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Honey is a sweet, viscous liquid produced from the nectar of flowers. Regarded as one of the healthiest foods across the globe, honey is an amazing formulation with a lot of medicinal value. It is also the most widely used sweetener. In fact, sugar was nonexistent until the intercontinental trade in the 18th century, which made cane sugar available.

Honey bees seem to have originated in Africa but they are believed to be in existence for about 100 million years. So it’s no surprise that people from every part of the world use honey. Mythology and scriptures of almost all ancient civilisations have the mention of honey. It has even been mentioned for its nutritious properties in the Bible and is referred to as a healing drink in Qur'an. Honey has a special place in ayurveda due to its many healing benefits. Even the modern-day science agrees with the innumerable benefits of honey.No wonder they call it the "food of Gods".

Natural honey is graded by its colour - the clear, golden amber ones fetch a higher retail price compared to the darker ones. Light coloured honey is usually milder and sweeter when compared to the darker ones, which have a stronger taste.

Honey is available in two forms - raw and processed. Raw honey contains all the enzymes, pollen grains and other micronutrients that are usually filtered out or destroyed by heat when the honey is processed. Raw honey crystallizes quite quickly as it is unfiltered. On the other hand, processed honey stays in the liquid form for much longer.

Depending on where it has to be marketed, honey may be bottled directly into small containers for retail sale or into large drums for storage and export. In order to cater to a wide range of consumers, honey is packaged in containers of many different sizes and styles. These include glass jars, plastic tubs, and squeezable bottles.

Did you know?

The flavour, taste, texture and properties of honey vary depending on the nectar of the flower from which it is taken. The unique fragrances and flavours of the flowers permeate the nectar which is reflected in the honey produced. The taste, texture, and characteristics of honey vary from region to region even with the same country.

Some basic facts about honey:

  • Common name: Shahad (Hindi), Honey
  • Sanskrit name: Madhu
  • Native region and geographical distribution: The major producers of honey are China, Turkey, the United States, Russia, and India.
  • Interesting Fact: If kept in an airtight container, honey has an eternal shelf life. It never gets spoiled.
  1. Honey nutrition facts
  2. Honey health benefits
  3. Honey side effects
  4. Takeaway

Honey is mainly comprised of simple carbohydrates and natural sugar. The sugar is mostly glucose and fructose. It is due to the presence of fructose that it is sweeter compared to sugar. Honey is fat-free and cholesterol free. Honey ranks low on the Glycemic Index (GI), which means the carbohydrates in honey are broken down slowly and it does not affect your blood glucose level significantly.

As per the USDA Nutrient Database, the table below shows the nutrient values of honey per 100 g.

Nutrient Value per 100 g
Water     17.1 g
Energy     304 kcal
Protein 0.3 g
Carbohydrate     82.4 g
Fibre     0.2 g
Sugars      82.12 g
Minerals  
Calcium   6 mg
Iron    0.42 mg
Magnesium     2 mg
Phosphorus   4 mg
Potassium     52 mg
Sodium     4 mg
Zinc     0.22 mg
Vitamins  
Vitamin B2 0.038 mg
Vitamin B3 0.121 mg
Vitamin B6 0.024 mg
Vitamin B9 2 µg
Vitamin C 0.5 mg

When it comes to the nutritive and healing benefits, honey could aptly be called liquid gold. Let us explore some of the health benefits of honey that make it such a miraculous food.

  • Heals wounds: Honey is a natural wound healing agent. It improves wound closing and inhibits infection at the injury site. Honey application also helps reduce pain and swelling in open wounds and burn wounds.
  • Improves asthma symptoms: Smelling honey can reduce the excess secretion of mucus, which leads to a reduction in cough in asthmatic people. Honey also reduces inflammation in the airways thereby providing symptomatic relief in case of asthma.
  • Regulates blood sugar: Honey has a low glycemic index (does not increase blood sugar significantly) and is thus an excellent sugar substitute for diabetic people. In fact, it has been scientifically proven that honey reduces blood sugar by increasing insulin levels.
  • Relieves stomach conditions: Honey has a protective effect on stomach lining, it improves mucosal barrier, reduces inflammation and prevents bacterial adhesion on the gastric mucosa, thereby reducing the risk of gastric ulcers. Honey consumption also prevents gastroenteritis in children.
  • Benefits for hair and scalp: Honey has a moisturising and nourishing effect on your hair and scalp, which reduces frizz and make your hair look shinier and longer. Clinical studies indicate that regular massage with honey reduces dandruff, itchy patches on the scalp.
  1. Honey benefits for stomach problems
  2. Honey for healing wounds
  3. Honey for asthma
  4. Honey for hangover
  5. Honey benefits for hair
  6. Honey benefits for diabetics
  7. Honey prevents cancer
  8. Honey reduces cholesterol
  9. Honey for the heart

