About Honey – Health Benefits of Honey
What is Honey ?
Mature honeybees collect nectar from plant blossoms. Nectar is 80 to 95 percent water and 5 to 20 percent sucrose (table sugar). As the bee transports the nectar back to the hive, a protein enzyme in her honey stomach, called invertase, breaks the sucrose down into the two simple sugars, fructose and glucose.
Young bees remove water from the sugar solution using two methods. They pass the nectar from bee to bee and ‘drink’ the water out of the nectar by absorbing it through their stomach wall. They also create heat and air flow in the hive by vibrating their wings and flight muscles, thus evaporating water out of the nectar which has been stored in open cells.
When most of the sucrose has been converted to fructose and glucose AND enough water has been dehydrated out of the mixture to bring it approximately 17.8% water content, we have a delicious sticky mixture, called honey!
After honey is made, bees cap it with beeswax to maintain the low moisture content.
10 Health Benefits of Honey
- Prevent cancer and heart disease:
Honey contains flavonoids, antioxidants which help reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease.
- Reduce ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders.
Recent research shows that honey treatment may help disorders such as ulcers and bacterial gastroenteritis. This may be related to the 3rd benefit…
- Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-fungal:
“All honey is antibacterial, because the bees add an enzyme that makes hydrogen peroxide,” said Peter Molan, director of the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.
- Increase athletic performance.
Ancient Olympic athletes would eat honey and dried figs to enhance their performance. This has now been verified with modern studies, showing that it is superior in maintaining glycogen levels and improving recovery time than other sweeteners.
- Reduce cough and throat irritation:
Honey helps with coughs, particularly buckwheat honey. In a study of 110 children, a single dose of buckwheat honey was just as effective as a single dose of dextromethorphan in relieving nocturnal cough and allowing proper sleep.
- Balance the 5 elements:
Honey has been used in ayurvedic medicine in India for at least 4000 years and is considered to affect all three of the body’s primitive material imbalances positively. It is also said to be useful useful in improving eyesight, weight loss, curing impotence and premature ejaculation, urinary tract disorders, bronchial asthma, diarrhea, and nausea.
Honey is referred as “Yogavahi” since it has a quality of penetrating the deepest tissues of the body. When honey is used with other herbal preparations, it enhances the medicinal qualities of those preparations and also helps them to reach the deeper tissues.
- Blood sugar regulation:
Even though honey contains simple sugars, it is NOT the same as white sugar or artificial sweeteners. Its exact combination of fructose and glucose actually helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. Some honeys have a low hypoglycemic index, so they don’t jolt your blood sugar. (Watch this video Sweetener Comparison where I compare stevia, brown rice syrup, honey, molasses and agave, and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each.)
- Heal wounds and burns:
External application of honey has been shown to be as effective as conventional treatment with silver sulfadiazene. It is speculated that the drying effect of the simple sugars and honey’s anti-bacterial nature combine to create this effect.
Some varieties of honey possess large amounts of friendly bacteria. This includes up to 6 species of lactobacilli and 4 species of bifidobacteria. This may explain many of the “mysterious therapeutic properties of honey.”
- Beautiful skin:
Its anti-bacterial qualities are particularly useful for the skin, and, when used with the other ingredients, can also be moisturizing and nourishing! For a powerful home beauty treatment for which you probably have all the ingredients in your kitchen already, read Carrot Face Mask.
How Bees Make Honey
The fascinating process of making honey begins when the bees feast on flowers, collecting the flower nectar in their mouths. This nectar then mixes with special enzymes in the bees’ saliva, a process that turns it into honey. The bees carry the honey back to the hive where they deposit it into the cells of the hive’s walls. The fluttering of their wings provides the necessary ventilation to reduce the moisture’s content making it ready for consumption.
The History of Honey
Honey has been used since ancient times both as a food and as a medicine. Apiculture, the practice of beekeeping to produce honey, dates back to at least 700 BC. For many centuries, honey was regarded as sacred due to its wonderfully sweet properties as well as its rarity. It was used mainly in religious ceremonies to pay tribute to the gods, as well as to embalm the deceased. Honey was also used for a variety of medicinal and cosmetic purposes. For a long time in history, its use in cooking was reserved only for the wealthy since it was so expensive that only they could afford it.
