According to Dr. Ron Fessenden, M.D., M.P.H. the average American consumes more than 150 pounds of refined sugar, plus an additional 62 pounds of high fructose corn syrup every year. (1) In comparison, we consume only around 1.3 pounds of honey per year on average in the U.S. (2) According to new research, if you can switch out your intake of refined sugar and use pure raw honey instead, the health benefits can be enormous.
What is raw honey? It’s a pure, unfiltered and unpasteurized sweetener made by bees from the nectar of flowers. Most of the honey consumed today is processed honey that’s been heated and filtered since it was gathered from the hive. Unlike processed honey, raw honey does not get robbed of its incredible nutritional value and health powers. It can help with everything from low energy to sleep problems to seasonal allergies. Switching to raw honey may even help weight-loss efforts when compared to diets containing sugar or high fructose corn syrup. I’m excited to tell you more about one of my all-time favorite natural sweeteners today, which I hope will convince you to eat honey more and sugar less.
8 Health Benefits of Raw Honey
1. Healthy Weight Management
Research studies have linked honey consumption with weight loss. A San Diego State University study found that replacing sugar with honey can actually help prevent packing on extra pounds and also lower blood sugar. The results also suggest that in comparison to sugar, honey may lower serum triglycerides. (3)
Another study from the University of Wyoming found that raw honey can activate hormones that suppress the appetite. In the double-blind randomly assigned study, appetite hormones and glycemic responses were measured in 14 healthy non-obese women after consuming a breakfast containing either honey or sugar. Overall, researchers concluded that honey consumption offers potential obesity protective effects. (4)
2. Counters Pollen Allergies
Raw honey contains bee pollen, which is known to ward off infections, provide natural allergy relief and boost overall immunity. Honey’s ability to prevent allergies is based on a concept called immunotherapy. How so? The bees in your neighborhood go from flower to flower collecting pollen that causes you to suffer, but when a you consume local raw honey, you also consume that same offending local pollen. After some time, an allergy sufferer may become less sensitive to this pollen that previously caused problems and experience less seasonal allergy symptoms. Many seasonal allergy sufferers have found local, raw honey to be helpful because it desensitizes them to the fauna triggering their allergic reaction.
A 2013 study found that eating honey at a high dose (one gram per kilogram of body weight of honey daily) can improve allergy symptoms over a period of eight weeks. Researchers absorbed that the honey consumption improved overall and individual symptoms of allergic rhinitis. (5) Allergic rhinitis is an allergic response that causes itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and other similar symptoms.
Some people say that a daily tablespoon of honey can actually act like an allergy shot. The type of honey is key though since pasteurized honey does not contain any pollen. For possible seasonal allergy relief, you need to consume raw honey with pollen in it.
3. Natural Energy Source
Raw honey contains natural sugars (80 percent), water (18 percent), and minerals, vitamins, pollen and protein (2 percent). It’s not surprising that honey has been called “the perfect running fuel.” It provides an easily absorbed supply of energy in the form of liver glycogen, making it ideal for energetic morning starts and as a pre- and post-exercise energy source.
Studies at the University of Memphis Exercise and Sports Nutrition Laboratory have shown honey to be one of the best choices of carbohydrate to consume right before exercising. Additionally, studies have revealed that as a sporting fuel, honey performs on a par with glucose, which is the sugar used in most commercial energy gels. (6)
When it comes to raw honey’s use in athletic endeavors, I highly recommend raw honey for both fueling and recovery. That’s why raw honey is included in some of the best pre-workout snacks and post-workout meals.
