Breaking Down the Health Benefits of Honey

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 06/10/2024

Archaeological evidence reveals that honey has been used as food and medicine since the Stone Age. 

Raw honey is a nutrient-dense superfood packed with a wide array of vitamins, minerals, and potent antioxidants. Its nutritional composition is responsible for honey’s potent antibacterial and probiotic properties, making it a powerful ally in supporting overall health.

Discover the health benefits of honey and learn how this ancient remedy can promote a healthy body. 


Fresh honeycomb and honey

What is honey?

Honey is a natural sweetener produced by bees from the nectar of flowers. 

This viscous substance primarily consists of fructose and glucose and is rich in various beneficial compounds in its raw form.

The nutritional composition, color, and aroma of honey can vary greatly depending on the types of flowers the honey bees foraged, and the level of processing it undergoes after harvest.

Honey is usually somewhat translucent, ranging from light gold to dark molasses brown in hue.

Watch this video to learn more about honey’s impressive health benefits. 

The Health Benefits of Honey

Conventional honey vs. raw honey

Raw honey is minimally processed and contains an abundance of nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamins C and K, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and amino acids.

Raw honey also contains other beneficial elements, including enzymes, hydrogen peroxide, and antioxidants.

These beneficial compounds can help digestion, reduce inflammation, promote wound healing, and support overall health.

Conventional honey, often found in grocery stores, is typically pasteurized and filtered. 

Pasteurization involves heating honey to high temperatures to purify it from potentially harmful bacteria, improve its aesthetic, and extend its shelf life. 

Unfortunately, pasteurization also eliminates most of the nutrients that contribute to honey's health benefits. 

In addition, filtering removes bee pollen, propolis, and other medicinal components, resulting in a product that resembles honey in looks and flavor but lacks nutrients and therapeutic properties. 


Various types of honey

The best and worst types of honey

Various types of honey are produced worldwide, but not all varieties provide the same medicinal benefits.  

Understanding how to identify the best-quality honey is crucial for ensuring the most nutritional value.

Best types of honey 

Raw, unfiltered, and minimally processed honey varieties are the best and most nutritious options.

Additionally, the geographical origin of honey can significantly influence its health-promoting properties.

According to evidence published in the Annals of Saudi Medicine, local honey can be particularly effective in improving symptoms of allergic rhinitis, also known as hayfever.

Local honey contains small amounts of pollen from the surrounding area. This has been shown to be beneficial for helping the body become less sensitive to these allergens, which can reduce overt immune reactions to pollen.

Furthermore, the flowers from which the honey was foraged can significantly affect its medicinal qualities. 

Mānuka honey, for example, is sourced from the nectar of Mānuka bush flowers in New Zealand and is renowned for its potent antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.

Dr. Berg explains, "If you want honey that offers the most natural health benefits, raw Mānuka honey is an excellent choice. It's one of the least processed types of honey and retains a high concentration of unique, bioactive compounds."

Telupa honey is another great option if you want to benefit from honey’s health advantages while minimizing sugar intake. 

Telupa honey contains less glucose and has a lower glycemic index than many other types. This may be beneficial for those monitoring their blood sugar levels, such as individuals with metabolic syndrome or diabetics.  


Packets of highly processed honey

The worst types of honey

Most honey sold in grocery stores lacks the beneficial compounds of raw honey, as they are often removed during filtration and pasteurization.

Additionally, some products may be blended with cheaper sweeteners to increase volume and reduce cost, a deceptive practice known as honey adulteration.

This often involves mixing honey with substances such as high fructose corn syrup. This syrup somewhat mimics the consistency and sweetness of honey but compromises its nutritional and medicinal value.

These adulterated honey products have little to no health benefits and have similar detrimental effects on the body as refined sugar.  

When purchasing honey, opt for varieties produced by trusted local beekeepers or certified organic sources, and check the label to avoid brands with unnecessary added ingredients. 


Sick woman using honey

3 benefits of honey 

Honey offers a wide range of health benefits that have been extensively studied and are well-documented. 

Here are three benefits of eating honey.

1. Antibacterial properties

Honey has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for wound care due to its potent antibacterial and antifungal properties.

In a study published in Food Chemistry, researchers investigated how different types of phenolic compounds and minerals in honey influence its ability to kill bacteria.

The study revealed that honey-derived phenols and minerals such as iron and manganese helped activate the production of reactive oxygen species in honey.

These reactive oxygen species effectively target antibiotic-resistant pathogens such as Staphylococcus epidermidis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, linked to serious infections such as upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, and sepsis. 

Honey’s ability to combat these bacteria highlights its therapeutic potential in reducing infection-related health complications. 


Woman making a heart over stomach

2. Supports a healthy gut microbiome

The gut microbiome is vital to human health and well-being, impacting critical physiological processes ranging from metabolism to immune response.

Evidence published in Frontiers in Nutrition suggests that certain kinds of honey promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. These probiotics support digestive health and may help reduce gastrointestinal issues.

