The Sweet Truth: 6 Health Benefits Of Honey

1847

Since ancient times, people have viewed honey as a sort of liquid gold. Honeybees work hard to collect nectar from plants and store the sweetness in wax-like structures called honeycombs. The resulting honey not only sustains bees during the winter months, it also allows humans to enjoy the excess.

The payoff for this hard work? A plethora of health perks. "Honey acts as an anti-inflammatory and it has antioxidant and antibacterial properties," says Kimberly Snodgrass, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Henry Ford Health System. "It also has cardiovascular and nervous system benefits."

The Health Perks Of Honey

Perhaps best known for adding a touch of sweetness to tea or as a base ingredient for candy and syrups, honey is increasingly appearing in health food stores as an antidote for a variety of ails. The reasons:

  1. Honey has a low glycemic index. Unlike refined sugar, which sends blood glucose levels soaring, honey has a low glycemic index. That means blood sugar levels remain stable despite the sweet taste. "Honey doesn't trigger a spike in blood glucose and insulin levels, and it helps enhance insulin sensitivity," Snodgrass says.
  2. Honey is heart-healthy. Honey not only helps prevent weight gain (by enhancing insulin sensitivity), but it also improves blood markers for heart disease. Studies show honey reduces triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (a.k.a., bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol while increasing high-density lipoprotein (“good cholesterol”).
  3. Honey is rich in antioxidants. Honey boasts plenty of antioxidants, the disease-fighting plant chemicals that help bolster the body's ability to counteract stress-induced damage. "The phenolic compounds are largely responsible for honey's antioxidant activity," Snodgrass says. "Darker honey has a higher antioxidant content than the lighter varieties."
  4. Honey can help soothe a sore throat. Both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend honey as a cough suppressant. Scientists believe the antioxidant and antimicrobial properties of honey help coat the throat and relieve that raw, scratchy feeling.
  5. Honey has antimicrobial properties. The fermentable sugars in honey give the immune system a boost. "It's the oldest wound-healing agent known to man," Snodgrass says, "Honey even shows efficacy where modern chemicals have failed."
  6. Honey makes a great hair mask. "It's a humectant, meaning it locks in moisture," Snodgrass says. "That can be especially important during the cold, dry months ahead. Just mix one half-cup of honey with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil, heat the mixture for about 30 seconds, apply to your hair and cover with a protective cap. Follow the mask with a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner."

Be Honey Savvy

The flavor in your honey bear depends on everything from where the bees pollinate to what they like to eat. Like wine, honey comes in a spectrum of colors, textures, flavors and varieties. It's versatile, flavorful, and perhaps most important, it never spoils. It might change in texture or crystallize over time, but the contents remain safe — and tasty — to eat.

A couple of warnings: "You should never give honey to a child under 1 year of age because it may contain spores of bacteria that can lead to infant botulism," Snodgrass says. And when it comes to honey, you can get too much of a good thing. Sure, honey packs more perks than other sweeteners, but it's still added sugar and eating too much can have negative health consequences.

Use honey in moderation. Drizzle it on plain Greek yogurt, or on top of whole wheat toast. Use it to sweeten and thicken sauces and soups. And don't forget to apply it to your face and skin for its moisturizing properties.

Want more advice from Henry Ford experts?
Subscribe today to receive weekly emails of our latest tips and recipes.

To find a doctor or registered dietitian at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Kimberly Snodgrass, RDN, specializes in nutrition counseling and health coaching for the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion.

Categories: EatWell