4. Antioxidant Powerhouse
Studies have shown that a daily dose of raw honey raises levels of health-promoting antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants help block free radicals in the body that cause disease. It also boosts the immune system, acting as a preventative against any number of diseases. Honey contains polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
One study fed 25 subjects about four tablespoons of honey per day for 29 days in addition to their regular diets. When blood samples were taken at the start and end of the study, researchers found a clear, direct link between honey consumption and an increased level of disease-fighting polyphenols in the blood. (7)
Studies have shown that honey contains the disease-fighting antioxidant flavonoids pinocembrin, pinostrobin and chrysin. (8) Pinocembrin supports enzyme activity, and many studies have shown that pinocembrin induces apoptosis (programmed cell death) of many types of cancer cells. (9) Laboratory research suggests that chrysin may increase the male hormone testosterone and improve bodybuilding results, but human research hasn’t found any effect on testosterone levels. (10)
5. Sleep Promoter
Raw honey promotes restorative sleep in two ways. By consuming honey before bedtime, it restocks the liver’s glycogen supply and prevents the brain from triggering a crisis search for fuel, which can wake you up. Secondly, eating raw honey fosters the release of melatonin in the brain by creating a small spike in insulin levels, which stimulates the release of tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan converts to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. (11)
Melatonin also boosts immunity and helps rebuild tissue during periods of rest. Poor sleep, by comparison, has been shown to be a risk factor for hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and arthritis. As honey is a proven natural sleep aid, it naturally lowers the risk of all these health problems.
6. Wound and Ulcer Healer
Honey-infused bandages are known to aid healing. Peter Charles Molan at the University of Waikato, New Zealand, has found in multiple studies that honey is a natural antibacterial with wound-healing effects. He also found that honey reacts with the body’s fluids to make hydrogen peroxide, creating an inhospitable environment for bacteria. In addition, “Concentrations of hydrogen peroxide generated are very low in comparison to those typically applied to a wound, thus, cytotoxic damage by hydrogen peroxide is very low.” (12a, 12b)
For the treatment of burns and wounds, honey is typically applied directly to the problem area or in a dressing that’s changed every 24 to 48 hours. Sometimes the dressing is left in place for up to 25 days. (13) A combination of honey and ghee has also been advocated and used as dressing for infected wounds since 1991 in four Mumbai hospitals. (14)
Honey has been studied for its use in effectively treating various types of ulcers as well. Honey may reduce the size, pain and odor of problematic skin ulcers. (15)
7. Diabetes Aid
Consumption of raw honey can reduce the risk of developing diabetes and help aid medication used to treat diabetes. The combination of raw honey and cinnamon can be especially beneficial to healthy blood sugar management, as well as many other health concerns like gingivitis and acne.
According to a study out of Dubai, honey has been observed to cause a lower elevation of plasma glucose levels in diabetics compared to dextrose and sucrose. Some suggest that the insulin-boosting power of cinnamon can counteract this glucose elevation in honey, which would make your honey and cinnamon mixture a low glycemic index food combination. (16)
Raw honey increases insulin and decreases hyperglycemia. Try consuming a little at a time and see how your blood sugar reacts to it, and add both raw honey and cinnamon to your diabetic diet plan.
8. Natural Cough Syrup
Raw honey has been shown to be as effective in treating coughs as over-the-counter commercial cough syrups. Increasing scientific evidence shows that a single dose of honey can reduce mucus secretion and coughs. In one study, honey was just as effective as diphenhydramine and dextromethorphan, common ingredients found in over-the counter cough medicines. (17)
For a cough, a half teaspoon to two teaspoons of honey at bedtime is a studied and recommended dosage for anyone over the age of one.
How to Find and Use Raw Honey
Looking at honey consumption, 50 percent of the population directly purchases honey, 35 percent never eats honey, and the remaining 15 percent consumes honey in products made with honey, like honey-roasted peanuts. (18) Raw honey might be available at your nearest grocery store, but it should be available at your local health food store or, even better, your local beekeeper. It’s also available online.
Expect raw honey to be opaque rather than that sparkling, clear, golden color that’s achieved through heating.
Never cook with raw honey because that will destroy its good properties. Also, do not store it near a heat source. If you enjoy honey in your tea or coffee, wait until the drink is just tepid enough to sip comfortably, and then add honey to taste.
Drizzle it on breakfast cereals, over your sprouted grain toast or on yogurt. It’s also a great addition to smoothies and salad dressings, plus it pairs well with fruits like honeydew and apples. Raw honey can be a healthy alternative to highly processed sugar in recipes that doesn’t require heat. For every one tablespoon of sugar in a recipe (that doesn’t require heating), you can typically use two teaspoons of honey instead.
Need more ideas for how to incorporate raw honey into your daily life? Then check out this article on 20 Raw Honey Uses that will surprise you.
