Honey is a natural source of energy and a smart alternative to sugar. Here are a host of its health benefits.
The best thing about honey is that it's delicious whether drizzled over pancakes, stirred into yoghurt or added to a pre-gym smoothie. But the golden nectar can also be used as a healing elixir.
In a traditional Indian ayurvedic medicine, honey is used as a digestive remedy. Ancient Egyptians applied it as an ointment for skin ulcers.
Here are a few other ways the superfood can boost your health:
Honey is a natural alternative to refined sugar. Fructose and glucose are both simple carbohydrates, making honey a natural energy booster. But because it contains a higher proportion of fructose than refined sugar, honey is slightly lower on the glycaemic index, which means it makes blood sugar levels rise and fall more slowly.
This makes it a great fitness food. Studies show that the combination of fast releasing glucose and slower releasing fructose in honey may improve performance in prolonged cycling, compared to glucose alone.
Unlike sugar's "empty calories", honey also contains many nutrients, albeit in microdoses. It has small amounts of B vitamins, vitamin C and antioxidants including polyphenols. It also contains minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. But don't glug it like Winnie the pooh. Honey actually contains more calories than sugar - 21 per teaspoon versus 16. But luckily, you are likely to use less because it is sweeter.
Most of us have sipped a mug of warm water, lemon and honey to soothe a sore throat. But it's more than a folk remedy. A 2020 British Medical Journal review backed honey's effectiveness at relieving upper respiratory tract infections, concluding it was "a widely available and cheap alternatives to antibiotics".
Research suggests honey may help stop acid reflux and aid in reducing diarrhoea (although it may exacerbate IBS symptoms). One 2013 study showed manuka killed bacteria associated with food poisoning because the thick, dark, New Zealand honey has potent antibacterial properties, thanks to a substance called methylglyoxal (MGO). The higher the MGO number, the more powerful.
Honey is also thought to be a prebiotic - feeding "good" bacteria in your gut. It contains compounds such as fructo-oligosaccharides that can enhance the growth of helpful microbes.
All honey is antibacterial to an extent, partly due to the chemical hydrogen peroxide. This was traditionally used as an antiseptic, but it is found in honey in levels that are very low, so it's gentle. Honey also draws liquid out of wounds and stops dressings from sticking. A 2020 review found it had anti-inflammatory effects, decreased pain and shortened healing time for wounds.
If you're suffering after a night out, honey on toast might help. The fructose speeds up the oxidation of alcohol by the liver.
But wait a minute, which honey ?
There's a massive range of honeys out there, each with a unique colour, consistency, flavour (reflecting which flowers honey bees visit) and active ingredients. Raw usually means honey that hasn't been treated at high temperatures or highly filtered.
Many people swear by manuka. Traditional honeys are usually pasteurised and filtered, but manuka is subjected to little processing. As a rule, read the label so you know the source and avoid blends that aren't pure.