The next time you add honey to your bedtime lavender tea, you’ll rest even easier knowing that this natural sweetener might be considered nature’s magic golden elixir.
You may have heard that honey is a healthier sweetener than sugar. You may have even heard that honey has a host of health benefits. But maybe it’s hard to believe that something so good can also be good for you.
Honey may play a role in weight maintenance.
So we turned to Dr. Dawn Woods, a pharmacist, nutritionist and certified health coach based in Birmingham, Alabama, to get the tea on honey.
The healthier, sweeter choice
If you have a sweet tooth, there are several reasons to reach for honey before sugar.
“Raw honey is a great sweetener alternative and a healthier choice than refined and/or artificial sugar,” Dr. Woods says. “Honey has a lower GI [glycemic index] value than sugar, meaning that it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels as quickly. It’s also sweeter than sugar, so you need less of it.” Though more research is needed, clinical data reviewed last year in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition shows that honey may play a role in weight maintenance. It is not known to be a weight loss aid.
That’s not a permission slip to drown every dish with honey.
“Honey should be treated like all other added sugar in the diet,” Dr. Woods says. “The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoonfuls [25 grams] of sugar per day.”
In other words, moderation is key. The type of honey you use is important too.
“The best honey to buy is raw honey,” Dr. Woods says.
That means you need to opt for honey that hasn’t gone through pasteurization or filtration. Raw honey is made by extracting honey from the honeycombs of the hive and pouring it over a mesh or nylon cloth to separate the honey from impurities like beeswax and dead bees. Once it’s strained, it’s bottled up and ready to go.
“The naturally occurring enzymes, vitamins and minerals are preserved and you get the full benefits of them from eating raw honey.”
Regular honey, however, is heated to destroy the yeast in honey and filtered to remove air bubbles, pollen and debris. But in the process, helpful nutrients can be removed too. Some manufacturers will also add sugar to their honey.
Raw honey, however, is like a multivitamin that you’ll actually want to take every day.
“Approximately 31 variable minerals have been found in honey, including all of the major minerals, such as phosphorus, sodium, calcium, potassium, sulfur, magnesium and chlorine,” Dr. Woods says.
The health benefits of honey
Honey isn’t just a natural sweetener. It boasts a jar full of health benefits too. Here are some of the ways raw honey may be good for you:
- Reduces the risk of heart disease
- Reduces cancer risk
- Lowers bad cholesterol
- Improves digestion and gastrointestinal conditions
- Boosts immune system
- Improves memory
You may be wondering how something so sweet can pack such a powerful punch.
Honey can be good for your heart, because it’s packed with antioxidants such as flavonoids, polyphenolics, vitamin C and monophenolics.
“These reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by improving coronary vasodilatation and reducing the ability of platelets in the blood to clot,” Dr. Woods explains. “Studies have also shown total cholesterol, LDL (or bad) cholesterol and triglycerides have all been reduced with honey, which lowers your risk for heart attack.”
Because honey contains antioxidants, it can also reduce your cancer risk. The antioxidants neutralize free radicals, rendering them harmless.
“The darker the honey, the higher the value of antioxidants in it,” Dr. Woods shares.
Studies have also shown total cholesterol, LDL (or bad) cholesterol and triglycerides have all been reduced with honey, which lowers your risk for heart attack
Honey can be good for your gut, because it contains beneficial prebiotics that promote the good bacteria that live in the intestines, which is crucial for digestion. Honey can also kill the bacteria that causes heartburn and ulcers.
Back in the day, your grandmother may have given you honey when you had a cough or a sore throat. Well, once again Big Mama knows best.
Dr. Woods says a 2010 study found that honey was more effective in reducing coughing than either dextromethorphan (an over-the-counter cough suppressant) or diphenhydramine (an OTC antihistamine).
“The thick honey texture also coats and soothes the throat,” she says. “To soothe a cough, start with 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey. You can have it on its own, spread it on toast, or mix it into warm water or tea.”
And honey could also help prevent you from having a cough in the first place.
The phytonutrients that give honey its antioxidant properties and antibacterial powers also give it immune-boosting benefits.
So drizzling a little honey in your afternoon yogurt could help you keep the common cold at bay.
Keep in mind, bacteria in honey can cause botulism in infants, so it’s only safe for people 12 months and older.
While honey is boosting your immune system, it could be giving your brain a boost too. According to Healthline, “the polyphenols in honey may be able to counter inflammation in the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory.”
From fruit and yogurt to toast and tea, so many foods taste better with a bit of honey. And knowing that honey is good for you will make things even sweeter.