There are many recipes available from the National Honey Board, and I have some of my favorites as well:
Raw Honey vs. Not Raw
Raw honey is a crude form of honey immediately taken out of the cells of the honey combs within a bee hive. This form of honey is far from pure. It commonly contains bee pollen and propolis, which are both two very positive health additions. However, raw honey can also possibly contain dead bees, legs, wings, hunks of beeswax and other impurities. Don’t worry though — if any of these unwanted items get into the honey they’re strained out before bottling.
Raw honey cannot be heated above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the normal temperature of the bee hive. While it’s OK to strain raw honey, it’s never filtered or pasteurized. It also cannot have any other additives.
On the other hand, commercial honey is often heavily processed and may even have been chemically refined. Excessive heat destroys the natural enzymes, vitamins and minerals in honey, making honey processing a very bad thing. Filtering and processing eliminate many of the beneficial phytonutrients, including pollen and enzyme-rich propolis. The only way to achieve sparkling clear honey is by heat, so avoid the golden, syrup-like honey in favor of opaque, organic raw honey.
Non-raw honey or regular commercial honey can be sourced from bees that are treated with antibiotics (such as ciprofloxacin in China’s honey). They also may likely be given winter nourishment in the form of sugar or a low-cost syrup. Hives are made of non-organic materials, which can have pests and be cleaned with non-organic substances. Honey that isn’t raw is pasteurized and filtered, and it can have additives. (19)
Research by the Palynology Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University tested 60 honey products from supermarkets and grocery stores and found that 76 percent contained no trace of bee pollen, which is also loaded with health benefits. The Food and Drug Administration maintains that any honey products that have been ultra-filtered, as these have, are not actually honey and therefore the health benefits of honey cannot be assumed. Some “honey” may even contain high fructose corn syrup.
Organic Honey vs. Not Organic
Organic honey usually means raw organic honey. Just like with raw honey, heating is not allowed above 95 degrees F. In order to be called organic, honey must follow good organic management, according to each country’s set of standards and conditions. Processing should also only be done by means of gravitational settling and straining.
Manuka vs. Other Varieties
“Conductivity” is an indirect way of measuring the mineral content of a honey. Manuka honey has a higher than normal conductivity with about four times the conductivity of normal flower honeys. The higher the conductivity, the better the nutritional value of the honey.
When it comes to Manuka honey versus other varieties, Manuka always has a unique Manuka factor (UMF), which is a global standard in identifying and measuring the antibacterial strength of Manuka. Essentially, the UMF is a guarantee that the honey being sold is of a medicinal quality. This is a standard of health value completely unique to Manuka honey.
The minimum UMF rating recognized is UMF5 — however, it’s not considered beneficial unless it carries a UMF10+ level of antibacterial activity in the honey. Anything ranging from UMF10—UMF15 is a useful level, and anything UMF16 and up is considered a superior quality. While other honeys, like organic raw honey, can certainly have hugely positive health effects, they don’t have this exact measurement or rating like Manuka.
The National Honey Board, “an industry-funded agriculture promotion group that educates consumers about the benefits and uses for honey and honey products,” according to its website, also has more info on honey varieties. One healthy option is fermented honey. Also, if you see crystallization in your honey, it may mean there’s an overabundance of sugars, so keep an eye out. It is a natural process, however.
Polyfloral Honey vs. Monofloral Honey
No matter the variety of honey, each honey can be separated into either polyfloral honey or monofloral honey. What’s the difference? Monofloral honey comes from bees that utilize the nectar of just one flower species, hence mono, while polyfloral honey comes from bees that utilize nectar from multiple flower sources. (19a)
Raw Honey Nutrition Facts
Honey is one of nature’s purest foods and is far more than just a natural sweetener. It’s a “functional food,” which means it’s a natural food with health benefits. Raw honey nutrition is impressive. Raw honey contains 22 amino acids, 27 minerals and 5,000 enzymes. Minerals include iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and selenium. Vitamins found in honey include vitamin B6, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and niacin. In addition, the nutraceuticals contained in honey help neutralize damaging free radical activity.
One tablespoon of honey contains 64 calories, yet it has a healthy glycemic load around 10 for one tablespoon, which is a little less than a banana. Raw honey does not cause a sugar spike and elevated insulin release like white sugar.
