Use honey as a sleep aide

Honey is known to promote restful sleep for those struggling with insomnia. Good sources of fat are also sleep promoting before bed time, especially for those who might be waking up due to blood sugar dips and spikes. Mixing a tablespoon of raw honey with organic, whole cow’s milk, goats milk, or unsweetened almond or coconut milk before going to bed can improve you sleep.

Possible Side Effects of Honey

While honey is generally considered safe for most people, there are certain populations that should avoid it, particularly in high doses.

Diabetics should avoid honey is large amounts

As previously discussed, honey could offer some support to diabetics or other individuals with serious blood sugar imbalances, but it should definitely be taken only in moderation. A person with normal, healthy blood sugar levels should still strive to stay below 25 grams of fructose per day, and 1 tsp. honey contains about 4 grams. Those with diabetes or other conditions will likely aim for less total fructose on a daily basis.

Children under the age of 1

Honey is best avoided by small children under the age of 1. While not conclusive, it is thought that perhaps honey could cause botulism is infants and small babies, so it best avoided completely.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women

While honey in food quantities is considered save for pregnant and breastfeeding women, it is best not to use honey in medicinal doses.

Those suffering from severe seasonal allergies

Interestingly, honey is thought by some to actually help with seasonal allergies, but those suffering from severe allergies should proceed with caution. Simply start with a small amount, and notice symptoms. If symptoms worsen, discontinue use. However, raw and locally sourced honey might work a bit like a vaccination, by introducing a very small amount of pollen into the system, therefore helping your body to build natural immunity to seasonal allergens, over a period of time.

Honey FAQs

Q: What is honey?

A: Honey is a sweet and sticky substance produced by bees from the nectar of plants. It has been long used as both a natural sweetener in foods and drinks, as well as medicinally. However, the medicinal and nutritional value greatly depends on the type of honey consumed.

Q: What is honey used for?

A: Honey has been used medicinally for over 2,000 years, and still is today. Aside from making a great sugar alternative in foods and beverages, honey also is known to soothe a cough, heal wounds, diabetic foot ulcers and burns, lower LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure, possibly improve seasonal allergies, help with weight loss, heal various skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema and more.

Q: How do you eat honey?

A: Honey can be consumed in many different ways. In cooking, it can be used instead of sugar. It can also be used to sweeten tea or coffee, made into a digestive soothing tea along with ginger and lemon, or used as a spread on baked goods such as pancakes. Get creative, as honey is a very multi-purpose food.

Q: Could I be allergic to honey?

A: Having an allergy to any food is always a possibility. If you suspect that you are allergic to honey, try eliminating it completely from your diet for 1-2 months, and then reintroducing it in a very small amount to see if it elicits side effects. Remember, side effects from any food allergy or sensitivity might take up to 72 hours to show up, so wait 3 days to see if you suffer any ill-effects. .

Q: Where do I buy honey?

A: Honey can be purchased at almost any grocery store, or even online. Some of the highest quality honey’s can be purchased at health food stores, co-operatives or farmers markets.

Q: What is Manuka Honey?

A: Manuka honey is produced in Australia and New Zealand that comes from bees that pollinate the manuka tree (7). Manuka honey is known to be one of the best honeys for use medicinally, as its antioxidant content is quite high, as well as its antibacterial properties. You can purchase manuka honey at most health food stores, online and sometimes at herb stores. It can also be used similarly to any other type of honey as a sweetener, although the taste is slightly different.

Q: What other type of honey are there?

A: There are more than 300 different types of honey in the Unites States (8), and they are by no means created equal. In fact, certain types of honey might contain 100 times greater antibacterial properties than others. Unfortunately, the majority of honey you will find at a regular supermarket has been ultra-processed, and many of its nutrient and medicinal benefits have been stripped.

To be sure you are reaping honey’s vast benefits, opt for raw, unfiltered, and certified organic honey (if buying from a farmers market, they might not have the official organic seal, but it is likely still of high quality). You can purchase the best honey at any health food store, co-op, farmers market, and at some conventional supermarkets, but be sure in this case that the organic seal is present.

Q: What are the best kinds of honey?

A: Raw, unfiltered and organic honey will provide the best health benefits. Darker honeys are thought to contain more antibacterial properties, and Manuka honey is particularly known for its medicinal value.

Q: Should children consume honey?

A: To play it safe, honey should be avoided by children under the age of 1. In older children, it is considered safe.

[Related: Honey vs. Sugar]

Q: How should I store honey?

A: The best way to store your honey is in temperatures ranging from 50-70 degrees F. Avoid storing honey near your oven, and away from direct sunlight.

Q: Should I use local honey to fight allergies?

A: Anecdotally, locally sourced and raw honey is thought to support seasonal allergies, although this theory has not been scientifically proven. Consuming this sort of honey on a regular basis could potentially act as a sort of vaccination, helping your body to build immunity to local pollen.

Q: Does honey go bad?

A: If honey is stored properly, it is one of the few foods that does not spoil.

Q: If my honey crystallizes does it mean it’s gone bad?

A: Many raw honey products will be crystallized, which is completely normal. Simply place your jar in hot water, allowing your honey to soften. If adding it to hot water or another beverage, it will quickly melt.

Q: What is raw honey?

A: Raw honey, is honey that has not been processed, heated or filtered. It is the best type of honey for both nutritional and medicinal benefits.

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