✓ Evidence Based

Honey: Facts, Nutrition, Benefits, & More

Honey is a long-time favorite that is enjoyed by many year-round. Its sweet flavor and sticky texture are a perfect and sometimes necessary addition to many foods and drinks.

Not only is it delectable, but it is nutritious as well. Honey has been found to have several health benefits in addition to treating different ailments.

Keep reading to find out all you need to know about honey.

History & Facts

Honey is a thick, syrup-like liquid that is made by bees from the nectar of plants. Honey is made by bees to nourish their colonies. It comes in different forms including raw, unfiltered, pasteurized, and comes in a variety of different colors.

On average, a beehive will produce around 65 pounds of honey per year. In 2020, global production of honey was 1.8 million tons, with China leading production by China with 26% of the world’s total (1). Other major producers were Turkey, Iran, and Argentina.

The finding of honey being used by humans dates back to ancient times at least 8,000 years ago. The first written records of beekeeping are from ancient Egypt, where honey was used as a sweetener for several foods. Additionally, the dead were often buried in or with honey in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Honey was also used for temple offerings and mummification. Honey has also been noted to be used as a treatment for various skin ailments, citing honey’s antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties (2).

Fun Fact:In ancient Greek religion, honey was the food of Zeus and the twelve gods of Olympus in the form of nectar and ambrosia.

Nutrition Facts

There indeed is more to honey than just being made out of sugar. Honey contains several nutrients and minerals.

Macronutrients

In one tablespoon of honey, there are the following macronutrients (3):

  • Calories: 64 calories (kcal)
  • Protein: 0.06 grams (g)
  • Total fat: 0 grams (g)
  • Carbohydrate: 17.3 grams (g)
  • Fiber: 0.04 grams (g)

Because honey is so high in sugar, containing 80 percent sugar and 20 percent water, many stay away from it due to blood sugar spikes (4). It’s crucial for those who need to monitor their sugar levels to keep that in mind.

Honey has a slightly less glycemic index than sugar alone coming in at 58 when sugar is 60. Although it is less, it may not be enough if you have type 2 diabetes and take insulin. Although, some experts believe it is ok when it’s a small amount and a part of a healthy, balanced diet. The sugars in honey come from simple sugars, glucose, and fructose, and it is a source of carbohydrates. The main difference between table sugar and honey is that honey is full of nutritional benefits, even though it can spike blood sugar just like sugar.

Summary:Although honey is high in sugar and carbohydrates, it can be part of a balanced diet when a variety of foods are consumed in addition to or on the side with it. It has a lower glycemic index than table sugar.

Vitamins and Minerals

In one tablespoon of honey, there are the following vitamins and minerals (5):

  • Calcium: 1.26 milligrams (mg)
  • Magnesium: 0.4 milligrams (mg)
  • Phosphorus: 0.84 milligrams (mg)
  • Potassium: 10.9 milligrams (mg)
  • Selenium: 0.168 micrograms (mcg)
  • Flouride: 1.47 micrograms (mcg)
  • Folate: 0.42 micrograms (mcg)

The nutrients in honey include minerals like calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc (6). Honey also contains ascorbic acid, pantothenic acid, niacin, and riboflavin.

Summary:In a small amount of honey you will find plenty of minerals and antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, all of which are beneficial for overall health.

Health Benefits

Honey is most known for all of the potential health benefits that it has to offer. Below are just a few of them. It is important to note that honey qualifies as an added sugar and provides excess calories with minimal nutritional benefit. A diet high in added sugars can lead to increased body weight and can increase the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes.

May Prevent Acid Reflux

Honey can even contribute to an improved digestive system (7). Poor gut health is one of the major reasons for inflammation and inflammatory diseases. Poor gut health can sometimes mean increased intestinal permeability or a ‘leaky gut.’ That means bacteria and toxins can leak through the digestive system. Due to its high vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant profile, honey can help improve acid reflux or GERD as well. It can especially help with acid reflux because it can reduce inflammation by restraining nitric oxide and prostaglandin production. It is also extremely useful at healing the gut lining and GERD because of its high antimicrobial properties (8).

Along with conventional therapy, honey can be a useful tool for further health improvements. There is some evidence that using honey may help to improve gut microflora and reduce the buildup of toxins in mice as well (9). Although more research is necessary, there is some promising evidence that adding honey to a healthy diet may help to improve gut health, acid reflux, and even GERD (10). One of these theories is that honey helps to line the esophagus and stomach, which can reduce the upward flow of stomach acid and undigested food.

Summary:Honey has been found to have a potential effect on improving digestive health by improving acid reflux and healing the gut lining with its antimicrobial properties.

