What are the health benefits of raw honey?

I mention this article in the December 14th, Monday Minute “Use Honey, Not Sugar”. This was orginally found on the Medical News Today site here.

People have used raw honey in traditional medicine for hundreds of years. This sweet, natural substance may contain healthful elements that processed honey does not have.

Honey provides a range of health benefits. Raw honey, which comes straight from the beehive, contains healthful bee pollen, bee propolis, and plenty of antioxidants.

Research has not confirmed that raw honey has more health benefits than regular honey, but some people believe that the processing and pasteurization that regular honey undergoes diminishes many of the beneficial elements. Some people believe that because of this, raw honey provides more health benefits than regular honey. In this article, we compare the health benefits of raw honey and regular honey.

What is raw honey?

Honey is a sweet, golden liquid made by honeybees. Honeybees store their honey in small, hexagonal cups called a honeycomb. Raw honey comes straight from the honeycomb.

Honey from the hive contains bee pollen, beeswax, and parts of dead bees. Honey manufacturers will usually pass raw honey through a filter to remove as many impurities as possible, but some generally remain. It is still safe to eat.

Unlike raw honey, regular honey undergoes a pasteurization process. This means manufacturers have heated it to kill yeast cells that can affect its taste, increase its shelf-life, and make it look more transparent and attractive. However, pasteurization may adversely affect the number of nutrients in the honey.

Some historical evidence estimates that humans have used honey for over 8,000 years. During ancient times, people would have used raw honey, but today, most people use pasteurized honey.

Honey naturally offers the following healthful properties:

antibacterial action
wound-healing effects
dietary antioxidants
anti-inflammatory effects
Raw honey also contains bee pollen and bee propolis, which is a sticky, glue-like substance bees use to hold their hive together. Regular honey may not contain the same levels of bee propolis and bee pollen as raw honey.

A 2017 review on honey and a 2015 review on bee pollen report that bee propolis and bee pollen can offer anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, and anticancer properties.

The following sections explore seven evidence-based health benefits of raw honey.

1. Antioxidant effects

Researchers believe that some of the main health benefits from honey come from its antioxidant content.

Natural honey contains a range of compounds that act as antioxidants, including phytochemicals, flavonoids, and ascorbic acid.

Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress in the body by mopping up free radicals. Scientists have linked oxidative stress to a range of chronic health conditions, including many cancers. By eating an antioxidant-rich diet, people can reduce their risk of chronic disease.

Some people believe that pasteurization reduces the number of antioxidants in the honey, meaning that pasteurized honey may not offer the same benefits as raw honey.

There is no specific research into how pasteurization affects the antioxidants in honey, but studies show that heating other foods can reduce their antioxidant content.

2. Nutrition

Honey contains specific nutrients that can make it a healthful addition to the diet.

The exact nutrition and chemical composition of raw honey varies between different countries and environments and depends partly upon which types of flowers the bees gather their nectar from. Regardless of these factors, honey still contains healthful compounds, such as antioxidants, amino acids, and vitamins.

One tablespoon or 21 grams (g) of raw honey contains 64 calories and 16 g of sugar. These values may vary between brands and batches.

Natural honey naturally contains small amounts of the following vitamins and minerals:

  • niacin
  • riboflavin
  • pantothenic acid
  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • manganese
  • potassium
  • phosphorous
  • zinc

Honey naturally contains sugar. A little more than half of the sugar in honey is fructose. Research has linked fructose to various health problems.

However, even with its fructose content, honey may be a healthier option than table sugar. Some research suggests that honey may offer a protective effect against diabetes and some types of honey may help improve cholesterol levels.

People who have diabetes or who are on sugar-restricted diets may choose to eat honey in moderation to avoid significant changes in their blood sugar levels. Pure honey has a glycemic index (GI) of 58, meaning it has a medium effect on blood sugar levels. 

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