12 Surprising Benefits of Honey

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated - Medically reviewed by Dr. Sandesh Krishna Bhosale (BAMS, PGDHA)

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Honey has been used by countless cultures all around the world over the past 2,500 years. While the numerous health benefits of honey have made it an important element of traditional medicines such as Ayurvedic treatments, scientists are also researching its benefits in relation to modern medicine, particularly in the healing of wounds.

It is known as Honig in German, Miele in Italian, Shahad in Hindi, Miel in French and Spanish, Mel in Portuguese, мед in Russian, Honing in Dutch, and μελι in Greek; there is almost no part in the world where honey is not widely used and celebrated as a part of the cultural diet.

But what makes honey so popular? Most likely, it is the ease with which it can be consumed. One can eat it directly, put it on bread like a jam, use it in place of sugar in juices, or mix it with warm water, lime juice, cinnamon, and other herbs for homemade medicine. It is preferred for its taste as well as health benefits, making it extremely useful and versatile.

Health Benefits of Honey

Its benefits include the following treatments, taken from both traditional and modern medical experts.

Healthy Sweetener

It can be used as a substitute for sugar in many foods and drinks. It contains about 69% glucose and fructose, enabling it to be used as a sweetener which is far better for your overall health than normal white sugar. The National Honey Board refers to honey as a pantry staple.

Weight Loss

Though it has more calories than sugar when consumed with warm water, honey helps in digesting the fat stored in your body. Similarly, honey with lemon juice or cinnamon helps in reducing weight.

Provides Cough Relief

In 2012 a research was conducted on 300 children of age 1 to 5 years to find out the effect of honey on nocturnal cough and sleep quality. The results published in the Pediatrics Journals showed that honey could be a preferable treatment for a cough and sleep difficulty associated with childhood upper respiratory tract infections (URIs).

Boosts Energy

According to the USDA, honey contains about 64 calories per tablespoon. Therefore, it is used by many people as a source of energy. On the other hand, one tablespoon of sugar will give you about 15 calories. Furthermore, the carbohydrates in it can be easily converted into glucose, since it is very simple for the body to digest this pure and natural substance.

A jar of honey with ginger and lemon on a wooden table

Honey and ginger tea make for an amazing couple. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Improves Performance

Research has shown that honey is very effective in boosting an athlete’s performance. It is a great way to maintain blood sugar levels, recuperate muscles, and restore glycogen after a workout, as well as regulate the amount of insulin in the body.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size :
Water [g]17.1
Energy [kcal]304
Energy [kJ]1272
Protein [g]0.3
Ash [g]0.2
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]82.4
Fiber, total dietary [g]0.2
Sugars, total including NLEA [g]82.12
Sucrose [g]0.89
Glucose (dextrose) [g]35.75
Fructose [g]40.94
Maltose [g]1.44
Galactose [g]3.1
Calcium, Ca [mg]6
Iron, Fe [mg]0.42
Magnesium, Mg [mg]2
Phosphorus, P [mg]4
Potassium, K [mg]52
Sodium, Na [mg]4
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.22
Copper, Cu [mg]0.04
Manganese, Mn [mg]0.08
Selenium, Se [µg]0.8
Fluoride, F [µg]7
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]0.5
Riboflavin [mg]0.04
Niacin [mg]0.12
Pantothenic acid [mg]0.07
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.02
Folate, total [µg]2
Folate, food [µg]2
Folate, DFE [µg]2
Choline, total [mg]2.2
Betaine [mg]1.7
Tryptophan [g]0
Threonine [g]0
Isoleucine [g]0.01
Leucine [g]0.01
Lysine [g]0.01
Methionine [g]0
Cystine [g]0
Phenylalanine [g]0.01
Tyrosine [g]0.01
Valine [g]0.01
Arginine [g]0.01
Histidine [g]0
Alanine [g]0.01
Aspartic acid [g]0.03
Glutamic acid [g]0.02
Glycine [g]0.01
Proline [g]0.09
Serine [g]0.01
Sources include : USDA

Improving Memory

Honey contains polyphenols that can significantly improve the memory-related functions of the brain. It counters deficits in recall functions and induces memory formation at the molecular level. It is this modulation of neural circuitry that helps in improving memory. Research on Tualang honey, multi-floral honey found in Malaysia, found that its intake improves the brain morphology to improve various learning and memory functions.

Rich in Vitamins & Minerals

It contains a variety of vitamins and minerals. The type of vitamins and minerals and their quantity depends on the type of flowers used for apiculture. Commonly, honey contains vitamin C, calcium, and iron. The vitamin and mineral content in regular sugar, on the other hand, is completely insignificant.