In addition, researchers stated that honey can "reduce the presence of infection-causing bacteria in the gut, including Salmonella, Escherichia coli, and Clostridiodes difficile."

Honey's ability to positively influence this critical balance of probiotic microbes offers a promising, natural approach to maintaining digestive health. 

3. Promotes cardiovascular health 

Research published in Nutrition Reviews investigated the effects of honey consumption on various cardiometabolic risk factors.

The study found that eating honey significantly reduced fasting glucose, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides while increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

Raw honey and specific varieties like clover and Robinia honey showed more pronounced benefits on glycemic control and lipid profiles compared to processed honey. 

The review also suggests that consuming moderate amounts of raw and minimally processed honey may help improve blood sugar regulation and healthy cholesterol levels. This supports metabolic and cardiovascular health, potentially reducing the risk of obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure.  


young woman allergic to honey

Who should avoid honey

Certain people should avoid or limit their consumption of honey due to potential health risks or dietary restrictions.

Honey may contain Clostridium botulinum spores, which can cause infant botulism, a rare but serious illness affecting the nervous system. The digestive systems of infants are not mature enough to destroy these spores, making them more susceptible to this condition.

Furthermore, some people may experience allergic reactions to bee pollen, which can be present in raw or minimally processed honey.

If you have a known bee pollen or bee sting allergy, it's best to avoid honey altogether or consult a healthcare professional before incorporating honey into your routine. 

Honey is high in carbohydrates, containing as much as 17 grams of sugar per tablespoon. Eating honey can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels, which can be detrimental for people with diabetes or interfere with ketosis in those following a ketogenic diet.


Keto diet food concept

Is honey keto-friendly?

In general, honey may not be the best choice for those following a ketogenic diet. 

As Dr. Berg states, "Honey in the right form is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory while being packed with vitamins and minerals. However, honey contains 60 percent fructose and 40 percent glucose, which means it can spike glucose and interfere with ketosis."

Instead of honey, use low-carb, zero-sugar, keto-friendly sweeteners like stevia, erythritol, or monk fruit extract. 

These natural sweeteners have minimal impact on blood sugar levels and can be used to sweeten foods and beverages without the risk of getting kicked out of ketosis.

That being said, it’s still possible to utilize honey's antimicrobial effects while following a keto diet.

This natural antibiotic drink has just enough Mānuka honey for you to benefit from its unique antibacterial properties, such as hydrogen peroxide and methylglyoxal. However, each shot contains only around seven carbs, which won’t compromise ketosis.


Fresh honey and honeycomb

Key takeaways

To harness the health benefits of honey, choose raw, unfiltered, and minimally processed varieties, as these best preserve honey's natural nutritional and therapeutic properties. 

The geographic origin and floral source significantly influence the medicinal attributes of honey, with local varieties proving particularly helpful for alleviating specific health concerns such as seasonal allergies.  

Honey should be avoided by those following a keto diet due to its high sugar and carbohydrate content, which can interfere with fat-burning and disrupt ketosis. 


FAQ

1. Is a spoonful of honey a day good for you?

Honey contains antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting compounds. However, it’s also high in sugar and calories, and consuming too much can lead to weight gain and other health issues. 

While a spoonful of raw honey a day can have health benefits, it's crucial to balance it with a healthy, varied diet and active lifestyle.

2. Does honey have health benefits?

Honey contains antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that may provide health benefits, such as reducing inflammation, supporting cardiovascular health, and promoting a healthy gut microbiome.

3. What are the pros and cons of honey?

Raw honey is a rich source of essential nutrients and has potent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. However, honey is also high in sugar, which can cause weight gain and worsen insulin resistance and diabetes. 

In addition, honey isn't suitable for infants or those with bee allergies. 

4. Does honey have healing properties?

Yes, honey contains potent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agents, such as hydrogen peroxide and phenolic compounds, that can aid in wound healing and lower the risk of infections.

However, it's important to consume raw honey, as filtered and pasteurized honey is typically stripped of its nutritional and therapeutic properties.

5. Can I have honey on keto?

No, honey isn’t recommended for those following a keto diet due to its high sugar and carbohydrate content, which can cause blood sugar spikes and disrupt ketosis.

6. What is the healthiest type of honey?

The healthiest kinds of honey are those that are raw and unpasteurized, as they retain the most vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial nutrients. 

Raw, unfiltered Manuka honey, Tupelo honey, and buckwheat honey that has not been subjected to high heat or heavy filtration are generally considered the healthiest options.

7. How many carbs are in honey?

One tablespoon of honey contains about 17 grams of carbohydrates.

8. Does honey go bad?

Due to its antibacterial and antifungal properties, honey has a long shelf life and rarely spoils when stored properly. However, honey can crystallize over time, which is a normal process and not indicative of spoilage. 


Sources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6074882/ 

  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37321119/ 

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9367972/ 

  4. https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/81/7/758/6827512

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