Honey truly is one of nature’s magical gifts.
I’ve been enjoying raw honey for many years after learning about the health benefits it provides. Raw honey differs nutritionally from the amber coloured liquid honey easily found in grocery stores. Liquid honey commercially available has been heat processed, causing it to lose some beneficial nutrients. I’ll get into all of the incredible benefits of raw honey, but as a sweet bonus (see what I did there?), raw honey has a more delicious flavour. If you haven’t tasted raw honey, I highly recommend experiencing how creamy and unique the flavour is.
What makes raw honey so special? For starters, it has not been filtered or heat treated, so all of the beneficial properties are maintained.
In terms of health benefits, honey has many.
Honey contains sugar (obviously), but these sugars are sweeter, give more energy than artificial sweeteners and are used in smaller amounts. Besides sugar, honey also contains B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and amino acids.
Applying honey topically to burns, cuts and scrapes can help with wound healing. The healing property of honey is due to the fact that it offers anti-bacterial activity, maintains a moist wound environment that promotes healing and creates a protective barrier to prevent infection. Honey also speeds up the growth of new tissues to help wound healing. Immunologically, honey has immune-modulatory properties. Glycosylated proteins in honey can induce a TNF-α secretion by macrophages (tumor necrosis factor – regulates immune cells). TNF-α is known to induce the mechanisms of inflammation, the formation of granulomatosus tissue and of wound repairing.
Raw honey can also be used as a natural antibiotic. I’ve used honey to soothe sore throats and topically on any acne spots. Honey contains the compounds inbibine and kynurenic acid which have antibiotic properties. The antibiotic activity of honey is due to the enzymatic production of hydrogen peroxide, low pH (3.2-4.5), and the osmotic effect of its high sugar content.
Natural raw honey contains many compounds such as flavonoids, phenolic acids, ascorbic acid, tocopherols, catalase, superoxide dismutase (and more) that work together to provide a synergistic antioxidant effect.
Why are anti-oxidants important for us? The presence of free radicals plays a role in the process of cellular dysfunction, pathogenesis of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases as well as aging. Eating foods rich in anti-oxidants may protect against this type of damage.
When purchasing honey as a health-promoting food, quality is incredibly important. As I mentioned before, raw honey is superior as it has not been processed, filtered or heated, so all of the beneficial qualities are maintained.
Honey is only as good as the source of nectar.
There is a large variation in antimicrobial activity of natural honey due to the variation in the sources of nectar. In other words, where the bees live and where they get their food from is incredibly important!
I’m sure you are aware of the diminishing honey bee populations and the effects this has for our food supplies. Bees are one of the major pollinators for our fruit and vegetable producing plants and unfortunately are exposed to a tremendous amount of chemicals due to common agricultural practices.
There are different theories as to why the bee (and other pollinator) populations are dying out including pathogens, mites as well as pesticides. Bees that are living near conventionally farmed agricultural land are exposed to numerous harmful pesticides and those chemicals have been found in honey.
A recent study (Mitchell et al., 2017) sampled 198 honey samples from locations all over the world to test for pesticide content. Neonicotinoid pesticides are the main pesticide used worldwide and researchers tested for the presence of 5 major compounds – acetampiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam. Of the honey tested, 75% contained at least one of these compounds, 45% contained 2 or more and 10% contained 4 or 5. This is shocking!
The containers honey is stored in should not be overlooked. Glass containers are ideal because glass is inert and doesn’t leech harmful compounds like plastic.
A few years ago there was a huge study on commercially available honey from supermarkets and drug stores in North America. This alarming report revealed how products marketed as honey may in fact be diluted, re-constituted honey mixed with other ingredients. I don’t know about you, but I like to know exactly what is in the food products I’m consuming.
With a little research, it is possible to find brands that fit all of these requirements.
I recently learned about the Finland-based honey company, Hikian. Their honeybees live in the forest of Finland so they aren’t exposed to harmful pesticides. All of their honey is unfiltered and raw, so you know you’re getting all of the good stuff.
For starters, the packaging is gorgeous. However, it isn’t all about looks. The honey is stored in violet glass to protect it. Interestingly, violet glass provides protection against the aging processes that happen with molecules are exposed to light. When something as precious as honey is stored, we want to make sure the health properties are maintained.
Their products have also been third-party tested for any contaminants such as GMOs or pesticides and show traces of neither. It is truly rare to find such a high-quality product. That’s the benefit of sourcing honey from such a pristine, remote location like the forests of Finland – everything is as nature intended!
You can read more about Hikian’s philosophy and products on their website.
How I Use Honey
- I use honey regularly to sweeten tea. Just be sure not to add raw honey when the water is super hot otherwise the beneficial properties could become damaged.
- A spoonful of honey is tremendous for soothing sore throats – I just eat it from the spoon.
- I occasionally make a honey-based face mask that is great for acne and nourishing skin.
How Not To Use Honey
- Honey should not be given to children under the age of one. Honey may contain traces of botulism spores so until their tiny guts have developed a healthy micro biome, do not share with young children.
- Honey shouldn’t be heated. I don’t use honey for baking since honey is a magical food that I use for health purposes. Heating honey destroys beneficial properties.
- Since I treat honey more like a supplement or a natural remedy, I only use honey sparingly. Consider the effort and health of the honey bees when enjoying honey.
Krupke CH, Hunt GJ, Eitzer BD, Andino G, Given K (2012) Multiple Routes of Pesticide Exposure for Honey Bees Living Near Agricultural Fields. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29268. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0029268 http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0029268
Mitchell E.A.D. et al. 2017. A worldwide study of neonicotinoids in honey. Science 358(6359): 109-111. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/358/6359/109
Vallianou, N,G et al. 2014. Honey and its Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Bacterial and Anti-Oxidant Properties. Gen Med (Los Angel) 2:2 https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Natalia_Vallianou/publication/269552034_Honey_and_its_Anti-Inflammatory_Anti-Bacterial_and_Anti-Oxidant_Properties/links/56545d9308ae4988a7b02971.pdf