Antiseptic Property

It has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, so it is often used as a natural antiseptic in traditional medicines. In-vitro tests on different medical-grade honeys showed potent bactericidal activity even in the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that cause life-threatening infections in humans. However, the antimicrobial activity depends on the source of nectar.

Antioxidant Properties

It contains nutraceuticals, which are very effective for the removal of free radicals from the body. As a result, our body’s immunity is improved against many chronic health conditions. A study on the antioxidant properties of honey, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, attributed these qualities to the presence of a wide range of compounds, which include phenolics, peptides, Maillard reaction products, organic acids, enzymes, and other minor components.

Anticancer Properties

A review published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that there is growing evidence of honey’s anticancer potential. This is displayed by its antiproliferative, apoptosis, antimutagenic and anti-inflammatory properties. However, the floral source also decides its properties. Another article published in the same journal pointed out that as a natural substance, honey was a sustainable and low-cost option in cancer care in developing nations.

Skin and Hair Care

Milk and honey are often served together since both of these ingredients help in creating smooth, beautiful skin. Consuming this combination every morning is a common practice in many countries for this very reason. A study published in the European Journal of Medical Research investigated and confirmed the use of honey for dandruff and dermatitis. It said that crude honey could markedly improve seborrheic dermatitis, its associated hair loss and prevent relapse when applied weekly.

Health benefits of honey infographic

Honey has been used by countless cultures all around the world over the past 2,500 years.

Speeds Wound Healing

Significant research is being carried out to study its benefits in the treatment of wounds. These have been listed below:

  • Honey possesses antimicrobial properties.
  • It helps in promoting autolytic debridement.
  • It deodorizes malodorous wounds.
  • It speeds up the healing process by stimulating wound tissues.
  • It helps in initiating the healing process in dormant wounds.
  • It also helps in promoting moist wound healing.

These healing powers are not overstated. The Waikato Honey Research Unit provides details about the worldwide research that is being carried out on the benefits of honey in medicine. According to a BBC report doctors at the Christie Hospital in Didsbury, Manchester are planning to use it for faster recovery of cancer patients after surgery. Such research will provide scientific evidence for the beliefs held by honey lovers all over the world and will help in propagating the benefits to more people.

Now that you know the benefits of honey, how do you eat it? You can eat it raw, add it to water or different beverages, and you can also add it to several recipes.

Factors Governing the Benefits of Honey

Not all honey is created equally, so the quality is different. Both the price and the health benefits of honey are dependent on its quality, so it has become very important for the manufacturers and consumers to understand the various factors that affect the quality of honey. Some of these factors include the type of flowers used in the formation of the honeycombs, the blending process, storage conditions, the temperature of heating, and more. These factors have been explained below in more detail

Type of flowers: While honey has many qualities, its properties are also decided by its source. A study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical disease found that the source of honey influenced its properties. Different types of honey showed varying degrees of antibacterial activity. Clover honey showed the highest antibacterial activity, followed by citrus honey and cotton honey respectively.

Blending: Polyfloral honey (which is obtained from more than one flower) is more beneficial than monofloral. Hence, many companies are today selling blended honey as it offers multiple benefits.

Storage: When stored for a long duration, honey becomes darker in color. It loses some of its properties and may also ferment if the water content is too high. Therefore, prolonged storage should be avoided. Newly harvested honey should be preferred when you are using it for the above-mentioned benefits.

Heating: Heating honey leads to drastic changes in its chemical composition. As a result, heating at high temperatures reduces its benefits. This is why many people prefer raw, organic, or raw organic honey. Raw by definition signifies less processing (and no heating). Organic honey is prepared using stringent organic production methods and processing standards, in which heating at high temperatures is not allowed.

Water Content: Honey can also undergo fermentation. If the water content is high (above 19%), the chances of it becoming fermented are high. You can measure the water content using a refractometer. Furthermore, freely flowing honey either contains higher water content or has been heated to disturb the natural crystallization process, thereby reducing the benefits it will confer to you.

Color: The color of honey is one way of judging its quality. Light-colored honey is usually preferred as it has a milder flavor. Honey can also be dark in color but it has a stronger flavor because of the flowers the bees collect it from.

Filtration: Most of the benefits are due to the presence of the pollen within the honey. Without the pollen, it is a glucose-fructose solution and is just as bad for you as sugar. Unfortunately, companies market the transparent clear product as good quality, while in reality, ultra-filtered honey does not have many health benefits at all. That being said, you should be very cautious while consuming pollen-rich honey. If you have a pollen allergy, avoid consuming it.

What is Organic Honey?

Some people have the opinion that all honey available in the market is natural and obtained from the wild. Others feel that during its production carried out on chemically sprayed farms it can get contaminated with the pesticides sprayed on the crops and weeds.

