Does Honey Have Any Actual Health Benefits? We Asked an RD
Just in time for cold and flu season.
The story of honey is older than most of us realize: an 8,000-year-old cave painting in Spain depicted honey harvesting, and it's been used for food—and for medicine—all over the world ever since.
But honey isn't about humans. It's the natural product made from bees, one of our planet's most important animals. Honey bees visit millions of blossoms in their lifetimes, making pollination of plants possible and collecting nectar to bring back to the hive.
Lucky for us, bees make more honey than their colony needs, and beekeepers remove the excess and bottle it. It’s delicious, yes, but honey has more to offer than just sweet flavor for tea or on top of yogurt. According to nutrition expert Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, honey packs plenty of powerful nutritional perks.
Natural Cough Suppressant
Honey has been used for centuries to help alleviate symptoms of the common cold, and now research confirms this approach for children ages one and older. According to Angelo White, honey is an effective and natural alternative to over-the-counter cough medicine. A spoonful of honey can help relieve the irritation, though it’s important to note that time is the most important healer of a sore throat.
Key Ingredient for Sports Nutrition
Honey is a natural source of carbohydrates, providing 17 grams per tablespoon. This is ideal for fueling muscles, says Angelo White. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel the body uses, and honey can help maintain muscle glycogen. This is effectively stored energy for muscles, which gives athletes a boost in performance when they need it most. Honey can also be used as part of exercise recovery meals and snacks to replenish tired muscles and energy stores following a workout.
“Since honey is slightly sweeter than sugar, you can use less to achieve the same amount of sweetness,” Angelo White says. Try substituting half of the amount of sugar for honey in recipes. Additionally, there are so many distinctly delicious varieties of honey to choose—from alfalfa to wildflower—that add the perfect touch of flavor essence to foods.
High-quality honey contains a number of important antioxidants, including flavonoids, organic acids, and phenolic compounds. Buckwheat honey, in particular, has been shown to increase the antioxidant activity in your blood. Antioxidants have been linked to reduced risk of certain types of cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
Because it’s a natural source of hydrogen peroxide, honey has been used as a natural antibiotic and skin protectant for centuries. Additionally, honey’s high sugar content helps ward off bacterial growth, and its low pH level works to pull moisture away from bacteria (which helps kill it). You can apply honey directly to a wound or infection to reap its antibacterial benefits. If possible, opt for raw manuka honey, as this type appears to be better at attacking infections that form a biofilm, or thin layer of bacteria.
Bottom line: Honey is still high in sugar, but it has health benefits that make it a smarter sweetener to use when swapped in for white sugar and/or corn syrup.