HONEY – HEALTH BENEFITS*
Honey is a sweet food made by bees using nectar from flowers. The variety produced by the genus Apis, commonly referred to as ‘honey bees’, is the most common one, and is the type of honey collected by beekeepers and consumed by humans.
Honey bees convert nectar into honey by a process of regurgitation and store it as a primary food source in wax honeycombs inside the beehive. Beekeeping practices encourage over production of honey, so that the excess can be taken without endangering the bee colony.
The physical characteristics of honey which contribute to the evaluation of honey as a commodity are:
Taste, colour, flavour and density of honeys differ greatly. The colour depends entirely on the flowers from which the nectar is collected.
Honey is created by bees as a food source. In the hive there are three types of bee:
· A single female queen bee
· A seasonally variable number of male drone bees to fertilize new queens
· Some 20,000 to 40,000 female worker bees which raise larvae and collect nectar that will become honey in the hive. Leaving the hive, they collect sugar-rich flower nectar and return.
Nectar has to undergo some changes before it is converted into honey. In the hive, the nectar is mixed by the bees with saliva and changed into a digestible substance. The bees use their ‘honey stomachs’ to ingest and regurgitate the nectar a number of times until it is partially digested. The bees work together as a group with the regurgitation and digestion until the product reaches the desired quality, when it is then stored in the honeycomb cells. The bees inside the hive fan their wings, creating a strong draft across the honeycomb which enhances evaporation of much of the water from the nectar. This reduction in water content raises the sugar concentration and prevents fermentation. Ripe honey, as removed from the hive by the bee keeper, has a long shelf-life and will not ferment if properly sealed.
The Chemistry of Honey
Honey belongs to the carbohydrate group of foods. The classification of honey in my book How to Live to 100+ Years Free from Symptoms and Disease (see home page) is “Carbohydrate Foods - Sugars”.
Honey is mainly a watery solution of two monosaccharide sugars, dextrose (glucose or grape sugar) and laevulose (fructose or fruit sugar), in nearly equal proportions. A mixture of glucose and fructose is called invert sugar. These two sugars are called natural or simple sugars because they are readily absorbed into the bloodstream without requiring the assistance of the salivary, gastric or intestinal secretions to accomplish the process of inversion. Inversion is the process by which sucrose or cane sugar (a disaccharide of glucose and fructose) is split to yield glucose and fructose as separate monosaccharides. Dextrose is half as sweet as cane sugar and laevulose is twice as sweet.
In addition to the two invert sugars which comprise about 75% of honey, there are also:
· Aromatic volatile oils, which give honey its flavour
· Minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorus etc
· Phytochemicals, especially antioxidants
· Vitamins - small amounts of water-soluble B and C and fat-soluble A
· Colouring matter.
These component parts vary in different honeys.
Honey has an acid reaction and is a mildly acid-forming food (see my September 2005 newsletter Acid/ alkaline Balance - The Ideal Food). The acid reaction is due to minute quantities (0.1%) of lactic, succinic, citric and malic acids. The acid-forming property is the result of the mineral content.
Honey derives its mineral content from plants. The ultimate mineral source of plants is the soil in which they grow, which is why the mineral constituents of honey greatly vary. Dark coloured honey contains more minerals, mainly iron, copper and magnesium, making it especially suitable for medicinal purposes.
Honey contains (grams per 100 grams):
· Water - 17.2g
· Protein - 0.3g
· Fat - 0.0g
· Carbohydrate - 82.3g.
There are 304 calories or 1274 kilojoules per 100 grams. It has a glycaemic index of 58.
Honey is soluble in water.
Honey, like other sugars in solution, can undergo crystallization, commonly called granulation. It sometimes becomes as hard as candy. Granulation occurs usually in dry climates where there is little atmospheric humidity and the honey cannot absorb water. Granulated honey is easily made liquid in a tepid water bath.
Honey should never be heated above 160°F or 71°C, because this decreases the enzyme activity, and can change the flavour, alter the viscosity, and change the sugar composition.
It is debateable whether honey is an animal or vegetarian product.
The Health Benefits of Honey
Whole books have been written extolling the virtues of honey and describing its widespread uses as well as its health benefits. The following is an overview of the health benefits that result from honey. Honey is more than just delicious – it is healthy!
