A Source of 181 different substances including:
No wonder the term “honey” is a term of endearment. What could be sweeter and more appealing than the rich golden liquid? I’ve long enjoyed the delights of honey on cereal, toast, yogurt, and pancakes, and as a sweetener for green tea, and I’m sure once you know about the nutritional benefits of honey, you’ll be eager to use it more frequently.
Honey is much more than just a liquid sweetener. One of the oldest medicines known to man, honey has been used in the treatment of respiratory diseases, skin ulcers, wounds, urinary diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, eczema, psoriasis, and dandruff. Today, we know the validity of these timeless treatments, as research has demonstrated that honey can inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeast, fungi, and viruses.
The power of honey comes from the wide range of compounds present in the rich amber liquid. Honey contains at least 181 known substances, and its antioxidant activity stems from the phenolics, peptides, organic acids, and enzymes. Honey also contains salicylic acid, minerals, alpha-tocopherol, and oligosaccharides. Oligosaccharides increase the number of “good” bacteria in the colon, reduce levels of toxic metabolites in the intestine, help prevent constipation, and help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
The key point to remember with honey is that its antioxidant ability can vary widely depending on the floral source of the honey and its processing. The process begins when bees feast on flowers and collect nectar in their mouths. The bees mix the nectar and enzymes in their saliva to turn it into honey, which is then stored in combs in the hive. The constant movement of the bees’ wings promotes moisture evaporation and yield the thick honey we enjoy. The phenolic content of the honey depends on the pollen that the bees have used a raw material. There’s a very simple way to determine the health benefits of any honey: its color. In general, the darker the color of the honey, the higher the level of antioxidants. There can be a twentyfold difference in honey’s antioxidant activity, as one test revealed. For example, Illinois buckwheat honey, the darkest honey tested, had twenty times the antioxidant activity of California sage honey, one of the lightest-colored honeys tested. Overall, color predicted more than 60 percent of the variation in honey’s antioxidant capacity.
Honey and Your Health
Maintaining optimal blood sugar levels has a positive effect on overall health, and honey seems to contribute to this goal. Indeed, the ancient Olympic competitors relied on foods such as figs and honey to enhance performance by helping to maintain energy levels and restore muscle recovery. In one recent study of thirty-nine male and female athletes, following a workout the participants ate a protein supplement blended with a sweetener. Those who ate the supplement sweetened with honey, as opposed to sugar or maltodextrin, enjoyed the best results. They maintained optimal blood sugar levels for two hours following the workout and enjoyed better muscle recuperation.
Perhaps honey’s most important health-promoting benefit is its antioxidant ability. We know that daily consumption of honey raises blood levels of protective antioxidants. In one study, participants were given about four tablespoons daily of buckwheat honey while eating their regular diets for twenty-nine days. A direct link was found between the subjects’ honey consumption and the levels of protective polyphenolic antioxidants in their blood. In another study, twenty-five men drank plain water or water with buckwheat honey. Those consuming the honey enjoyed a 7 percent increase in their antioxidant capacity. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the average U.S. citizen consumes about 68 kilograms of sweetener annually, substituting honey for at least part of this amount would make an impressive contribution to our overall antioxidant status and would no doubt be a significant health promoter.
(Never give honey to children younger than a year old. About 10 percent of honey contains dormant Clostridium botulinum spores, which can cause botulism in infants.)
*This brief summary contains copyrighted material from SuperFoods HealthStyle by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews. Copyright © 2006 by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews Inc., published by HarperCollins; and from SuperFoods Rx For Pregnancy by Steven Pratt, M.D. Copyright © 2013 by SuperFoods Partners, LLC, published by Wiley. All rights reserved.