Updated: 1st April 2020
What are the health benefits of honey? Or are they 'old wives' tales'?
Honey is certainly known to be an excellent, natural energy food, and it has superb, scientifically proven anti-bacterial properties, which is probably one of the reasons why it is used in a range of home remedies. However, some benefits are real, whilst others may be somewhat exaggerated!
The short answer is:
There is robust scientific evidence to support some of the claims made about the health benefits of honey, and some claims that are exaggerated, unproven, or backed by research that is inadequate. Manuka honey appears to have most of the quality research to support it, and anti-bacterial and topical healing benefits are the most well-documented. However, honey is not healthy for babies, and care is needed by diabetics.
On this website, I take an in-depth look at some of the claims made with regard
to the health benefits of honey. In doing so, I look at the scientific data where available, make a number of nutritional comparisons, and provide lots of
My intention is to be balanced and fair. I'm also pleased to receive new research as and when it becomes available. Here is a summary of the main aspects, which are explored in greater detail elsewhere.
The anti-bacterial qualities of honey are well documented. This characteristic comes from honey's acidic pH, which is low enough to prevent bacterial growth. Honey, especially Manuka honey, has been found to be helpful in wound care - and especially MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). However, it was not found to be effective against all bugs - for example, it was not as good at reducing Pseudomonas infection as MRSA.
There is much mixed scientific information, and it's important to note that not all studies are of high quality. For example, their may be no control group, or the sample size may be extremely small. In addition, some scientists form conclusion that other scientists disagree with. However, and interesting review of the claims looking specifically at burns, discarded all the weaker studies, and interrogated the stronger research. It was found that manuka honey was more helpful in healing partial-thickness burns than conventional treatments. The research concerning the use of honey in general wound care reveals more mixed results.
It is certainly true that honey contains a variety of minerals and enzymes. It should be noted, however, that honey's nutritional content varies slightly, depending on where the bees have been foraging, because different types of flora create honeys that differ slightly in composition.
It is also believed that honey contains various
anti-oxidants that are good for humans.
The question is, are these nutritional benefits really significant, and does the nutritional data support this claim?
One way to look at this, is to compare honey and sugar. Why? The reason for this, is because honey is sometimes advocated as a substitute for sugar. When we compare the two, we find that although sugar is sweet, it has no nutritional content other than calorie value in the form of carbohydrate. It therefore provides an interesting comparison, and we can clearly see from the data that honey offers greater nutritional benefit that sugar.
However, is that enough of a comparison? What if we compared honey with every day foods, such as the humble apple? In comparisons between the humble apple and honey, an apple performs better than either for vitamins! This is no surprise. At the end of the day, a good diet is all about balance.
In comparison with sugar, honey contains high levels of both glucose and fructose.
The combination of these two carbohydrates means that both an immediate, and a sustained energy boost are provided by honey, whereas the energy provided by sugar is immediate only. This may be of interest if you are engaging in particular sports.
A variety of claims are made about the use of honey and cinnamon and honey with apple cider vinegar, with a number of home remedies. I would urge caution with most of them, and advise people to visit a suitable health care practitioner, although some remedies may help, and the data on apple cider vinegar is very interesting with regard to weight loss.
Remember, beekeeping practice varies. For this reason, if you are going to use honey, please source it preferentially from a beekeeper you can trust if possible, preferably local, or if not, purchase organic honey. Organic honey is less likely to be contaminated with pesticides or other contaminants (some countries have had problems with imported honey). What is the point in buying honey for its beneficial ingredients, if what you buy contains toxins? Organic honey supports farming practices that are ecologically better for the environment, and hence honey bees and other pollinators.
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