Honey 101: Nutrition Facts, Health Benefits, Types, and More
Honey is a beloved food around the world. Whether you stir it into a hot mug of tea, add it to some baked goods, or incorporate it into a marinade or salad dressing, honey can add a touch of sweetness to whatever you’re making.
Honey, however, is more than just a simple sweetener. In recent years, the sticky golden liquid has been receiving a significant amount of attention for its therapeutic benefits. With uses both internally and externally, honey can be used in a variety of ways in your home.
How is Honey Made?
No, it’s not ‘bee vomit’, and it’s not ‘bee poop’ either. Honey starts as flower nectar. Honeybees collect this nectar and bring it to worker bees at the hive, who then break the honey down into simple sugars.
Younger bees construct the hive in a honeycomb structure out of wax, which gives them a place to store the nectar. They then fan the nectar with their wings to evaporate excess water, concentrating it into thicker, stickier honey. This protects it from spoilage.
On average, one beehive will produce 65 pounds of surplus honey each year. To extract the honey, beekeepers collect the honeycomb frames and scrape off the wax cap built by the bees to seal off the honey in each cell. They then place the frames a centrifuge that spins them, forcing the honey out of the comb.
Next, the honey is strained to remove any excess wax. Large producers will then dilute, heat, and filter the honey to remove pollen and other naturally occurring substances. Most small-scale producers will leave it in its raw form [1,2].
The appearance and taste of honey will differ depending on the type of flower it was made from and the weather conditions in the area. Some will be lighter in color and milder in flavor, while others will be more amber-colored and have an intense flavor .
Is Honey Healthy?
Honey is mostly a combination of glucose and fructose, which is similar to that of white sugar, only in different proportions. Compared to white sugar, honey is sweeter and is higher in total calories, carbohydrates, and total sugars .
The difference, however, is that honey also contains small amounts of a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. It also contains some proteins and antioxidants .
For this reason, honey is generally considered to be healthier than white sugar, however it should still be consumed within moderation. This is particularly true if you have diabetes, or have to watch your sugar intake.
The Medicinal Uses of Honey
When honeybees dehydrate the original flower nectar into honey, they produce small amounts of antiseptic hydrogen peroxide. Because of this, this is one humans have traditionally used honey as an antibacterial topical medication for skin wounds, burns, and ulcerations .
Doctors largely stopped using honey for this purpose when modern antibiotics were invented. With the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, however, experts are yet again turning to honey as a potential solution.
Many of these studies have either been performed in the lab in a petri dish, or in animals. For this reason we still do not know exactly how people can use honey to treat any of these health conditions.
Because honey comes from such a wide variety of sources, scientists will also have to determine which of those sources create honey that is potent enough to effectively fight disease. They will also need to figure out what the dosage would need to be in order to have any benefit.
Topical Uses for Honey
There is more information regarding the topical use of honey from a therapeutic standpoint than oral use. Honey is used as an antiseptic in a number of skin gels, creams, wound dressings, and other medicinal products for the skin.
Manuka honey from New Zealand and Australia, and tualang honey from Malaysia, are of particular interest to researchers in this regard. These varieties appear to be particularly good at healing and reducing the formation of scar tissue, despite being relatively low in hydrogen peroxide .
Cosmetic companies often use honey in their products because it helps improve the look and feel of your skin and hair. It can lubricate your skin and help it hold on to moisture, making it a common ingredient in lip balms, lotions, shampoos, and facial scrubs .
How to Use Honey in the Kitchen
As already mentioned, perhaps the most common place we use honey is in our kitchens. If you’re trying to decrease the amount of processed, white sugar you consume, honey can act as a great substitute.
Replacing sugar with honey is not quite as simple as swapping one for the other. Thekitchen.com offers a number of tips for how to do this properly so your baked goods turn out every time. The tips include:
- Use one half to two thirds of a cup of honey for every cup of sugar in the recipe.
- For every cup of honey you use, reduce the overall amount of liquid in the recipe by one quarter cup.
- Add a quarter teaspoon of baking soda for every cup of honey used.
- Reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees fahrenheit to prevent browning .
Other ways to use honey in your kitchenware:
- add it to homemade vinaigrette for a touch of sweetness
- combine it with other ingredients to make a delicious glaze or marinade for meats or fish.
- stir it into some plain yogurt
- blend it into a smoothie.
Are the Risks with Consuming Honey?
For the most part, honey is safe to consume. That being said, honey is not necessarily equally as healthy for every individual. People who have diabetes or who are watching their carbohydrate intake, should not consume large amounts of honey.
If you have issues with your blood sugar, you should talk to your doctor before incorporating honey into your diet.
Honey is also a known allergen, and although it is rare, there have been reports of allergic reactions. Always pay attention to your body. If you think you might be having an allergic reaction, seek medical attention right away .
Finally, you should never give honey to a child under one year old. Clostridium bacteria can contaminate honey, which can give a young child botulism .
Honey: Versatile and Health-Promoting
Much of the research is still new, but honey is showing a lot of promise in the medical field as a potential treatment for many health issues. It is useful as a cosmetic treatment for your skin and hair, and has a variety of uses in the kitchen.
Despite its high sugar content, honey can be a part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderate amounts.
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