However, the truth is that the bees may also get affected by the extensive pesticide usage which goes on in the chemically treated farms. This issue is so severe that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, warned Barack Obama in May 2013 that if the excessive use of pesticides is not reduced, it could lead to a globally volatile situation as the bee population throughout the world may become more and more affected. If pesticides can kill the bees, how can they not affect the honey produced by these bees? Moreover, non-organic production involves antibiotics for controlling diseases. It should also be noted that so far, there is no scientific proof that organic honey is healthier than non-organic variety.

Then why should you eat organic honey? Organic honey is the preferred option because it is sourced carefully and does not contain contaminants like pesticides. Since organic production involves following stringent guidelines, people prefer it over the non-organic version. Given below are some of the ways in which pesticide and antibiotic contamination of honey can take place:

Contamination of Honey

It can be contaminated with the pesticides sprayed on crops through one or more of the following ways:

  • In some cases, when the plants and weeds containing flowers have been sprayed with pesticides, the bees get poisoned too.
  • At times, the pesticide is sprayed on the bees directly.
  • In many cases, the bees collect nectar and pollen that is contaminated with pesticides.
  • When pesticides are sprayed, part of the amount is accumulated in the water on or near the plants. When the bees drink this water, they are also affected.
  • On some occasions, the pesticide gets sprayed on the beehives or gets transported to it from the sprayed plants.

Residues of Antibiotics

Conventional bees are given large doses of antibiotics to protect them from diseases, but unfortunately, the honey also carries these antibiotics. In 2002, samples of Chinese honey were tested for the presence of antibiotics in Europe. Several samples were found to contain traces of antibiotics, which led to a ban on the imports of Chinese honey in Europe. The ban was later removed in 2004 due to improvements in Chinese veterinary standards and imports of honey from China were resumed.

What leads to this antibiotic contamination? Unlike organic production, conventional honey production does not involve stringent guidelines for the quantity and mode of transmission of antibiotics to the bees. As a result, apiculturists have a free hand when using these antibiotics. When farmers use excessive quantities of antibiotics the chance of contamination increases.

What is the problem with residues of antibiotics being found in honey? The antibiotics given to the bees are veterinary antibiotics such as chloramphenicol, streptomycin, and sulfonamides. Large doses of chloramphenicol may cause cancer and aplastic anemia in humans. Similarly, high doses of streptomycin and sulfonamides are harmful too.

Many countries have not banned the use of these harmful drugs in apiculture. The EU has banned all three while the US has only banned chloramphenicol till date.

Honey FAQs

Where to buy raw honey?

You can buy raw honey at grocery and health food stores. Local farmers’ markets are also great places to pick it up. Large big-box stores such as Walmart and Target are also reliable places to find raw honey. Since it can be locally produced, you can find this beneficial product at co-ops around the world.  Many people make their own honey and it can help relieve allergies if you eat honey that contains some of the pollen from where you live. It can help your system become accustomed and not react as quickly!

Where to buy local honey?

The best place to find raw honey is your neighborhood. As a cottage industry that has received a major boost in recent years, local farmers’ markets and co-ops always have raw honey for sale. You can also go to larger stores and chains, which also stock raw honey. Try everything from small health foods stores to major big-box brands, like Target and Walmart.

What does honey do for your body?

Honey does a number of things for the body, including strengthening the immune system, healing wounds, and burns, preventing infections, soothing inflammation in the respiratory system, eliminating coughs and colds, balancing blood sugar, and increasing athletic stamina. There are many minerals and nutrients in it, which is why it has become an important staple in our diet.

What are the health benefits of honey?

The health benefits of honey are quite impressive, and since it is such a concentrated source of nutrients, it can be added to different meals. Honey is able to monitor blood sugar levels, increase energy in a healthy and sustainable way, soothe inflammation, protect heart health, speed the healing process of wounds, and prevent infections.

What does honey contain?

Honey contains a number of minerals and vitamins, including vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium. There are also important antioxidants, such as flavonoids and alkaloids. There are trace amounts of more than 15 amino acids found in honey!

Is pure honey good for you?

Yes, pure honey is very good for you. Although it is high in sugar, there are numerous antioxidants and organic compounds that make it very beneficial. It is unprocessed, which you won’t find in many of the major labels and brands. Locally produced honey, otherwise known as raw honey, is the healthiest type you could possibly buy.

Is organic honey good for you?

Organic honey is indeed good for health. It is unprocessed, so it retains all the minerals and antioxidants, which is what you want. If you process honey, very often you’re only left with sugar, which is the worst part!

What makes honey organic?

Honey is considered organic when it is locally grown and not processed. Organic honey, also known as “raw” honey, does not contain any pesticides or environmental pollutants. Since it does not go through the traditional process for safety, these standards must be followed for honey to be considered organic. Also, non-organic sugar or antibiotics are not used at any point in organic honey.

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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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