Honey benefits for stomach problems

Honey has numerous benefits for the gastrointestinal system. Traditionally, honey is considered good for improving digestion. A study showed that honey can help cure stomach flu (gastroenteritis) in children. It can also help prevent diarrhoea.

It has been found to inhibit bacterial adherence to intestinal walls which may be helpful in preventing common stomach infections. Recent studies demonstrate an anti-ulcer potential in honey which is mediated by decreasing free radicals and inflammatory cytokines and improving mucosal barriers.

Clinical studies claim that honey reduces the risk of gastric ulcers by inducing apoptosis (Cell-death) in gastric mucosa (inner lining of stomach).

Honey for healing wounds

Wounds usually do not take much time to heal if proper care is taken. But wounds caused by a serious injury might take longer to heal. According to research, honey has significant wound healing properties. In a clinical study done on 10 wounded subjects, topical application of honey demonstrated significant improvement in healing process. There was also an 80% reduction in pain and swelling. The anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties were reported to be responsible for these healing benefits of honey. It also keeps the wound clean and moist and enhances fibrin production which aids in skin regeneration and formation of a smooth and soft scar surface.

Clinical evidence suggests that honey can heal burns too. In a clinical study, 50 people with burn wounds were given topical treatment with honey. Significant healing was reported within the first week of the treatment. The study also revealed that honey application controlled infection and inflammation in these wounds.

Honey for asthma

Asthma is an inflammatory condition where the airways become narrow making it difficult to breathe. People with asthma often experience cough,(especially in the night), wheezing and chest pain. Honey has been used for ages to treat cold and cough. Preclinical studies indicate that honey might be effective in treating symptoms of asthma. Smelling honey can help prevent the excess growth of goblet cells that are responsible for secreting mucous.

Furthermore, honey has anti-inflammatory properties which may be helpful in reducing inflammation in asthma thereby providing temporary relief. However, no clinical studies have been done so far to ascertain the safety of such procedures in humans.

Honey for hangover

Hangover refers to the group of uncomfortable symptoms that are associated with excess alcohol consumption. Common symptoms include a headache, nausea, dizziness and a feeling of dehydration that can sometimes last for up to 24 hours. Studies indicate that honey might have anti-intoxication effects followed by excessive alcohol consumption.

A preclinical study demonstrated that oral intake of honey can help prevent a hangover. This effect is attributed to the presence of fructose in honey. This sugar prevents the absorption of alcohol into the gastrointestinal tract and aids in the elimination of alcohol from the body thus reducing hangover symptoms.

Honey benefits for hair

Honey is an excellent antioxidant and humectant, which means that it helps retain moisture in your scalp and reduces free radical damage, giving a lively lustre to your hair. As an emollient, it soothes and softens your scalp and hairs. What better than a homemade honey mask to get soft and shiny hairs?

Seborrheic dermatitis is a condition that affects the scalp. Common symptoms include dandruff, scaly patches and redness on the scalp. However, this condition can also affect other areas such as the face, chest and eyebrows. A clinical study on 30 subjects suggested that massaging the scalp for a few minutes with honey can help in the prevention of itching and removal of patches from the scalp within a few weeks. It also helped prevent hair loss and skin lesions. People who kept on applying honey once a week for about 6 months after the study, did not report any experience but those who did stop honey application within the first three months of the treatment reported a relapse. The study concluded that weekly application of honey may be beneficial in reducing the symptoms of sebborhic dematitis.

