Honey has been used for thousand of years and many people swear by its healing and nutritional properties.
Yet, there are also many people who avoid consuming it, because of its high content of fructose.
Should we consume honey, or stay away from it? Let’s find out in today’s blog post.
A bit of honey history
Honey has been used as a natural sweetener long before sugar became popular in the 16th century. One of the earliest evidence of honey harvesting is on a rock painting dating back 8000 years. Archaeologists discovered honey comb in Egypt that had been buried with the pharaohs in their tombs, the honey was preserved and was still edible. Honey is mentioned in many sacred books, such as the Bible and Koran. Today the value of honey is somewhat under-appreciated with the afflux of junk food and sweetener substitutes. Humans have eaten it, bathed in it, healed their wounds with it and traded it for centuries.
How honey is made
My parents have been beekeepers for the past ten years and I have been lucky enough to be able to witness and help with the collection of honey. It is so fascinating how honey is made, that it made me respect this sweetener, that I now call “liquid gold”, and the people that harvest it, so much more.
If you see a beehive you will probably witness one of the most efficient facilities on earth! About 60,000 bees need to travel approximately 88,000km and visit over 2 million flowers to gather enough nectar to make about 0.5kg of honey! The colour and flavour of honey depends on the source of the nectar (it can be from herbs, flowers, trees). In general lighter coloured honey is milder, while darker ones have a stronger and more robust flavour.
The bees that collect the nectar from blossoms and herbs store it in their stomachs, where it mixes with other enzymes. They then pass it via regurgitation to another’s bee mouth. This process helps the nectar to partially digest before it is stored in the honeycomb. Once the nectar is in the honeycomb, the bees use their wings to help evaporate some of the water from the nectar. The substance you know as “honey” is created. The bees then seal the honey into the honeycomb using a secretion from their abdomen, which hardens into beeswax. By storing the honey away from air and water it remains intact for a long period of time, providing the bees with food during the winter months.
There are a lot of different ways to harvest honey, and while this post is not precisely about that I do want to point out the importance of getting honey from beekeepers that respect their bees and collect honey that is pure and raw. In the case of my parents, I respect them so much because they put so much work into it, and they love their bees. In fact they put a lot of effort not to harm them during the harvesting process and don’t feed their bees with sugar syrup while they are collecting nectar (which cannot be said for all beekeepers). They produce small quantities of honey for our own use and for sell to friends and acquaintances.
There is good honey and there is bad honey – here’s the difference
Now let me get one thing straight – the way honey is being produced and processed can make a big difference in the quality of the honey. Some producers process honey and strip much of its antibacterial properties.
What is the difference between a processed and raw, pure honey?
Raw honey is the natural, unaltered liquid that honeybees produce from the collected nectar. It comes straight from the beehive and is totally unheated, unpasteurised, unprocessed honey. It contains some bee-pollen and even beeswax and is packed with nutrients, living enzymes and healing properties.
“Commercial”, regular honey is unfortunately the majority of honey you will find in a supermarket. It is highly processed, and some of it contains high amounts of syrup (so it is not even honey!). Pasteurisation and further processing destroys almost 100% of the vitamins, living enzymes, antioxidants and healing properties of honey. A lot of the commercial honey does not contain traces of bee-pollen or honey bee dust, and some honey contains high fructose corn syrup!
So stick with the real stuff and get if from beekeepers you trust and know respect their bees and produce living, raw honey that is rich in nutrients. For me clearly, the choice is easy and I am only consuming the honey that my parents collect. I love to help them gather it whenever I am in Bulgaria, and it makes me appreciate the honey even more! It tastes amazing and is good for you!
Here’s my father’s advice on how to spot fake honey:
If you place real honey in a glass of water it will go to the bottom and form a lump. Artificial honey will start dissolving straight away.
Real honey will crystallise over time. Artificial honey will remain as a syrup, no matter how long it has been stored for. The different type of honey will crystallise at a different speed (sunflower honey contains about 60% glucose and 40% fructose and will crystallise faster than for example acacia honey, which contains less glucose and more fructose). The absorption rate of fructose alone from the small intestine is slower than that of glucose and does not require as much insulin as glucose, so many people prefer acacia honey to say sunflower one.
Now that we know that real honey is raw and unprocessed let’s see how it can benefit our health!
Health benefits of raw honey
There are so many benefits of raw honey, I am going to list just a few here. As with everything, with certain health conditions it is not advisable to consume honey, but if you are a healthy individual, here are a few ways honey can improve your health:
Raw honey is a great remedy against cough and sore throat: honey forms a protective film and can help reduce the symptoms of sore throat and coughing. Just take a spoon of raw honey and you will notice the difference.
Honey has been used to heal wounds for centuries because of its antibacterial and antiseptic properties.
It is a great energy booster! If you are feeling a bit lethargic or need a boost before a run or exercise, enjoy a spoonful of honey.
It helps with dandruff and itchy scalp. Because of its anti-fungal and antibacterial properties honey is a great tool to improve the health of your hair and scalp. Just mix some honey with water and apply it on your scalp for a few hours and rinse well. After doing this a few times you should see some visible improvements!
It boosts the immune system and can help build up your digestive system too, which is essential to good health.
Honey is great for good skin. If you are suffering from rashes or acne just apply some raw honey on the areas and leave for about 30 minutes to do its magic.
As with anything consume raw honey in moderation to get the wide range of its benefits, and if you have insulin resistance it is better to avoid any sweeteners, including honey.
As a final note, here’s a reminder that 80% of the food we eat relies on pollination. Without bees and their honey, we would live in a world where plants could not grow and fruit could not ripen. So let’s show respect for those little workers and choose sustainable sources of honey as well as apply practices that help the little bees do their job easier.
Vesela Savova Drews is a certified diet and nutrition advisor living in Luxembourg. She helps her clients adopt a healthier diet that suits their lifestyle. As a new mom, her interest has further expanded into child nutrition, and she has completed a certification course in child nutrition and cooking from Stanford University. Savova Drews has further certifications on the human gut and microbiome with the University of Colorado Boulder, and is currently studying to become a holistic nutritionist.