Although honey is an affordable food, bees spend thousands of hours collecting pollen from around 2 million flowers to make one pound of pure honey. Honey is typically about 18 percent water, but the lower the water content, the better the quality of honey. Best of all, honey does not need special storage or refrigeration — use it by the spoonful straight from the jar.
Raw Honey History and Interesting Facts
- Throughout history and in folk medicine, honey has been an important food. God used honey to motivate the Israelite people when He told them to, “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 33:3)
- Raw honey has been used as medicine since ancient times.
- For centuries, honey was considered sacred due to its wonderfully sweet properties as well as its rarity. It was used in religious ceremonies and to embalm the deceased.
- Apiculture, or the practice of beekeeping to produce honey, dates back to at least 700 B.C.
- Honey was used by runners in the Olympic Games in ancient Greece as an energy source.
- The health benefits of honey depend on the quality of a specific honey.
- Raw honey contains small amounts of the same resins found in propolis as well as bee pollen.
- When raw honey is overly processed and heated, the health benefits are largely eliminated.
- You may have heard of the honey mushroom or honey fungus. This type of mushroom has a sweeter taste, hence the name, but does not contain raw honey.
Here are some common questions about honey, along with the answers:
Does honey expire?
As Natasha Geiling lays out in an article for Smithsonian Magazine, honey has a long shelf life and is typically fine to consume even after very long periods of time so long as it’s kept in a sealed container, though it may crystallize. (20)
What is honey made of?
Flower nectar combined with enzymes bees naturally secrete.
Why do bees make honey? (And how bees make honey)
Bees make honey prior to winter and store it so they have food during the cold months. They make honey by harvesting nectar from flowers and utilizing an enzyme they secrete to mix with the nectar in a honeycomb. Over time, the water in the nectar reduces and turns into honey. (21)
What type of sugar is honey?
Raw honey is an unprocessed sugar that contains fructose and sucrose. (22)
What is the density of honey?
It ranges from 1.38–1.45 g/cm at a temperature of 20 degrees C. (23)
How many carbs in raw honey?
One tablespoon (about 21 grams) of raw honey contains approximately 17 grams of carbohydrates. (24)
Raw Honey Possible Allergies and Potential Side Effects
Honey is considered safe when taken by mouth in normal food amounts or recommended dosages. However, honey should never be given to children under 12 months of age since raw honey is a potential source of botulism spores. Raw honey is not a danger to older children or adults, just to infants, so adults can eat honey so long as they are not allergic. However, if you have a compromised immune system or are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer, you should speak with your doctor before consuming raw honey.
If you’re allergic or sensitive to celery, pollen or have other bee-related allergies, you should not consume raw honey. Honey made from plants in the Rhododendron genus can also cause allergic reactions due to toxicity. (25)
Proverbs 25:16 says, “Do you like honey? Don’t eat too much, or it will make you sick!” Although honey is one of the healthiest sweeteners, it still should certainly be used in moderation. Mild honey intoxication side effects can include weakness, dizziness, vomiting, sweating and nausea. Other more serious side effects of honey consumption are unlikely unless you consume way too much.
In addition, when heated at high temperatures, honey has been shown to produce hydroxymethyl furfuraldehyde (HMF). The study, conducted on rats, found that when heated to 60 degrees Celsius to 140 degrees C, there was a significant rise in HMF.(26) Why is this important to note? HMF can cause deleterious effects and is considered carcinogenic.
Raw Honey Final Thoughts
- Raw honey is the most crude and natural form of honey you can purchase.
- It’s unfiltered and unpasteurized, which means there is no processing or heating to decrease its natural vitamin and mineral content.
- Raw honey contains disease-preventing and disease-fighting flavonoids.
- Raw honey contains both propolis and bee pollen so you get the benefits of those two natural powerhouses as well.
- It has been scientifically proven to help with allergies, diabetes, sleep problems, coughs and wound healing.
- Raw honey is a smart part of a pre- and post-workout snack for better energy during a workout and better recovery afterward.
- Look for a local beekeeper to source your raw honey. This will make it even more likely to help with seasonal allergies.
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