(Read more: How to stop hair fall)

Honey benefits for diabetics

It is a common misconception that honey is not safe for diabetic patients. But research reveals that honey is, in fact, an antidiabetic agent that can help in the proper management of diabetes. Several preclinical studies indicate that supplementation of honey increases insulin levels and decreases blood glucose levels. Recent studies show that the fructose level in honey is responsible for its anti-diabetic properties.

According to another research, the antioxidant properties of honey make it effective against oxidative stress, thereby increasing its potential to treat hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Honey has a low glycemic index (GI) compared to sugar. This means that honey takes a longer time to cause the blood sugar levels to side.

(Read more: Diabetes symptoms)

Honey prevents cancer

Cancer refers to the abnormal proliferation of natural body cells. Several risk factors can be associated with its prevalence which includes lifestyle (smoking, alcohol), chronic diseases, inflammation or genetics. Amazingly, honey is a counter treatment to all of these. It is a storehouse of the most prominent anticancer compounds including catechins, flavonoids, quercetin and kaempferol. And the list isn’t even conclusive.

According to an article published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, honey is a natural vaccine against cancer. Here is how:

  • As an antioxidant, it scavenges excess free radicals which play a significant role in cancer development. Alcohol, smoking and stress are just some of the most common lifestyle factors causing free radical accumulation
  • Honey is an excellent antibiotic, so it stops chronic infections from advancing to tumours or cancers.
  • Honey also heals wounds quickly which prevents them from damaging skin linings (both inner lining and epithelium) thus preventing chronic wounds which have a tendency to turn into cancer.
  • Long-term inflammation is yet another risk factor in cancer. As an anti-inflammatory agent, honey makes sure that such inflammation doesn’t develop into cancer.

Honey reduces cholesterol

Excessive cholesterol levels can increase the risk of several health problems including obesity, heart attack and atherosclerosis. Honey is cholesterol free which makes it a safe choice of food for hypercholesterolemic (high cholesterol) individuals. Not only this but also it helps reduce excessive cholesterol levels in body.

In a clinical study done on 38 subjects with high cholesterol levels, intake of honey led to a decrease in low-density lipoprotein LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglyceride within 30 days. Another study on 70 men indicated that consumption of 70 g  honey, daily, for a period of 4 weeks, reduced the LDL level and total cholesterol level (TC). There was also an increase in the HDL (good cholesterol) level. So, you can definitely add honey to your recipes without worrying about your cholesterol.

(Read more: High cholesterol symptoms)

Honey for the heart

Cardiovascular diseases include a wide range of conditions associated with the heart and blood vessels. Conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity are some of the common risk factors associated with cardiovascular diseases. Studies suggest that the polyphenols in honey could be very useful in treating cardiovascular diseases. These polyphenols can help in the prevention of thrombosis (blood clots within the blood vessels) and ischaemia (damage in the heart’s blood vessels). Additionally, they dilate blood vessels thereby reducing blood pressure.

Other than polyphenols, honey also contains Vitamin C, monophenols and flavonoids. All of these components are responsible for the antioxidant properties of honey and they help prevent heart diseases and stroke.

  • Honey has a high fructose content which has been found to resist absorption in intestines. While it may not pose a threat to healthy people, it might worsen the symptoms of gastrointestinal issues. If you are suffering from such conditions, it is best that you avoid honey or talk to a doctor to know the right dosage for you.
  • Grayanotoxins are neurotoxins present in the plants that belong to Ericaceae family. Honey that is prepared from these plants contain this toxic substance and it is known as mad honey. Consumption of this honey can lead to symptoms such as hypotension, disruption in the cardiac rhythm, nausea, sweating and dizziness.
  • There have been several studies that suggest that feeding honey can lead to botulism in infants under one year of age. It is not even recommended to be added to baby food or as a flavouring agent 

Honey is one of the most widely used sweeteners. It has numerous health benefits because of the presence of flavonoids, polyphenols and other vitamins and minerals. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can help in the prevention of cancer, gastrointestinal disorders and asthma. The antimicrobial properties can help in the faster healing of wounds. It can help control diabetes as it has a  lower glycemic index compared to sugar. Honey should never be given to babies below 12 months of age and it should always be bought from a trusted supplier as some kinds of honey may have toxins.

 

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References

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