Honey Health Benefits, Calories And Nutrition Facts
The health benefits of honey are multiple — it is an antioxidant, antibiotic, immune system booster and home remedy for various ailments. Here's why you should make honey a part of your child's diet.
By Hannah S Mathew
Rich in texture, colour and sweetness, the Egyptians are said to have used honey as early as 5,500 BC. However, many historians believe that humans began using honey long before the said date. In fact, honey is the first sweetener used by humans. Culinary books refer to honey as a condiment, like pepper or spices. It was, and still is, widely used in baked items, to preserve fruits. Also, due to the many health benefits of honey, it is commonly used for medicinal purposes.
What is honey?
The worker honeybees collect nectar from flowers and store it in an organ called the honey pouch. The enzymes present in the pouch act on the nectar and begin breaking down the complex sugars into simple sugars. After returning to the hive, the forager bees transfer the nectar and enzyme solution to other worker bees. These bees then begin dehydrating the solution to reduce the water content to about 18 per cent. When all the water evaporates, what is left behind is a sweet, viscous, light to dark brown-coloured product which we call honey.
The ease with which we can buy honey nowadays belies the immense effort and complex process involved in its production.
What is organic honey?
Honeybees collect nectar from a variety of flowers. But, for honey to be called organic, the nectar should come from flowers that are free of chemicals, antibiotics and other pollutants. The nectar collected by bees should be stored in a natural beehive. From the beehive, the honey should be collected in such a manner that there is no change in its natural state. It should be strained to remove impurities and heated only up to 95 degrees F to kill any harmful bacteria. The honey thus produced is called organic honey.
What is raw honey?
Raw honey is also called raw organic honey. It refers to honey collected from the beehives that has not been strained and pasteurised. Therefore, raw honey contains impurities like wax, pollens and bacteria, which may make an individual suffer an allergic reaction or fall sick.
Nutritional value of honey (100g)
- Calories 304
- Fat 0g
- Sodium 4mg
- Carbohydrate 82.4g
- Dietary fibre 0.2g
- Sugar 82.12g
- Protein 0.3g
- Vitamin A 0mg
- Vitamin C 0.5mg
- Calcium 6mg
- Iron 0.42mg
Data based on USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) - National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
Health benefits of honey
- Supplies antioxidants: Honey is not only a sweetener but also one of the best natural sources of bioavailable antioxidants, as mentioned in the study of Schramm et al. Our body needs antioxidants to counter the disease-causing and ageing effects of free radicals and reactive oxygen species. The high antioxidant content of honey is shown to protect the body from multiple conditions like blood pressure, atherosclerosis and cancer.
- Is an antidiabetic agent: The blood sugar level of individuals suffering from diabetes increases because of low or no insulin production in their body. Bobis et al concluded in their research that honey could be beneficial in the treatment of diabetes. It could limit metabolic disorders, better control hyperglycemic state, and reduce damage to organs that could cause diabetic complications.
- Lowers blood pressure: Studies prove that substituting sugar with honey lowers the risk of developing diseases of the cardiovascular system. It not only lowers total cholesterol, but specifically targets and reduces bad cholesterol (LDL). Surprisingly, it increases good cholesterol (HDL). Honey also lowers triglycerides and systolic blood pressure. Aluko et al state in their study that consuming honey even for a short period reduced systolic blood pressure, and could cut down the chances of developing high blood pressure in the future.
- Promotes weight loss: Honey has been used as an important ingredient in home remedies for weight loss. It is nourishing and has digestive properties which render it an excellent substitute for sugary food and artificial energy supplements, without the worry of harmful side effects. It is also ideal for consumption by sportspersons as it reduces the frequency and intensity of muscle cramps. Nevertheless, honey needs to be taken in moderation as overconsumption can hamper digestion and blood sugar levels.
- Boosts the immune system: Honey is filled with antioxidants and antibacterial compounds that strengthen immunity and protect from bacterial and viral attacks.
- Keeps skin healthy: The constituents of raw honey are great for treating acne. Manuka honey, in particular, is considered the best for applying on the face. The water present in honey moisturises the face while its digestive properties reduce blemishes and puffiness. The medicinal properties present in raw honey also help in alleviating eczema and psoriasis. Honey increases skin cell renewal and promotes rapid healing. It rids the skin of dead and old cells.
- Helps with respiratory disorders: Honey is considered a natural remedy for cough, especially in children. In his study, Goldman mentions that, just one dose of honey given before bedtime decreased cough and discomfort in children. It is also an accepted remedy recommended by the American Academy of Paediatrics.
- Helps with digestion: According to a study by El-Arab et al, consuming honey improves gut microflora by inhibiting the harmful effects of mycotoxins. Consuming raw honey stops diarrhoea, reduces peptic ulcers, and prevents bloating, acid reflux and heartburn. Studies reveal that honey can prevent acid reflux by forming a protective coating on the mucous lining of the stomach and oesophagus.
