Being a nutritionist I have always wondered about the health benefits of honey-should I look at it as just another source of sugar? Or should I view it differently given the kind of associations that Ayurveda and other indigenous medical traditions have with honey? To solve this predicament, I thankfully got an opportunity to research on this topic. Here are a few insights I have gained since then!
Honey has clearly survived time; one is not merely talking about centuries here. Honey has been recognized for its medicinal properties since 6000 BC. So there is documented reference for use of honey for at least 8000 years now – be it in stone age paintings, Sumerian tablets, Egyptian papyri, Vedas, the Holy Koran, the Talmud, old and new testaments of the Bible! This got me thinking that there must be definitely something special about honey- beyond the chemical composition that modern science has deciphered!
But for some science now
Honey naturally contains small amounts of vitamins, minerals, trace elements like chromium, selenium, manganese, needed by the body as catalysts for many reactions; some enzymes which help in digestion also give honey its anti-microbial properties and actives which are more commonly referred to as antioxidants. The fact that all this is naturally present and honey is minimally processed (no artificial colour, flavor, preservatives) makes it definitely a healthier sweet spread for children.
Source of honey does impact its “biological activity” and hence the benefits. But all honey does contain actives irrespective of the source. Nevertheless it may be better to buy honey that claims to be minimally processed and indicates where it is sourced from.
It is a natural energy booster for children/adults before, during or after play /exercise and some studies show that it can be better than glucose as it gives sustained energy for athletes rather than a quick spurt. This is because of the sugar composition in honey -it has a combination of both fast and slow burn sugars. So it will be a great idea to replace sugar with honey in beverages for children – be it banana milkshake, or a fruit smoothie.
Honey has both antimicrobial (ability to fight germs) and anti-inflammatory properties (reduce inflammation/soothe membranes) – hence it helps to fight common infections -cold, cough, sore throat. Many holistic practitioners prescribe honey for cough/cold and some studies done in children show that it is better in suppressing cough than the common cough suppressants! Hence grandmother’s concoctions of ginger and honey for cold, honey and pepper for sore throat & cough and various concoctions of spices and honey have definite scientific basis!
Here is another fact that I learnt – because of a certain enzyme in pure honey, when applied topically on wounds honey can act as an antiseptic! It has been used even in treatment of burns!
Moving down to the digestive system, the natural enzymes present in honey can enhance the digestion of food substances especially sugars and starch. As a sweetener, honey has advantages over sugar, providing some nutrients which help in digestive processes. Honey is also a source of prebiotics, different from probiotics as prebiotics are substances which facilitate the growth of good bacteria, while probiotics is the good bacteria itself! Many trials have shown that consuming honey has a positive effect on the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Considering the abuse our digestive system takes on these days, honey can be the simple natural remedy to maintain gut health. It is also being used in treatment of heartburns, ulcers, and reflux in modern medicine! A spoon of honey is even recommended after a heavy meal… !
The relation between honey and weight loss is the most debated- though I was not able to find a scientific article on this, many lifestyle websites and references in traditional medicine (Amish, Ayurveda) talk about the role of honey in fat burn and generally boosting metabolism. So honey as part of a weight loss regimen can aid people in their weight loss efforts – a tsp. of honey in some warm water in the morning!
For girls in their teens honey can be the simplest thing to do when it comes to beauty treatments. It has the ability to absorb and retain moisture, helping the skin feel fresh and supple. The anti-germ properties can help in treating acne. Honey can be applied on the face and allowed to dry (fifteen minutes or so) and washed away with warm water – beauty tips cannot get easier than this!
The last on the list but an important one, honey is referred to as “Yogavahi” in Ayurveda. It means that it can penetrate deep tissues in the body. Hence many Ayurveda doctors recommend mixing herbal medicines in honey to help the medicine reach the deeper tissues. There are over 600 recipes in Ayurveda which use honey.
So after my research I have started using honey a lot more- be it for treating a cold or sore throat, replacing sugar partly in cakes or granola bars, as a spread for toast, parathas, in breakfast cereals, in milk, green tea or just giving the family a spoonful of honey!