May help With Seasonal Allergies

Honey has long been thought of as a food to consume that may potentially help with seasonal allergies. And now there is research to back that up. Honey, and especially bee pollen, may have some positive effects on those who suffer from seasonal allergies. There is even some research that suggests other allergies like anaphylaxis, asthma, and atopic dermatitis (AD) may improve with honey supplementation (11).

Because honey is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and powerful antioxidant food, some animal studies show that it may help lower the inflammatory response set off by these common allergies. Many studies show that honey can act as an exceptional agent to help prevent and even show unique improvements for those with allergic conditions (12).

Summary:Honey can potentially help improve the negative effects of seasonal allergies in addition to lowering the overall inflammatory response that is commonly set off by allergies.

May Provide Cough and Cold Relief

Do you or a loved one have a cold and/or cough? Honey may just be the cure for it! Honey has long been a go-to favorite for the common cold and even to help prevent or lessen the severity of a sore throat. The potent nutritional qualities of honey make it an accessible and beneficial treatment method and even a prevention tool for cold and sore throats. One study found that honey was more effective than a placebo at reducing children’s coughs during the night (13). It was even found to be as effective for helping coughs as two other over-the-counter products on the market.

Honey has natural antibacterial properties that make it a perfect solution when you are feeling under the weather (14). As honey works to reduce inflammation, it can work fast at lowering pain when it comes to swollen lymph nodes and warding off the common cold (15). Be sure to keep some raw honey around, especially during the common cold season.

Summary:Honey may be just as effective as over-the-counter medications as cough medicine and can be a good go-to when you or a loved one are feeling under the weather.

Ways to Consume

Honey’s sweetness can make it an ideal substitute for sugar and sweetener. Some research indicates that using honey instead of table sugar may be a better option for people with diabetes.

Here are some ideas for incorporating honey into meals, snacks, and beverages:

  •  Add honey to your favorite tea (A bonus for green tea to add even more antioxidants)
  • Use honey as a sweetener in your smoothies
  • Sweeten plain yogurt with some honey
  • Swap plain sugar for honey in your coffee
  • Add a spoonful of honey to warm lemon water as a way to hydrate and energize in the morning.
  • Make your salad dressing with delicious honey. You can try lemon juice, honey, and even olive oil.
  • Prepare your favorite sweet treats or desserts with honey instead
  • Enjoy it on a teaspoon plain.

One of the world’s oldest fermented beverages, mead, is made from honey. It is an alcoholic product that is made by adding yeast to honey water and fermenting it.

Did You Know?:A honey bee visits 50-100 flowers in one trip.

Potential Risks

Overall, honey is safe to consume for the general population. However, it can cause issues for some people.

  • Added Sugars: As mentioned above, honey is a form of added sugar, so it should be consumed moderately (16). Consuming an excessive amount of added sugar can increase the risk of weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that women get no more than around 6 teaspoons of sugar for women and 9 teaspoons for men (17).
  • Botulism: Honey can sometimes contain bacteria that can cause botulism. C botulinum is the bacterial strain that is present in contaminated honey (18). This is more concerning for infants because it can disrupt motor and autonomic functions in infants, which is why it is recommended infants do not have honey until they are at least 1 year of age or older. Approximately 20 percent of cases of infant botulism that occur in the U.S. are caused by consuming raw honey.
  • May Cause Allergies: Honey contains propolis which is a contact allergen (19). Because of this, consuming it can sometimes cause allergic reactions in some people. Some of the symptoms of an allergic reaction may include skin rashes, facial swelling, shock, nausea, and vomiting.

Summary:Honey should be consumed in moderation, may cause allergies for some, and should not be given to infants under the age of one.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you get sick from honey?

Honey may contain natural toxins. Raw honey may contain spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum (20). The symptoms of poisoning due to honey intake depend on the types and levels of toxins. If you experience side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, contact your doctor immediately. Overconsumption of honey can sometimes lead to diarrhea.

Is honey good for teeth?

No. Honey contains sugar and can get stuck on the teeth easily due to its texture. If not following proper dental care and oral hygiene, this can lead to tooth decay and/or dental caries.

Fun Fact:An average hive has 50,000 to 60,000 worker bees.

Conclusion

Honey is not only a classic but a staple product that can be used in a wide array of ways in the kitchen. The health benefits of honey range from improving the digestive system, improving allergic reactions, and relieving cough and cold symptoms.

If you need to watch your sugar intake, always monitor honey in your diet. However, honey is a better choice than traditional table sugar due to its potential antioxidant, mineral, and vitamin profile. It also has a lower glycemic index than regular table sugar.

Try some honey in your next mug of tea or on top of your favorite toast and see for yourself all of its benefits and amazing flavor profile.