There’s something about this beautiful golden substance created by bees that seems so irresistible. Honey has been an extremely important staple in many different civilizations throughout human evolution, used as a source of food and to treat a number of conditions and ailments since ancient times. It was also one of the first sugar substitutes to gain popularity, before avoiding refined sugar was even a trend.
A Brief History Of Honey
Honey is produced by bees during a series of digestion and regurgitation processes, and concentrated through a dehydration process inside the bee hive. It comes from the nectar they collect from local flower pollen. Honey has a particularly complex chemical composition that varies, depending on its botanical source, and has been reported to contain about 200 substances. Honey has a beautiful sweet smell and thick but runny substance, and can come in different colors, from light golden to dark brown. Because honey is made from the pollen of local plants, the color and nutritional value varies in different areas. Lighter varieties, such as orange blossom honey, tend to have a milder flavor, while darker varieties, from plants such as wildflowers, tend to be much stronger flavored. It takes about 60,000 bees, traveling about 55,000 miles and feeding from more than 2 million flowers, to gather enough nectar for one pound of honey. Once gathered, bees store the nectar in their stomachs, where it mixes with enzymes. That is then regurgitated into another bee’s mouth and repeated until the nectar becomes partially digested. It is then transferred into a honeycomb at the beehive. Honey has a long medicinal history, from the ancient Egyptians who used it to dress wounds, to the Greeks and Romans, who used it to heal digestive diseases.
Nutritional Value Of Honey (Per 100 grams)
Calories – 304
Total fat – 0g
Cholesterol – 0mg
Sodium – 4mg
Total carbohydrates – 82 g (27%)
Dietary fiber – 0g
Sugars – 82g
Protein – 0g
Calcium – 1% of RDI
Iron – 2% of RDI
Honey is composed mainly of fructose and glucose, with some fructo-oligosaccharides. It has a number of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes, but varies nutritionally, depending on the plants bees collect their nectar from. However, just about all natural honey contains polyphenolic plant compounds called flavonoids, including apigenin, pinocembrin, kaempferol, galangin, quercetin, hesperetin and chrysin. It also contains phenolic acids, ascorbic acid, tocopherols, catalase, superoxide dismutase, reduced glutathione, and peptides. Most of these compound work together to provide a synergistic antioxidant effect.
Health Benefits Of Honey
Honey has been used for centuries as a food staple and to cure different ailments. While there is certainly fiction mixed up with the facts, honey does, in fact, have a number of health benefits…
1. Honey Has Antibacterial Qualities
Honey has been used for generations by grandmothers and mothers to soothe sore throats, but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that scientists confirmed the fact that it does have natural antibacterial qualities. Laboratory tests have found that the growth of food-borne pathogens, including E. coli and salmonella can be hindered by honey, and that it can fight certain bacteria like Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which are common in hospitals and medical centers. However, this has not yet been proven to have the same effect when consumed by humans.
Darker varieties of honey tend to have more antioxidants and antibacterial quality than lighter varieties. For example, Manuka honey is well-known for its dihydroxyacetone content, which is found in high concentrations of Manuka flower nectar, which turns into methylglyoxal. These flowers come from New Zealand and, similarly, you can get different grades of Manuka honey. This antibacterial, antibiotic component is actually found in most types of honey, but not in such large quantities as Manuka.
2. Honey Is A Natural Cough Medicine
Honey is listed as a demulcent by the World Health Organization (WHO), which means it is recommended for the relief of irritation in the mouth and throat. This is achieved because it forms a protective film. It has also been shown to work as a dextromethorphan, which is used in common over-the-counter cough medicines, to soothe a sore throat and aid sleep in children with upper respiratory tract infections.
3. Honey Can Aid Wound Healing
Manuka honey, specifically, is used in the treatment of wounds and skin ulcers. The New Zealand product, known as Medihoney, is made from Leptospermum scoparium nectar, and has been approved by the FDA since 2007. It works by stimulating healing because of its pH content, which leans towards acidic, and helps the healing process while soothing the wound.
4. Honey May Boost Memory
Because honey is loaded with antioxidants, it may help prevent cellular damage and cellular loss in the brain. A 2011 study found that a spoonful of honey each day might improve postmenopausal women’s memories. Participants in the study who took 20 grams of honey a day were found to have better short-term memory than participants who took a hormone pill instead. Honey also helps the body, including the brain, absorb calcium, which is essential for brain function, and therefore memory.
5. Honey May Have A Prebiotic Effect
Claims that honey is a probiotic substance have been basically disproven. However, it may have prebiotic uses. The digestive tract naturally contains good bacteria, which plays an important role in regulating your immune system and maintaining a healthy digestive system. While probiotics contain living micro-organisms that increase the levels of friendly bacteria in the intestines, prebiotics have compounds that serve as food for those bacteria. Studies have found that feeding honey to mice increased the levels of healthy bacteria in their guts. However, this has not been studied in humans yet.
6. Honey Is Good For Your Skin
The antibacterial qualities of honey can be extremely beneficial to skin health. It is a particularly useful ingredient because it can have a positive effect on both acne and ageing skin. The antioxidants found in honey are good for slowing down ageing, while its natural antibacterial compounds are great for acne treatment and prevention. On top of that, its moisturizing and soothing effect is beneficial to sensitive skin and can boost skin complexion. When used with other ingredients, honey can be especially moisturizing and nourishing.