1) Honey is Nature’s Energy Booster
As outlined above, honey contains the two invert sugars dextrose (glucose) and laevulose (fructose). These simple or natural sugars are readily absorbed into the blood stream, not needing enzymes to accomplish the process of inversion.
The glucose in honey, rapidly absorbed after ingestion, gives an immediate energy boost, while the fructose is absorbed more slowly, providing sustained energy. These different effects on energy are reflected in the glycaemic index of glucose which is 100, whilst that of fructose is 23. (The Glycaemic Index (GI) is a ranking of foods based on their immediate effect on blood sugar (glucose) levels. Low GI foods are less than 55, high GI foods are more than 70 and glucose is 100.)
Honey has also been found to keep levels of blood sugar fairly constant compared to other types of sugar.
Honey has been shown to be effective in boosting the performance and endurance of athletes and reducing muscle fatigue during exercise.
2) Honey is Nutrient Rich
A nutrient rich diet is a key to good health.
Honey is rich in vitamins, minerals and trace elements, as well as phytochemicals, especially antioxidants.
3) Honey is an Antioxidant
As an antioxidant, honey protects against free radical damage.
Free radicals are molecules with an odd, unpaired electron. They are very unstable and react quickly with other compounds, trying to capture the needed electron(s) to gain stability. Generally, free radicals attack the nearest stable molecule, ’stealing’ an electron from it. When the “attacked” molecule loses its electron, it becomes a free radical itself … leading to a cascade reaction, which can finally result in the disruption of a living cell.
Some free radicals arise normally as part of the metabolic processes continually going on in the human body, and can be regarded as chemical by-products of normal cellular metabolism. Free radicals are also formed by environmental factors such as pollution (for example, car exhaust fumes), cigarette smoke, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, and other chemicals in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the plethora of chemicals in our foods such as colourings, flavourings, preservatives etc. Radiation, including ultraviolet radiation from the sun, is another cause of free-radical formation. Stress is yet another cause.
Free radicals cause damage to many components of a cell, including the cell wall, the mitochondria and DNA. DNA is the highly complex molecule of which our genes are composed. When enough DNA is damaged, cells begin to die.
Free radical damage is referred to as oxidation.
The substances which protect against free-radical damage (“oxidation’) in the body are called’ antioxidants’. (See my January 2007 newsletter Free Radicals – Antioxidants). One such antioxidant is honey.
4) Honey has Antibacterial Properties
Honey has been used for treating infected wounds for at least two millennia. In c.50 AD, Dioscorides described honey as being “good for all rotten and hollow ulcers”. Medical science has established that honey has an inhibitory effect on some 60 types of bacteria, including aerobes and anaerobes, gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, and fungi such as candida.
The antibacterial property of honey is due to the release of hydrogen peroxide which kills bacteria. It also draws water (by osmosis) from the bacteria, dehydrating them and thus causing them to die.
Different honeys have variable levels of antibacterial properties. Manuka honey, from the Manuka Honey Bush mainly found in New Zealand, is claimed to have the highest level of this property.
5) Honey Promotes Wound Healing
As set out above, honey deals with any infection in the wound.
Applied topically, it soothes and so reduces pain.
It activates the immune response by providing lucose for the white cells (neutrophils).
Honey speeds up the healing process. It creates a moist environment by drawing serum up through the skin tissues, thus helping ‘moist scab’ formation. It also reduces inflammation.
6) Honey is a Cough Sedative
Honey has been shown to soothe a cough better than a cough syrup. Especially is this so in children with a night cough. A study in over 100 children (aged 2 to 18 years) from Penn State College of Medicine (2007) confirmed this effect and also showed improved quality of sleep in the coughing child.
7) Honey Aids Digestion
Eating honey is good for your stomach and digestion. Honey contains large amounts of enzymes, which aid digestion.
Honey has a long history of human consumption and is used in a variety of foods and beverages as a sweetener and flavouring. For something so delicious and sweet, the health benefits may seem too good to be true.
Honey is a most valuable food and it should be consumed daily for its health benefits.
*Copyright 2011: The Huntly Centre.
Disclaimer: All material in the huntlycentre.com.au website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.
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