The Health Benefits of Raw Honey
By Allison Carson
Honey is the liquid gold of sweeteners, in terms of both its physical characteristics and its health benefits. People have revered this unique substance for centuries— ancient Egyptians even embalmed their deceased in honey— and it’s been used in many ways, from skincare, to accompanying afternoon tea, to medicine.
Manufacturing honey is a labor-intensive process. It takes the nectar from around 2 million flowers to make just one pound of pure honey! Bees store the flower nectar in their “honey stomach” (different from their food stomach), and when they’re full they fly back to the beehive to pass it on to worker bees, who chew it until it becomes honey. The bees then store it in the cells of honeycombs, which act like tiny honey pots, where the honey is sealed in with wax. From there, honey’s extracted, filtered and often refined for commercial production.
Honey contains about 38% fructose and 31% glucose– the rest is mostly water. Its makeup is similar to that of high fructose corn syrup, unless we’re talking about raw honey, which contains over a hundred compounds, including trace minerals like magnesium and zinc.
Why Raw Honey is Best
Honey that’s extracted from the honeycomb, filtered and then sold unprocessed is raw honey. Most honey sold in stores is heavily processed and on par with high fructose corn syrup, which is known to increase blood sugar and weight gain.
Commercial honeys are usually heated, filtered, and even chemically refined. If your honey is a clear sparkling liquid, it’s been processed. Commercial honey may also be taken from bees who are treated with antibiotics or fed with cheap sugars or syrups instead of flowers. This robs the honey of the healthy substances that bees extract from flower nectars and pollen.
The Palynology Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University found that 76 percent of the 60 commercial honey products they tested contained no traces of bee pollen1. While this is good if you have a severe bee or pollen allergy, it means that many consumers miss out on the health benefits of honey.
Contrary to processed honey, raw honey is opaque. Most organic honey is raw, and the label says “unpasteurized”, meaning the honey hasn’t been heated to the point where microorganisms have been destroyed. Pasteurization also decreases the vitamins and minerals in honey.
Health Benefits of Raw Honey
Raw honey is known as a “functional food” thanks to its natural health benefits, and is one of the healthiest natural sweeteners available. Manuka honey, a variety of honey from New Zealand, has the greatest nutritional value, with up to four times the nutritional content when compared to other flower honeys.
Raw honey contains a host of vitamins and minerals, including:
- Vitamin B6
- Pantothenic acid
Unlike refined honey, raw honey still contains some of the pollen picked up by the bee as it was collecting nectar. Small doses of local pollen can help desensitize seasonal allergy sufferers (characterized by itchy, watery eyes and sneezing) to the substances that trigger their allergies. Seek out local honey, which will contain the local pollens that you react to.
In studies comparing honey to other sweeteners (“sham-honey”, dextrose, and sucrose), honey resulted in lower blood glucose spikes, lowered triglycerides, improved blood lipids, and lower inflammation.
Honey has been found to increase antioxidant levels in the body, which help prevent cancer. Buckwheat honey, which is dark amber in color, contains the highest amount of antioxidants.
Obese or overweight people have also been found to benefit from the health effects of honey, including increased HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol), and reduced blood glucose. When sugar is replaced with honey in the diet, it can also aid in weight loss. Honey also has a healthy glycemic load and doesn’t cause a blood sugar spike, and subsequent crash, like refined white sugar does.
And, if you want an energy boost before or after a workout, raw honey is an excellent fuel, as it’s been found to perform just as well as commercial energy gels (a single tablespoon of raw honey contains 64 calories).
Raw honey can also be used externally as medicine, due to its antibacterial properties. It’s been used to help treat burns and wounds, and is just as effective as cough syrup when it comes to soothing sore throats. Combined with the fluids in our bodies, honey makes hydrogen peroxide, which kills bacteria.
An amazing health benefit of raw honey is that it can help promote restorative sleep. Consuming it causes a release of melatonin in the brain, which boosts immunity and heals you while you sleep. Try a tablespoon in a cup of chamomile tea or warm milk before bed, and see how you feel when you wake up.
Like any sweetener, honey should be consumed in moderation. It takes no more than just a couple of tablespoons a day to provide health benefits.
Raw Honey as a Sugar Substitute
Unlike many sweeteners, raw honey is unprocessed and unrefined, and it contains many health benefiting compounds that you’ll never find in any sugar or any kind, even raw sugar.
Unlike refined sugar, which should be avoided as much as possible, honey doesn’t cause drastic blood sugar spikes and insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes and other health issues, not to mention the awful mid-afternoon crash.
When compared to stevia, a natural sugar-free sweetener derived from the stevia plant, it would seem that the sugar-free option would be better, but many health professionals recommend raw honey first. Stevia is beneficial in satisfying the sweet tooth for those who can’t have sugar, such as diabetics, but it can also be highly refined and even be mixed with other sweeteners. Read your labels!
Natural Raw Honey Remedies
Raw honey has been used for thousands of years as medicine. Try some of these natural remedies using raw honey.
- Improve Skin Conditions
Raw honey can be used as an exfoliator and also as a moisturizer. Manuka honey is effective when used as a mask to treat acne and eczema. Add two cups of honey to your bath, soaking for 15 minutes, then adding one cup of baking soda for the final 15 minutes.
- Soothe Your Sore Throat
When cold season arrives, arm yourself with raw honey. Or better yet, Manuka honey, which can prevent strep throat. Honey can also help fight respiratory issues such as asthma by lowering inflammation. Mix honey with a little lemon and peppermint essential oils for a soothing and completely natural cough syrup.
- Maintain Beautiful Hair
Use a raw honey hair mask to boost your hair’s brilliance. Dissolve one teaspoon of raw honey in five cups of warm water, massage it into your hair, and rinse thoroughly.
- Get Great Sleep
Honey promotes the release of melatonin, which helps you to get restful sleep. Mix a tablespoon in with warm milk or herbal tea before bed.
- Resolve Indigestion and Nausea
A little honey mixed with raw ginger and lemon juice can settle an upset stomach. Raw honey also contains natural prebiotics, which feed good bacteria in the gut. Manuka honey may help fight inflammation in the gut for those suffering from inflammatory bowel symptoms.
- Desensitize to Seasonal Allergies
Seasonal allergies and hay fever are typically caused by reactions to pollen. Raw honey contains small enough amounts of pollen to give you a little dose without causing an allergic reaction. If you have serious allergies, only do this under the supervision of your doctor.
- Fight Infection
Honey’s antibacterial properties can help improve urinary tract infections and also fight wound infection. You can also use it topically for mild burns and rashes. Manuka honey also shows promise in fighting Staph infection when applied topically.
- Lose Weight and Lower Cholesterol
Using honey instead of sugar can promote weight loss, and it can also reduce bad cholesterol while increasing good cholesterol. Use it in moderation- no more than three to five tablespoons per day.
Bees really deserve more reverence than they receive, as these hard-working insects produce one of the world’s most amazing foods. White sugar may be cheaper, but can it fight infection or make your skin smooth? Just keep in mind that refined honey isn’t a whole lot better than high-fructose corn syrup, so stick with the raw kind (and preferably the local raw kind).