7. Honey Can Improve Hair Health
Because honey is an emollient, it is a natural softener, making it great as a hair conditioner, especially for dry or damaged hair. The antioxidants in honey help improve scalp health and hair follicle health, potentially stimulating hair growth. The antibacterial and antiseptic qualities of honey help prevent scalp infections and psoriasis, keeping the area generally cleaner and free from bacteria. This can assist in reducing or ridding your scalp of dandruff or itchiness. And honey is great for creating shine in your hair, especially if it is naturally dry or damaged by the sun.
The Problem With Over-Consumption
Although honey does have several health benefits and is a better sweetener choice than refined sugar, it is not something that should be over-consumed. The main problem with sugar, and natural sweeteners like honey, agave nectar and maple syrup, which have sugar in them, is the fact that we get far too much in our Western diets. You would be amazed at how much sugar is added to everything, from pre-made meals, sauces and marinades to breakfast cereals, takeout food, and, of course, cakes, candy and sodas. As a result, it can be difficult to know how much sugar you are actually consuming on a daily basis. The high amounts of sugar modern diets tend to include have significantly increased the number of people suffering from conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease in recent years.
Coconut Honey Vegan Cheesecake – Vegan cheesecakes are one of the best inventions ever for a sweet-toothed health enthusiast. They are incredibly delicious, super healthy, amazingly quick and simple to make, and they look really fancy! This tasty recipe calls for medjool dates and walnuts for the base, cashews, lemon juice, coconut oil, coconut milk, honey and vanilla bean for the filling, and honey and fresh fruit for the topping.
Apple & Carrot Oatmeal Muffins – When it comes to flour alternatives, oatmeal is a fantastic option – it is yummy (if you like oats!), it makes the cake or muffin moist and dense, and gives it a good fiber hit. And this recipe gets extra health points because it has fruit and vegetables in it, that not only add nutrition, but work perfectly together to create a delectable taste. These muffins are made with oats, whole wheat flour, olive oil, honey, applesauce, cinnamon, carrots and milk.
Banana Cake With Honey & Chocolate Chips – This has all the makings of a classic homemade banana loaf or cake, but with a few clever additions and changes that really add to it. Instead of refined sugar, it is sweetened with honey, which adds a delicious flavor and means it is more natural. The recipe calls for butter, honey, eggs, bananas, orange juice, baking soda and powder, cinnamon, vanilla, dark chocolate chips and self-raising flour.
Cherry Custard Tart – This is the perfect summer dessert that is light enough to enjoy on a hot day, but satisfying enough to indulge on a winter’s day. The recipe calls for flour, a little bit of sugar (you can always substitute for honey), butter, orange blossom water, cherries, honey yogurt (you can make this by adding 2 teaspoons of honey to a cup of natural yogurt), eggs and vanilla.
Honey Chocolate Zucchini Muffins – You can’t beat a rich, comforting chocolate muffin, and these ones have the healthy added benefit of zucchini, plus apple sauce and honey instead of sugar. The recipe still calls for some granulated sugar, but you can leave that out or substitute for a little extra honey. Along with those ingredients are eggs, vanilla, flour, baking soda and powder, cocoa powder and dark chocolate chips.
Creamy Watermelon Honey Smoothie – Moving away from the desserts, this healthy smoothie is nourishing, tasty and refreshing. All you need is a blender, watermelon, Greek yogurt, banana, honey and chia seeds. It gives you a good kick of vitamins, minerals, probiotics, fiber and water!
DIY Honey Skin Care Recipes
Brown Sugar Honey Facial Scrub – This is an amazing exfoliator that is 100% natural, toxin free and great for all skin types. If you have sensitive skin, you always need to be careful with scrubs of any kind, but in general, this is a pretty safe option for most faces! Because of the antibacterial and anti-fungal properties of raw honey, it is particularly beneficial for acne-prone or oily skin. This scrub is so cheap compared to store-bought scrubs, smells beautiful and works extremely well.
Homemade Honey & Lemon Face Mask – Face masks are one of the best options when it comes to keeping your skin nice and soft. Plus it’s a cheap way to have your own spa treatment at home! This one could not be easier, calling for just lemon and honey, mixed together and applied to the skin. It will leave your skin feeling fresh, clean and moisturized. The lemon has AHAs and BHAs, which are great for removing dead skin cells and clearing blackheads, acne and discoloration, while the honey’s natural antioxidants will nourish, moisturize and soften your skin, leaving you with a beautiful glow.
Honey & Avocado Face Mask – This is an even more moisturizing mask than the lemon one, and would suit people with dryer or older skin. The recipe calls for oatmeal, avocado, honey, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. Each ingredients has its own unique properties that nourish the skin by providing it with nutrients and antioxidants.
DIY Honey Hair Care Recipes
Honey Shampoo – Honey really is an incredible ingredient when it comes to hair health. It treats dandruff, reduces frizz, moisturizes and softens. The scalp is between pH 4 and 7, and the pH of raw honey is about 4, making it slightly acidic, which helps fight dandruff, and it won’t strip the scalp and hair of its natural protective oils. That means your hair won’t be as oily between washes, because your scalp will stop over-compensating its oil production after each wash. This recipe calls for just 3 simple ingredients – raw honey, filtered water and essential oil.
Coconut Oil & Honey Hair Mask – This is another super quick and easy DIY beauty recipe that takes just two ingredients – organic coconut oil and raw honey. It is a total rejuvenator for damaged hair from blow dryers, straighteners or curlers, products or too much sun. The incredibly nourishing properties in both ingredients become a super power when applied to the hair!