- Works as an antibiotic: Scientists the world-over have been researching honey’s ability to fight infections. Studies have proved that H2O2, MGO and Defensin-1 present in honey have bactericidal properties. Tualang honey was able to inhibit the growth of gastric infection-causing bacteria such as Salmonella typhi, Shigella flexneri and Escherichia coli. It also helped to speed up recovery from stomach infections.
- Fights tooth decay: Topical application of honey changes the pH level within the mouth. This inhibits and reduces bacterial counts, thus preventing gingivitis and caries.
Home remedies using honey
The medicinal properties of honey provides relief in a wide range of health issues. From digestion to muscle health to dental care, honey is used to treat different ailments. Here are a few uses of honey in home remedies:
- Honey and ginger tea for stomach aches
- Honey and lemon drink to soothe sore throats
- Honey at bedtime to avoid asthma attacks
- Applying honey on cuts and bruises
When to introduce honey to your baby
Raw honey and wild honey may contain botulism-causing bacteria. So, do not give honey to your child if he is less than 1 year old. His digestive system is not equipped to handle either the complex nature of honey or the botulism-causing bacteria. A child suffering from botulism shows the following symptoms: muscle weakness, tiredness, drooping eyelids, poor feeding, feeble cries and constipation. If your baby presents any of the symptoms of botulism, rush him to the doctor.
A paediatrician for more than a decade, Dr Sanal Sam tells us that children should not be given honey before the age of 1 year. To be on the safe side, he advises that you check with your child’s paediatrician before introducing your child to honey at any age. Children today develop at different paces and only an expert can tell you if your child is ready to digest honey properly.
Is honey safe to eat during pregnancy?
An adult can safely digest honey with botulin-causing bacteria. So, a pregnant woman would not be affected by botulism nor pass it to her unborn child. As a result, an unborn child may not contract botulism from her mother. However, honey intake during pregnancy should be reduced to avoid constipation and its complications.
Side effects of having too much honey
- Insulin insensitivity: Honey has compounds which inhibit the rise of plasma glucose level but increase insulin level. This could lead to insulin sensitivity in diabetics.
- Can cause tooth decay: The constituents of honey can produce hydrogen peroxide if they come in contact with body fluids which have high pH. So, when honey comes in contact with saliva, it begins to produce hydrogen peroxide, which can kill bacteria. Therefore, rinsing the mouth with honey and water kills the germs present in the teeth and oral cavity. However, overuse of this rinse can destroy the protective enamel of the teeth, leaving them vulnerable to disease and decay.
- Can cause allergic reaction or toxicity: Consuming honey that has pollens or other impurities can lead to allergic reaction in individuals who are sensitive to those contaminants. Consuming honey that has grayanotoxins can lead to dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fainting and arrhythmias.
- Can cause digestive problems: Honey contains more fructose than glucose, which is not completely absorbed in the stomach. This could lead to diarrhoea. Fructose fermentation in the stomach can cause gas and bloating. Fructose can also prevent adequate absorption of nutrients in the stomach.
- Can cause weight gain: Honey with warm water or lemon juice is good for weight loss. But, consuming excess honey can lead to ingesting an overdose of nutrients. This can add extra calories and cause weight gain.
Five interesting honey facts
- Bees make honey for themselves and not for us. They need the honey to survive the winter months.
- German feudal lords in the 11th century got their rents and taxes from peasants in the form of honey and beeswax. Honey was considered extremely valuable because it was needed to sweeten beer.
- India produces approximately 70,000 tons of honey annually, of which, 25,000 tons are exported. Maharashtra and some parts of Northeast India are the country’s leading producers of honey.
- Honey contains all the nutrition needed by humans for survival.
- Honey contains natural preservatives which prevent it from getting spoilt.
Five interesting honey bee facts
- Although, there are 20,000 species of bees, only a few of these make honey!
- A colony of bees must fly 55,000 miles to visit 2 million flowers to make 1 pound of honey.
- Making 1 pound of honey is the work done by 768 bees in one lifetime.
- A single bee requires 2 tablespoons of honey to fly around the world once.
- In its lifetime, a honeybee makes one and a half teaspoons of honey.
How to choose the best honey
Although high-grade honey is expensive and often difficult to procure, it is worth the cost and effort. This honey is processed well and free of artificial sweeteners, colours and preservatives.
Test your honey
- Pure honey does not disperse or dissolve when dropped in water. If your honey does, it is adulterated with sugar or molasses.
- A cotton ball soaked in pure honey will burn if lit. If it sizzles, it has been adulterated with water.
The awareness about the benefits of raw honey, manuka honey with hot water, white honey nutritional facts and honey benefits for skin is gradually increasing. The next time you open your bottle of honey, do remember the immense effort it took to fill that bottle and consume only as much as needed to keep you healthy.
About the author:
Written by Hannah S Mathew on 28 October 2019
Hannah S Mathew is an Assistant Professor of English, a freelance writer, soft skills trainer, learning content developer, mentor, diagnostic counsellor and devoted mom to a teenager.
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