Honey is a sweet liquid made by bees using the nectar from flowers. It is graded by color, with the clear, golden amber honey often fetching a higher retail price than the darker varieties.
The flavor of a particular type of honey will vary based on the types of flower from which the nectar was harvested.
Both raw and pasteurized forms of honey are available. Raw honey is removed from the hive and bottled directly, and as such will contain trace amounts of yeast, wax, and pollen. Consuming local raw honey is believed to help with seasonal allergies, due to repeated exposure to the pollen in the area. Pasteurized honey has been heated and processed to remove impurities.
Honey has high levels of monosaccharides, fructose, and glucose, and it contains about 70 to 80 percent sugar, which provides its sweetness. Honey also has antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Modern medical science has managed to find uses for honey in chronic wound management and combating infection.
This MNT Knowledge Center article includes a brief history of honey in traditional medicine and explains some of its potential health benefits.
Fast facts on honey
- Honey is linked to wound-healing properties and antibacterial action.
- It has been used in medicine for over 5,000 years.
- Honey can replace sugar in meals, providing a healthier option. However, they can also add browning and excess moisture to a dish.
- Do not give honey to children under 12 months old.
Modern science is finding evidence for many of the historical uses of honey.
1) Healing wounds and burns
There have been some cases in which people have reported positive effects of using honey in treating wounds.
A review published in The Cochrane Library indicated that honey might be able to help heal burns. The lead author of the study said that “topical honey is cheaper than other interventions, notably oral antibiotics, which are often used and may have other deleterious side effects.”
However, there is a lack of evidence to fully support this claim. In fact, a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases concluded that applying medical-grade honey to the wounds of patients has no advantage over normal antibiotics among patients undergoing dialysis.
2) Reducing the duration of diarrhea
According to research-based reviews on honey, it has been shown to decrease the severity and duration of diarrhea. Honey also promotes increased potassium and water intake, which is particularly helpful when experiencing diarrhea.
Research that took place in Lagos, Nigeria suggests that honey has also shown the ability to block the actions of pathogens that commonly cause diarrhea.
3) Preventing acid reflux
Recent research has shown that honey can reduce the upward flow of stomach acid and undigested food by lining the esophagus and stomach.
4) Fighting infections
In 2010, scientists from the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam reported in FASEB Journal that honey’s ability to kill bacteria lies in a protein called defensin-1.
A more recent study in the European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases showed that a certain type of honey, called Manuka honey, can help prevent the bacteria Clostridium difficile from settling in the body. C. difficile is known for causing severe diarrhea and sickness.
Some studies have revealed that Manuka honey may even be effective for the treatment of MRSA infections.
Dr. Jenkins concluded:
“Manuka and other honeys have been known to have wound healing and anti-bacterial properties for some time. But the way in which they act is still not known. If we can discover exactly how Manuka honey inhibits MRSA, it could be used more frequently as a first-line treatment for infections with bacteria that are resistant to many currently available antibiotics.”
Manuka honey may even help reverse bacterial resistance to antibiotics, according to research presented in the journal Letters in Applied Microbiology. This type of honey showed action against Ureaplasma urealyticum, a bacteria that is resistant to many different antibiotics.
“Parents rated the honey products higher than the silan date extract for symptomatic relief of their children’s nocturnal cough and sleep difficulty due to URI (upper respiratory infection). Honey may be a preferable treatment for cough and sleep difficulty associated with childhood URI.”
In The Scientific World Journal, researchers provided data confirming that natural honey was as effective as a eusol antiseptic solution in reducing wound infections.
There is a great deal of evidence supporting the use of honey as a remedy for infection.
5) Relieving cold and cough symptoms
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends honey as a natural cough remedy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also recognizes honey as a treatment for a cough.
However, they advise that honey is not suitable for children under the age of one year.
A 2007 study by Penn State College of Medicine suggested that honey reduced night-time coughing and improved sleep quality in children with upper respiratory infection to a greater degree than the cough medicine dextromethorphan.
6) Replacing added sugar in the diet
Honey’s sweet flavor makes it an ideal substitute for sugar in the diet.
Honey can be added to food and beverages to sweeten the taste without the negative health impact of added sugars. However, since honey is still a sweetener, it is important to remain mindful of how much honey being is used.
Honey has been used to treat a wide array of illnesses, ailments, and injuries.
It can be mixed with other remedies and consumed or rubbed onto the skin. Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine have attempted to use honey as a remedy for the following:
- sleep disturbance
- vision problems
- bad breath
- teething pain, in children over a year old
- cough and asthma
- stomach ulcers
- diarrhea and dysentery
- bedwetting and frequent urination
- high blood pressure
- hangover relief
- eczema and dermatitis
- burns, cuts, and wounds
While not all uses of honey are confirmed as effective, trying it as treatment will not make conditions any worse or cause harm.
Honey is sometimes touted as a cosmetic solution for cracked, dry, pimply, or clogged skin.
Honey was a mainstay in the medical practices of many cultures for centuries. Over 4,000 years ago, honey was used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, where it was thought to be effective in treating indigestion and imbalances in the body.
Before its use by Ancient Egyptians, honey was rubbed onto the skin to treat wounds and has been found in medicinal substances from over 5,000 years ago.
The beneficial properties of honey have been explored and studied in modern times, and there is evidence to suggest that some parts of its historical reputation may hold truth.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, one tablespoon of honey contains 64 calories, 17.3 grams (g) of sugar, and 0 g of fiber, fat, and protein.
Choosing honey over refined and processed sugar may lead to long-term health benefits. Honey is known to have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and soothing effects.
Below is a typical honey profile, according to BeeSource:
- Fructose: 38.2 percent
- Glucose: 31.3 percent
- Maltose: 7.1 percent
- Sucrose: 1.3 percent
- Water: 17.2 percent
- Higher sugars: 1.5 percent
- Ash: 0.2 percent
- Other: 3.2 percent
The slightly acidic pH level of honey is what helps prevent the growth of bacteria, while its antioxidant elements clean up free radicals that are linked to diseases.
The physical properties of honey vary depending on the specific flora used in its production, as well as its water content.
Experimentation is key when substituting honey for sugar. Baking with honey can cause excess browning and moisture.
As a general rule, use ¾ cup of honey for every one cup of sugar, reduce the liquid in the recipe by 2 tablespoons and lower the oven temperature by 25º Fahrenheit.
Here are some quick tips for including honey in the diet:
- Use honey to sweeten your dressings or marinades.
- Stir honey into coffee or tea.
- Drizzle honey on top of toast or pancakes.
- Mix honey into yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal for a more natural sweetener.
- Spread raw honey over whole grain toast and top with peanut butter.
Alternatively, try these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:
- Basil honey mango sorbet
- Honey Dijon vinaigrette with arugula, pear and walnut salad
- Grilled fruit kebabs
When stored in an airtight container, honey has no expiry date.
A person’s overall eating pattern is most important in preventing disease and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Honey is still a form of sugar, so intake should be moderate. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that women get no more than 100 calories a day from added sugars and men no more than 150 calories a day. This is equal to a little over two tablespoons for women and three tablespoons for men.
It is recommended that infants under a year old do not consume honey. Honey may contain botulinum endospores that cause infant botulism in very young children, a rare but serious type of food poisoning that can result in paralysis. Even pasteurized honey has a chance of containing these spores.
However, honey has a wide range of benefits.