The prestige of honey continued for millennia until one fateful event in culinary and world history—the “discovery” of refined sugar made from sugar cane or sugar beets. Once these became more widely available, they were in great demand since they provided a relatively inexpensive form of sweetening. With their growing popularity, honey became displaced by sugar for culinary use. Since then, although honey is still used for sweetening, much of its use has become focused on its medicinal properties and its use in confectionary.
Honey’s Nutritional Benefits
In addition to its reputation as Nature’s nutritive sweetener, research also indicates that honey’s unique composition makes it useful as an antimicrobial agent and antioxidant.
The health benefits of honey—like all foods—do depend on the quality of the honey. But in this case, the situation is even more extreme, because the pollen that collects on the bees’ legs as they move from plant to plant is only as healthful and as diverse as those plants. In addition, the processing of honey often removes many of the phytonutrients found in raw honey as it exists in the hive. Raw honey, for example, contains small amounts of the same resins found in propolis.
Propolis, sometimes called “bee glue,” is actually a complex mixture of resins and other substances that honeybees use to seal the hive and make it safe from bacteria and other micro-organisms. Honeybees make propolis by combining plant resins with their own secretions. However, substances like road tar have also been found in propolis. Bee keepers sometimes use special screens around the inside of the hive boxes to trap propolis, since bees will spread this substance around the honeycomb and seal cracks with the anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal resins.
The resins found in propolis only represent a small part of the phytonutrients found in propolis and honey, however. Other phytonutrients found both in honey and propolis have been shown to possess cancer-preventing and anti-tumor properties. These substances include caffeic acid methyl caffeate, phenylethyl caffeate, and phenylethyl dimethylcaffeate. Researchers have discovered that these substances prevent colon cancer in animals by shutting down activity of two enzymes, phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C and lipoxygenase. When raw honey is extensively processed and heated, the benefits of these phytonutrients are largely eliminated.
Selecting and Storing Honey
Honey is sold in individual containers or in bulk. It is usually pasteurized, although oftentimes at farmer’s markets you can find raw honey. Raw honey that has not been pasteurized, clarified, or filtered—provided it is of the highest nutritional quality and safety—is your best choice. Look for honey that states “100% pure.” While regular honey is translucent, creamy honey is usually opaque and is made by adding finely crystallized honey back into liquid honey. Specialty honeys, made from the nectar of different flowers, such as thyme and lavender, are also available. Remember that the darker the color, the deeper the flavor.
It is important to keep honey stored in an airtight container so that it doesn’t absorb moisture from the air. Honey stored this way in a cool dry place will keep almost indefinitely. One reason for this is that its high sugar content and acidic pH help to inhibit microorganism growth. Honey that is kept at colder temperatures tends to thicken, while honey that is kept at higher temperatures has a tendency to darken and have an altered flavor.
Tips For Cooking With Honey
If your honey has crystallized, placing the container in hot water for 15 minutes will help return it to its liquid state. Do not heat honey in the microwave as this alters its taste by increasing its hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) content. To prevent honey from sticking to measuring cups and spoons, use honey that is in its liquid form.
Honey makes a good replacement for sugar in most recipes. Since honey is sweeter than sugar, you need to use less, one-half to three-quarters of a cup for each cup of sugar. For each cup of sugar replaced, you should also reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by one-quarter of a cup. In addition, reduce the cooking temperature by 25°F since honey causes foods to brown more easily.
Some of our favorite ways to use honey include:
- Using it in place of table sugar as a sweetener in your tea.
- Drizzling apple slices with honey and sprinkling them with cinnamon.
- To enjoy sweetened yogurt without excess sugar, mix a little honey into plain yogurt.
- A delicious sandwich that is enjoyed by kids of all ages is a combination of peanut (or almond) butter, with bananas and honey.
- In a saucepan over low heat, combine soymilk, honey and unsweetened dark chocolate to make a deliciously nutritious chocolate “milk” drink.